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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Updated: Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein: Are They Really So Different?



On October 5, 2017, The New York Times published an in-depth investigation of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, with a focus on his alleged sexual harassment of young women over a period of many years, and "at least" eight settlements reached, presumably at the cost of the victims' silence.

The article features an interview with superstar Ashley Judd, who says he tricked her into a breakfast meeting that quickly turned into a protracted verbal tussle. How about a massage? Would she watch him take a shower?

“I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask," said Judd of the encounter.

Weinstein promptly fired back, positioning himself as essentially a good guy who has been stabbed in the back by a troubled friend. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he deftly:

  • Calls her crazy: Brings up Judd's history of prior sexual abuse and "brutal" life story -- i.e., she's confusing a friend with an enemy.
  • Calls her a liar: Makes the claim that her earlier account, to Variety, is different from the one she told the Times -- i.e., that the problem is the discrepancy, not the fact that Judd had already mentioned her encounter with him before the Times story appeared. 
  • Ignores the power difference between them: Notes that she went on to appear in two of his movies and that "I even set her up on a date with my brother Bob" -- ignoring the obvious fact that people trying to survive and succeed will put up with a lot of stuff from people who are otherwise odious to them.

In her analysis of the story for The Daily Beast, Amy Zimmerman picks up on the choking level of outrage among women that the Times' story invokes.
"Even for women completely outside of Weinstein’s orbit, the Times story is sure to strike a chord, evoking the sort of mental calculus we revert to when engaging with a potential predator who is also a professional superior."
Certainly the story resonates with me. I can still feel the rage rising up in my throat as I recall a superior who instructed me to lay out a report "as though it were a Playboy," holding up two plain white pieces of paper side by side.

After the Times article appeared, Weinstein issued an apology which reads, in part:
"I came of age in the '60s and '70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it's not an excuse, in the office — or out of it. To anyone."
Reading between the lines I take Weinstein's statement to mean that 50 years ago, it was normal to harass the women who worked for you, but now he "gets" that women are actual people who feel actual pain.

It's not clear how real his remorseful words are though. Weinstein's done everything he can to shut everybody up about his predatory behavior until now; he tried to discredit Ashley Judd; he is threatening to sue The New York Times; and as for those settlements, “my motto is to keep the peace.”

It appears to have been a pattern that Weinstein liked to noodge, and noodge, and noodge until his victims finally gave in to him. As the Times reports:
"a female assistant says Mr. Weinstein badgered her into giving him a massage while he was naked, leaving her 'crying and very distraught,' wrote a colleague, Lauren O’Connor, in a searing memo asserting sexual harassment and other misconduct by their boss."
Other women interviewed by the newspaper said he had a habit of "repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself" (emphasis added) in addition to "appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed."

The harassment was interwoven with work, such that Weinstein "could switch course quickly — meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next."

They tried to protect each other; "one woman advised a peer to wear a parka when summoned for duty as a layer of protection against unwelcome advances."

It also appears that Weinstein's behavior may not have been confined to employees, actual or potential. In an interview with The Huffington Post, television reporter Lauren Sivan claimed Weinstein trapped her in a restaurant hallway and masturbated in front of her until he ejaculated.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, now-President Trump was falsely accused of raping a then 13-year-old girl. Nevertheless, numerous allegations have been recorded of the now-President treating women like sexual objects.

Another New York Times article, published on May 14, 2016 (coauthored by Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey; the latter co-wrote the article about Weinstein) create an impression of a man who used his power and money to sexually exploit women:
"Unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct....in his offices at Trump Tower, at his homes, at construction sites and backstage at beauty pageants....fleeting, unimportant moments to him, but they left lasting impressions on the women who experienced them."
Later, Trump, dogged by a taped encounter where he bragged that he was so famous he could "grab 'em by the pussy," and known for his euphemistically titled "modeling parties," was asked about how women should handle sexual harassment. He provided a relatively realistic response:
“If there’s not a better alternative, then you stay. But it could be there’s a better alternative where you’re taken care of better.”
Sometimes people ask me how, as a feminist, I could support President Trump, given all that's been said about him.

[Author's Note: The section below has been updated to reflect online comments, such as this Tweet by John Podhoretz, and news stories from October 9-10, 2017, such as this Newsweek story, "The Men of Hollywood Don't Own Women: Rose McGowan Becomes Voice Of Weinstein Resistance." See also "Why The Harvey Weinstein Sexual-Harassment Allegations Didn't Come Out Until Now."]

Well, for one thing, our President is far from a sexual predator. I do believe he has a history of objectifying women, and I do believe he has treated some women with disrespect, even rage, at times.

But I believe that President Trump is overall a great patriot, an effective leader, and a good individual. All individuals are flawed.

Maybe Harvey Weinstein would say the same thing about himself. But from the raft of stories detailing his abusive behaviors, I don't think a comparable case can be made.

He donated lots of money to Democrats. It is good to hear that Democrats are walking away from this clearly very sick individual.

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Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. All rights reserved. Photo by James DeMers via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).