The smarmy Harvey Weinstein story only underscores my point about how women tend to water down their message and why.
Many of the women that movie producer Weinstein targeted for his sexual conquests are now famous stars and yet until now have kept silent or remained relatively quiet about his behavior.
Why? Because of intimidation and the implicit threat of the consequences if they spoke out. These were very real consequences because of his status, power, and money. It’s an all-too-common theme, and I hope there will be some real consequences for Weinstein and any like him, for once.
I’m very familiar with this theme. I had an abusive husband, and when I blew the whistle on him and he spent a night in jail, hell then rained down on me in the form of seven years of legal hell. I myself was essentially put on trial and dragged through a nightmare of intimidation designed to torture me until I just gave up. I didn’t.
But what I wanted to talk about today was something else that happened when I was a reporter in Japan. In addition to the Associated Press, I worked for several Japanese news organizations and have some fond memories of my bosses, most of whom went out of their way to make me feel welcomed as a foreigner and as a woman.
In Japan, the “sempai” — generally men with more seniority — were expected to take care of the “kohai,” or junior staff, and play a sort of mentoring roll, so it was not uncommon for my bosses to occasionally take me out for coffee or a meal just to be nice, catch up, and make sure everything was going well. My boss at one particular company loved to take the foreign reporters — men and women — out and even had us over to his home (unusual in Japan) to have a party and meet his family.
But at this one particular company, a man who was above even my boss — the head of the entire department — approached me in the hallway one day and said he had some important business to discuss with me and asked if I was free for dinner that evening.
I was in my twenties and felt intimidated by him since he was a senior person in the company, and since this type of socializing was common, I agreed to go. He took me to a nice restaurant and seemed downright giddy over the meal as he described how much he’d enjoyed my recent articles written during a trip I’d taken to Southeast Asia. He asked if I liked Southeast Asia, and I said yes, after which he began dangling the possibility of me being sent there to work in one of the company’s foreign bureaus.
I started to see where this was leading, and it put me in a really uncomfortable position. I wanted to leave right then, but he was my boss, with the power to fire me, plus, there was the shadow of a possibility that I had misunderstood and gotten it wrong because of the language barrier.
There was a darkened area of the restaurant which was cordoned off, and when he suggested that we go there for our coffee and dessert, I knew my suspicions weren’t mistaken. I declined and fended off his attempts to hold my hand when we left the restaurant.
His behavior upset and disgusted me, but worse yet, the next day, this man who usually wore a suit and tie, came waltzing up to my desk wearing a wild print shirt unbuttoned to his navel, exposing a gold medallion. He did a weird sort of dance in front of me, then practically sprawled across my desk as he told me that he knew a fabulous French restaurant and wanted to take me there.
This upset me even more and with a lot of misgiving, I took it up with my immediate boss, who was clearly uncomfortable because he was the person’s underling. He sympathized and tried to make me feel better by saying, “He always does this.” That didn’t make me feel better. He said not to let it upset me, that I should just ignore him and forget about it. Well that’s pretty hard to do when the person is sitting across the room staring at you all day long. This man’s abuse of power AND the nudie posters dotted around the newsroom were starting to put me over the edge.
When I told my Japanese boyfriend, who was a reporter for a different company, he was irate. But his ultimate response was, “I’d like to punch him in the nose… but I might want to get a job there myself some day.”
All of this contributed to my final decision to quit my job and leave Japan, I was so turned off.
The upside of the story, however, is that this was partly responsible for me deciding to leave journalism so I could put my attention on writing books. I’d been wanting to do something more artistic and creative, and after this, I didn’t want to be under anyone else’s thumb.
That was in Japan quite a while ago, so I’m saddened to see the same sort of thing still happening here years later, in a country I’d thought was more enlightened. It reminded me of the feelings of fear, intimidation, powerlessness and disgust I went through because of the behavior of someone abusing his power and taking advantage of others in a weaker position — just to inflate his ego.
I’m glad to see these women in Hollywood speaking up, and I sincerely hope that something changes as a result of this scandal coming to light.
Women hesitate to speak up because they know they will be punished if the perpetrator can get away with it. But there’s safety in numbers. Let’s agree to blow the whistle on these — I was going to say “pigs,” but that’s an insult to an intelligent animal.