When The New York Times first published allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein on October 5 last year, my immediate response was a rollercoaster ride of emotions from elation that someone accused of this conduct had been outed, through to anger that he had managed to get away with it for so long.
Shortly after this significant article was published, the dominos started to fall.
In Australia it began with the outing of Don Burke as a result of the incredible work of Tracey Spicer, Kate McClymont and the 7:30 team. While three women very bravely stepped out of the shadows to put their names and harrowing stories in the public arena, I was transfixed by the one who didn’t. In McClymont’s first article on Burke, one woman provides her quotes anonymously. That same woman appeared on 7:30 heavily disguised.
I was a newspaper journalist back in the 80s when some of the claims against Burke were said to have occurred. The Burke outing therefore came as no surprise to me because I had heard some of the stories back then. So I was fascinated by the fact that a mature woman, an accomplished journalist, would still feel the need to disguise herself when there was clearly going to be so much relief, particularly from women in the media industry, that the stories were finally coming to light. The women who have stepped forward in both the Weinstein and Burke cases have been celebrated for their courage and thanked by the thousands who have also suffered with their personal stories of harassment or assault in silence for years, even decades.
But then I had to ask myself the question of why I haven’t stepped forward with my #metoo story yet. Why haven’t I been brave enough to out the man who sexually harassed me in the workplace?
The answer is two-fold, as I am sure it must be for the Burke accuser. I am still not convinced that it wouldn’t have an adverse effect on my career. These men are powerful, wealthy and connected. Money buys loyalty, even for unpopular or discredited people, and you can never underestimate the connections, which can be like terrorist cells – almost impossible to detect and likely to mobilise for maximum impact, even if you reduce some of the power of these men through public shame and humiliation.
Who can forget Mira Sorvino’s heart-breaking tweet on December 16, 2017, where she thanked Director Peter Jackson for confirming her worst fears that her career had been derailed by Weinstein? But will she now get work again? Will someone give her that necessary break to revive her film career?
Only months before the Weinstein story broke, my husband and I were discussing films from our youth that we wanted our sons to see and we found ourselves wondering whatever happened to Darryl Hannah? Hannah was a big star in the 80s and 90s and then seemingly disappeared. A quick scan of her filmography shows that while she continued to work into the new century, it was mainly small, low profile stuff. The timeline of Hannah’s claim of sexual harassment by Weinstein separates the two parts of her career very neatly.
And then there is the backlash: the trolls. Putting your name to a position that brings out the trolls can be damaging to a person’s mental health. Not everyone is tough enough to ignore and block on Twitter. By the way, for those who haven’t yet blocked on Twitter, it can be quite cathartic.
I want to step forward and name my harasser, I really do. He made me feel worthless, as though I was only in the role because he wanted to sleep with me. He made me second-guess my capability. He made me feel powerless. There were other women who were subjected to worse and at the time we felt there was nothing we could do about it except try to avoid him. I went so far as to avoid eye contact with him, even when I was speaking directly to him. A few close friends and family are aware but it’s only been recent news to them too. For a decade I told no one. The only people who knew were those that I worked with, who witnessed it. But even they were not privy to the things he said to me when no one else was around.
To remove myself from the compromising situation I walked away from the position that I held, valued and otherwise loved. I put up with this man’s continued unprofessional behaviour towards me for almost two years because I thought it would reflect poorly on me if I walked away sooner. However, when I rejected the proposition that I become his mistress, he made it clear that my services were no longer valued. In the early years of my career, a senior woman in the media who I very much admired, offered me the wise advice to “always leave a company nicely so they can’t say a bad word about you”. With that advice ringing in my head, I thanked that horrible man for the opportunity and exited gracefully, which is my preferred style in every situation, professional and personal. Thankfully he wasn’t a nasty, bitter man – at least not to my knowledge. Or maybe he is the one who should be thankful that I am not nasty and bitter, although I did carry the hurt and anger with me for many years.
About a year ago I was offered an opportunity to join the board of a company that he was involved with and I took great delight in being able to say, “no thanks”. But also, in confidence, I told the executive search firm why. It isn’t the public outing that I still reserve the right to exercise, but I have taken the first step in what feels to be a very difficult personal process that no one can understand unless they have been there and had to go through that.
Everyone’s approach to healing is different. One woman’s relief in outing a predator can be another woman’s hell. I personally like the women’s whisper network approach, where women warn each other privately about offending men. Because we do owe it to other women to protect them if we can.
History will show that there is courage in numbers and with support. The great work that Tracey Spicer and her team are doing to change the circumstances for women by creating a support network should not be underestimated.