Write me: rjn@richardjnewman.com
Some Thoughts About Harvey Weinstein and What He Represents

I met my Har­vey Wein­stein when I was around 13 years old. He was the head wait­er at the cater­ing hall where I worked, and he spent the next three or four years grop­ing and fondling me as often and in as many ways as he could. Once, when we had back-to-back jobs to work and had almost no time to sleep, he gave me Black Beau­ties to take so I could stay awake. This was when Black Beau­ties were real­ly Black Beau­ties, not the diet pill that lat­er had that name, and he hint­ed very hard that I owed him some­thing in return, and that, if I couldn’t afford to pay him mon­ey, there were “oth­er ways” he’d agree to be com­pen­sat­ed. Noth­ing ever came of that, though. I think he backed off in part because he was sort of a friend of the fam­i­ly and he was wor­ried what would hap­pen if I told. It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that, at this time—around 1978 or so—while peo­ple were begin­ning to talk more open­ly about sex­u­al vio­lence against women, no one was talk­ing about the sex­u­al abuse of boys. Even if I had want­ed to tell some­one, there was no lan­guage in which to describe what he was doing to me as the sex­u­al assault that it was. I lit­er­al­ly did not have the words to under­stand and name my own expe­ri­ence.

I’ve been think­ing a lot about this man late­ly, as I’ve been think­ing about the sig­nif­i­cant­ly old­er male col­leagues of mine who, when I was first hired at 27 at the col­lege where I teach almost thir­ty years ago, would pull me aside at the begin­ning of every semes­ter to ask, “How many real­ly hot women do you have in your class?” When I refused to answer, which I did every time they asked, they would look at me incred­u­lous­ly and tease me by say­ing that I wasn’t answer­ing because I prob­a­bly had my eye one or more of those women. I have often won­dered at my own silence back then, which—while it was a form of resistance—was a rel­a­tive­ly pas­sive one, in that it did not con­front those men with an open and explic­it refusal of the sex­ist, exploitive male bond­ing in which they were try­ing to engage me. In the late 1980s, there wasn’t much of a lan­guage yet—I’d say it was just start­ing to develop—in which men could con­front oth­er men on those terms. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t yet have the words to assert and insist on my own dis­loy­al­ty to that male code.

Those are just two exam­ples of how impov­er­ished our lan­guage for talk­ing about not just man­hood and mas­culin­i­ty, but also male sex­u­al vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, was back then. That lan­guage is far less impov­er­ished now, and I have been lis­ten­ing to and read­ing the words of men who are using it to talk about who Har­vey Wein­stein is, what he did, and what he rep­re­sents. It is heart­en­ing. At the same time, though, I am very aware that, because the peo­ple Wein­stein tar­get­ed were women, this talk, from both men and women, tends to ren­der my own expe­ri­ence with my own Har­vey Wein­stein invis­i­ble. It is, in oth­er words, explic­it­ly heteronormative—a fact that pos­es a seri­ous chal­lenge.

On the one hand, it would be dis­hon­est and irre­spon­si­ble to hold sex­u­al vio­lence against women and sex­u­al vio­lence against men as entire­ly equal in every respect. Regard­less of what may be true about the fre­quen­cy with which men expe­ri­ence sex­u­al vio­la­tion, or the kinds of vio­la­tion we expe­ri­ence, it is not the case that sex­u­al vio­la­tion is used against men in the per­va­sive and sys­temic way that it is used against women as a class, to keep them silent and sub­servient, to hold them back, etc. We have to be able to talk about what Har­vey Wein­stein did and what he rep­re­sents as part and par­cel, and as per­pet­u­at­ing of that sys­tem, and we have to be able to have that dis­cus­sion with­out it being dilut­ed by calls to pay simul­ta­ne­ous and equal atten­tion to sex­u­al vio­lence against men.

At the same time, though, if we do not find a way with­in the larg­er con­text of this dis­cus­sion to give sex­u­al vio­lence against men and boys the weight it deserves on its own terms (not in a weight­ed com­par­i­son to women’s expe­ri­ence), then we will be telling an incom­plete and ulti­mate­ly impov­er­ished sto­ry about sex­u­al vio­lence in our cul­ture. Not only would that be doing real harm to the men and boys who, like me, are sur­vivors of sex­u­al vio­lence (or, per­haps more accu­rate­ly, not only would it per­pet­u­ate the harm that is already per­va­sive­ly being done); it would, in the end, pre­cise­ly because of its het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­i­ty, per­pet­u­ate many of the notions about man­hood and mas­culin­i­ty with which all too many peo­ple seek to nor­mal­ize, excuse, ratio­nal­ize, jus­ti­fy, and/or min­i­mize what Har­vey Wein­stein did and what he rep­re­sents; and that would do real harm to the women whom men like Har­vey Wein­stein con­tin­ue to tar­get. Not to men­tion how much more dif­fi­cult it makes things for those men who are work­ing out ways of being men that are not exploitive, and for those men and women who are try­ing to raise sons who will stand in oppo­si­tion to the Har­vey Wein­steins of the world.

1 Comment

  • zdunno03 Posted October 16, 2017 2:41 am

    Very nice, Rich.

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