‘She Said’ is a fulcrum in feminist history (opinion)

8 Likes Comment

The authors, journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, are at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Brentwood home with a collection of female truth-tellers: A smattering of women willing to allege on the record that they were harassed and assaulted by movie producer Harvey Weinstein and others (accusations the powerful men deny).

Among the group were actress Ashley Judd, who accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, and several of the women whose stories of harassment and assault were told by Kantor and Twohey in their earlier reporting on Weinstein; Rachel Crooks, who had gone on record about being forcibly kissed, she said, by Donald Trump years earlier (he denies it); Kim Lawson, a McDonald’s employee who led fast food workers in organizing to force the company to address sexual harassment; Allynn Umel, a labor organizer; Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her in high school (which he denied); Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, Blasey Ford’s powerhouse lawyers; and Rowena Chiu, a woman who said she was one of Weinstein’s targets but who had not, at the time of the meeting, come forward. (Chiu, who says she was previously silenced by a non-disclosure agreement, has since publicly accused Weinstein of sexual assault).

The image of that improbable group, gathering in that improbable space, captures Kantor and Twohey’s own sense of awe and near-unreality at what their reporting over the previous few years had brought about.

And, of course, what it didn’t.

The sexual harassment we don't talk about
In “She Said,” the Harvey Weinstein saga takes on a new life. The publication of the Weinstein story in the New York Times in the fall of 2017 is the book’s apex, but Kantor and Twohey give us the before (candidate Donald Trump) and the after (Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh).

Situating the downfall of Weinstein in between the stories of these other powerful men complicates the story, turning a narrative of sisterhood and female power into a more complicated, and more realistic, interrogation of the ebbs and flows of progress. Without Donald Trump, would we have had #MeToo and the swell of female rage and indignation that led women to talk to reporters about Weinstein? Would readers have otherwise been interested in a story about a movie producer who, let’s face it, wasn’t that famous outside of particular circles?

And what does it mean that, even after the fall of once-powerful, allegedly predatory, men — Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby (who all denied the allegations against them) — a man like Brett Kavanaugh, who despite his denials, was credibly accused of sexual assault and misconduct by at least two women, is still confirmed to the Supreme Court?

Dark moments demand the purifying force of light. But strong light casts long shadows.

How myths about sexual harassment keep us in the dark

“She Said” is riveting and, crafted by two of the country’s most talented journalists, a vibrant, cinematic read. Like the best heroic-journalism tomes, it offers the inside play-by-play — debates about how to approach a source; the unglamorous work of knocking on strangers’ doors; the more glamorous, furtive, late-night meetings and surreptitiously handed-over documents; the stately editor-in-chief who holds firm to First Amendment values.

Winningly, Kantor and Twohey walk a perfect line between detailing their hard work without lionizing themselves. They are quick to name all who made their story a team effort, subtly emphasizing the necessity of careful, well-staffed and powerful institutions like the Times.

And they make the case for more women writing and editing these stories. At least one source mentions that previous reporters who approached her from other publications were men, which seems to have made her less amenable to going on the record with them. That Twohey and Kantor were women seemed to make her more comfortable, and she gave her story to the Times.

At one point, Kantor cries with happiness (a display of raw emotion and professional vulnerability you don’t read from many male writers). At another, the two women embrace in a spirit of solidarity and sisterhood. Rebecca Corbett, who helps lead the Times investigative team and emerges as one clear hero in the book, is the person who pushes Kantor and Twohey to go beyond discrete stories and look at whole systems of misbehavior and cover-ups.

With sequel, 'Handmaid's Tale' saga turns on the light

And as in the Weinstein stories the Times published, “She Said” indeed remains less interested in bad individual acts and more in those systems that allow bad actors to thrive. Weinstein is, of course, a villain of this story, but so is David Boies, his friend and lawyer, and Lisa Bloom, a self-styled feminist attorney who repeatedly goes to bat for him out of what seems to be blatant professional self-interest (once all the chips fell, she rejected Weinstein and apologized, claiming she didn’t know all the details).

Kantor and Twohey aren’t declaring that their reporting changed the world in some permanent and immovable way. What’s more, “She Said” doesn’t try to offer big lessons. Instead, it positions us at one fulcrum in the up-and-down of feminist history, when an enormous amount of will converged with the right circumstances, what felt like a rusted hinge unstuck, a door flew open — and then creaked, predictably, back.

After Kavanaugh was confirmed to the court, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell crowed victoriously that “the virtual mob that’s assaulted all of us in the course of this process has turned our base on fire.” The language was telling: Being nearly raped, as Ford alleged, was put on linguistic parity with being verbally accused of sexual violence. And McConnell’s conclusion was disturbing: His party’s base is apparently primed to think women are lying in order to bring men down and are gleeful when men accused of wrongdoing triumph.

McConnell was correct. His party’s base does appear at times gleeful at expressions of male dominance, and they often seem fired up with rage when women challenge that dominance. But that’s not the whole story. When Kantor was reaching out to potential Weinstein victims and being met with fear and hesitation, Twohey offered a line she could use: “I can’t change what happened to you in the past, but together we may be able to use your experience to help protect other people.”

It’s a pledge that now sounds small and unambitious compared with the society-shifting results of their reporting. They did that much, and so much more.

Read More Here!

You might like

About the Author: LennyCo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *