In an audio recording released today by the New Yorker, you can hear the true, common-as-all-hell approach Harvey Weinstein used against the women who say he assaulted them: Wear them down.
People, often women, who find themselves on the receiving end of sexual harassment and threats of sexual assault often have to jump through several mental hoops while a horrifying countdown commences: How long will this person keep trying; how long do I have to say no; how many different ways do I have to say no; how aggressive will this person become if I’m aggressive; can I hold out any longer? If you are badgered enough and don’t feel safe leaving the situation (by, say, leaving somewhere late at night or the possibility of retaliatory violence), it can begin to feel like it’s better to give in.
That’s what you hear on the audio here, which is a deeply disturbing “discussion” between Weinstein and model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez as part of a New York City police sting that did not lead to charges under Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance:
Sexual assault and rape as depicted in movies, TV shows, and even journalism are still the story of a scary man in a dark alley with a gun. And it’s easy to get everyone to agree with the words drilled into them my afternoon PSAs: “No means no.” (Although California and many college campuses have endorsed a “yes means yes” campaign of affirmative consent.) But what happens when that “no, no, no, still no,” becomes an “ugh, fine”? When it gets to a point where the energy invested in fighting someone off is more exhausting than whatever (often) brief period of time the assailant needs to just get it over with, and leave you alone?
On the recording, you hear Weinstein tell Gutierrez this will only take “five minutes” and “don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.” It’s only five minutes. Isn’t that easier?
Another woman, Lucia Evans, told Ronan Farrow that in 2004 she took a meeting at the Miramax office in Tribeca and “was led to an office with exercise equipment and takeout boxes on the floor, where she met with Weinstein alone.”
From there (emphasis added here and elsewhere is mine):
“At that point, after that, is when he assaulted me,” Evans said. “He forced me to perform oral sex on him.” As she objected, Weinstein took his penis out of his pants and pulled her head down onto it. “I said, over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t,’ ” she said. “I tried to get away, but maybe I didn’t try hard enough. I didn’t want to kick him or fight him.” In the end, she said, “He’s a big guy. He overpowered me.” At a certain point, she said, “I just sort of gave up. That’s the most horrible part of it, and that’s why he’s been able to do this for so long to so many women: people give up, and then they feel like it’s their fault.”
I began to see this fundamental lack of understanding of coercion as violence as I saw it happen over and over again with my friends and even myself. The slow buildup of Saturday mornings when I got calls from friends who told me some version of this: “I didn’t want to sleep with him, but he wouldn’t stop asking, so I just gave in.” It didn’t strike most of us as that much of a violation of our bodily autonomy—we’d said yes, eventually! It’s consent we gave, eventually, or so it seemed when we were confused, ashamed, distraught, and ill-informed on how this, too, could be assault.
Evans described if not physical violence, physical control—in addition to the coercion, the wearing down of resolve and the feeling of having a right to make decisions about your own body. She said she thought “Weinstein appeared to find the encounter unremarkable. ‘It was like it was just another day for him.’”
Another actress, Asia Argento, told the New Yorker about going to a party in 1997 on the French Rivera:
“[Weinstein] asks me to give a massage. I was, like, ‘Look man, I am no fucking fool,’ ” Argento said. “But, looking back, I am a fucking fool. And I am still trying to come to grips with what happened.”
Argento said that, after she reluctantly agreed to give Weinstein a massage, he pulled her skirt up, forced her legs apart, and performed oral sex on her as she repeatedly told him to stop. Weinstein “terrified me, and he was so big,” she said. “It wouldn’t stop. It was a nightmare.”
At some point, Argento said, she stopped saying no and feigned enjoyment, because she thought it was the only way the assault would end. “I was not willing,” she told me. “I said, ‘No, no, no.’ . . . It’s twisted. A big fat man wanting to eat you. It’s a scary fairy tale.” Argento, who insisted that she wanted to tell her story in all its complexity, said that she didn’t physically fight him off, something that has prompted years of guilt.
“The thing with being a victim is I felt responsible,” she said. “Because if I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away. But I didn’t. And so I felt responsible.” She described the incident as a “horrible trauma.” Decades later, she said, oral sex is still ruined for her. “I’ve been damaged,” she told me. “Just talking to you about it, my whole body is shaking.”
Shortly after the New Yorker story ran, the New York Times published a new story with allegations of sexual harassment by Weinstein from Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, and others.
Weinstein has denied allegations against him, but has also told the Times: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” He said he will get treatment. His company, The Weinstein Company, fired him on Sunday.
History tells us this will not be the last story of its kind. This came after Woody Allen’s adopted daughter said he sexually abused her. After Bill Cosby said in a deposition that he gave Quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with. After the future president of our country bragged about sexual assault in front of a rolling camera. Weinstein is gone, but the system that empowered and enabled him remains and it, practically like a law of the land, stretches from sea to shining sea.