The Tipping Point
Harvey Weinstein. What comes to mind when you read his name? Creep? Pervert? For me, I think of two words: Tipping Point. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book titled The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, he defines a tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” Harvey Weinstein has become the tipping point for social behavior that can no longer be tolerated. The list of men in entertainment and politics who have fallen from grace due to their inappropriate and often illegal behavior seems to grow each day. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K. Matt Lauer.
The Los Angeles Times article “Beyond Harvey Weinstein: 33 other high-profile men accused of sexual misdeeds or related behavior” documents 32 other men accused of sexual misconduct from sexting to groping to rape. Many men on the list predate the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner to name a few.
Why did Harvey Weinstein change everything? Why did Hollywood choose to make an example out of him? Is it because so many women came forward? Is it because many famous actresses spoke out? Is it because they publicly shamed him on Twitter? Or is it because it was time to hold men accountable for their behavior? I don’t know though I suspect many books will be written about the moment the dam broke and the river of allegations flooded the public consciousness.
As I heard and read more #MeToo stories, I began remembering my #MeToo moments. Both personal and professional. Women have been resisting men’s sexual advances since the dawn of time. But there is a difference between someone being overly flirtatious and someone not taking no for an answer. When that someone works with you, supervises you, and/or controls your professional future, it only adds another layer to their behavior. Rape is never about sex; rape is about power. Sexual harassment is also about power. The one thing most of the accused men appear to have in common is they were in a position of power. They must have felt invincible.
What’s wrong with texting photos of my cock to teenage girls? I’m not touching them. Why wouldn’t a woman want to see me masturbate? I have a great dick. Why wouldn’t a woman want to have sex with me? I can get anyone I want. What’s wrong with a quid pro quo? We’re just exchanging favors.
My experiences range from verbal harassment to physical assault. For the purposes of brevity, I’m going to focus on situations where I believed a man had some type of power over me. I cannot document every time a man harassed me, because that list of incidents seems endless. I just can’t remember them all.
I had one serious boyfriend in college and we dated from January – October 1992 with a brief attempt at reuniting in early 1993. Aaron and I had a passionate relationship that ran hot and cold. When it was finally over, I thought I wouldn’t see him again except in passing on campus. Unfortunately, I was wrong. At the time, I lived in a small house off campus. My bedroom was above the garage. I shared the kitchen and bathroom with my house mates. The house had a main door that locked and we all had individuals locks on our bedroom doors. The first time Aaron showed up drunk, I don’t believe the main door was locked. He pounded on my bedroom door, yelling my name, demanding to speak to me. I opened the door, managed to calm him down, and convinced him to leave.
When I told a friend about the incident, he became worried. Men like Aaron don’t stop, he said. If it happens again, call me immediately and say let’s go out for a drink. I will call the campus police and come over with a baseball bat. I thought my friend was being overly dramatic with his ‘let’s get a drink’ code call, but I agreed to do it. Good thing I did.
Less than two months later, Aaron showed up again. Only this time, I know the main door was locked. I had gotten into the habit of checking it every night. I heard the glass shattering before I heard him bounding up the stairs. He had broken the window above the door knob to unlock the door. I called my friend. Let’s go out for a drink. Now. He said he would be right over. Aaron began pounding my bedroom door so hard it was shaking. I didn’t want him to break the door but I didn’t want him to break my face either. Confident I could talk him down again, I opened the door. At 6’2″ he towered over me. His face glowed red with anger. “You slashed my tires, you bitch.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t even know where he lived. I don’t know if he finally believed me or if he heard my friend arrive, but Aaron left before the campus police showed up. I filed a restraining order against Aaron and never spoke to him again.
You may think an abusive boyfriend story does not fall in the same category as the many #MeToo stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. However, Aaron and I were both theatre majors, and when our relationship ended, he had the upper hand. He worked in the theatre department, and our professors loved him. When we were together, I was nominated for a theatre scholarship. When we broke up, I was no longer eligible. When I asked what happened, I couldn’t get a straight answer. My GPA remained the same and I was still on the Dean’s List. The only thing that had changed was my relationship with Aaron. The department shunned me. I decided to graduate one semester early and didn’t march in the spring graduation, but I did attend. I felt so isolated when I watched him walk across the stage. No one knew what he had done. No one knew I existed.
In January 1994, a former coworker named Jose asked me out on a date. I was surprised because I knew he liked older women, and I was one year younger than he was. We had known each other for three years. I was looking forward to going out with him. As a tall, dark, handsome, Hispanic guy, Jose was very much my type. He took me out to a nice dinner, which made up for the bland conversation. Then, we went to the Hollywood Athletic Club to shoot pool where I spent more time talking to other people. Every time I tried to include Jose in the conversation, he didn’t a say a word. He didn’t seem interested in anything. Despite the lack of intellectual connection, I continued the date. When someone you have a crush on finally asks you out, you don’t want to give up too soon. I knew he was shy so I thought if we were alone, the conversation would improve. When he invited me back to his place, I said yes.
However, I was very clear: I am not going to have sex with you. He said okay. We sat in his living room and pretended to watch television. Within minutes, we were making out. When he suggested we go into the bedroom, I hesitated. I know I should have stopped right there, but I felt like I knew him. I didn’t believe he would ever do anything I didn’t want him to do. Oh how wrong I was. In the bedroom, things escalated quickly. Before I knew it, he took my clothes off, penned my body down, and thrust his penis inside of me. What started as consensual kissing and touching had turned into non-consensual, rough intercourse. I said NO. I said STOP.
I realized the Jose I knew didn’t exist anymore. This 200-pound guy on top of me was not going to stop. He didn’t seem to see me or hear me. Then I remembered: I wasn’t on the pill. It may seem odd but that’s all I could think about as he continued his assault. I’m not on the pill and he could get me pregnant. I had to stop him. I shouted as loudly as I could hoping his neighbors would hear me. “If you’re going to rape me you son of a bitch, you better put a condom on it because I’m not going to have your bastard child. Do you understand, Motherfucker?”
He stopped. Just like that, he stopped. I could almost feel his dick deflating as if my words took away its power. I brought him back to reality. Then, he looked in my eyes. He must have seen the combination of terror and anger. The date rape that could have happened to me did not. I consider myself lucky. Extremely lucky. After that night, I never saw him again.
Six years later, I was in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Because my appendix had burst, I spent five days in the hospital. The doctor prescribed copious amounts of Demerol for the pain. I remember waking up the second night after visiting hours were over. I felt swollen like the Pillsbury Doughboy. When I examined my body, I realized my Inner Goddess (i.e., vagina) was twice her normal size. She seemed puffy and unrecognizable. I don’t remember who did it, but someone had elevated my legs. Intellectually, I knew the IV fluid had caused the swelling due to the position of my body. Emotionally, I panicked and pushed the button to call a nurse.
An older, Hispanic, male nurse came to my room. I told him what was wrong and asked if I would be okay. I struggled to form coherent words and sentences. He said he needed to see. I didn’t think anything of his request. Of course, he needed to see. I trusted him. He was a nurse! Why am I puffy in my lady parts, I asked. He didn’t answer. Then, he began touching me. I knew he didn’t need to touch me to assess the situation, but in my Demerol-induced drug fog, I couldn’t seem to tell him to stop. I don’t remember if he put his finger inside of me. If he did, I doubt I could have felt it. But I do remember him stroking me in a way that was beyond inappropriate. His touching continued for a few minutes though it felt like an hour. Finally, I drew my knees into my body and clamped them together. He pulled his hand away.
I’ll be fine, I said. Go away. I pushed him as hard as I could with my right hand. Get out. The next time I saw a female nurse, I told her I never wanted to see him again. I didn’t tell her why. I just said I preferred female nurses. She shrugged and said okay. I didn’t tell anyone what happened to me. Not a single person.
I felt a lot of shame because I had asked him to check on me and maybe he was checking on me. For a few years, I thought I might have misjudged the situation because of how drugged I was at the time. Now I accept the truth. He took advantage of me because I was drugged. I was an easy target. What he did was 100-percent wrong! It doesn’t matter how many drugs I had in my system. I was lying down in a hospital bed after a serious surgery. I was incapable of giving any kind of consent. He should not have been touching me that way.
Even though these situations — the abusive boyfriend, the date rape, the creepy nurse — are personal, they are all examples of men who had power over me.
- The boyfriend broke into my house. Twice. And he ruined my relationship with USC’s theatre department.
- The date almost raped me. He outweighed me by 80 pounds and had physical power over me.
- The male nurse touched me inappropriately. He took advantage of his position as well as my diminished state of capacity.
Over the past 20 years, I have worked in nine industries in over 15 professions and had about 100 jobs. In my 20s and early 30s, I spent a great deal of time working in the entertainment industry as an actress and entertainer for live events. I have multiple examples of men taking advantage/being inappropriate. Here are some of my favorite stories.
While I was still in college, my friends and I would often audition for non-union films. Producers/Directors would post ads in Backstage West or Dramalogue for actors/actresses. (Combing these weekly magazines for auditions used to be a ritual.)
I was thrilled when I found an audition for a low-budget, sci-fi film. There were several parts for women so I talked a friend of mine into auditioning with me.
The initial audition was normal. We received sides (i.e., pages from the script) and did cold readings. Within a week, we were called back (i.e., asked to audition again) for different roles. I was disappointed that I was now being considered for the role of the chunky next door neighbor, but I got over it. After all, a part was a part!
My antenna should have gone off when the producer asked us to come to his home instead of the production studio. He had some excuse about why we couldn’t meet there. If I had been alone, I may not have gone, but my friend and I felt safe together. So we went to the callback with our lines memorized.
When we arrived, he reminded us his film was low budget. We nodded. And he said, both of you will turn into aliens. But I figured out a way to do it. We looked at each other and said okay. (As I write this story, I cannot believe how naive we were!) He explained that we needed to wrap our bodies in plastic wrap from knees to neck. (Seriously.) I would have thought it was weird, but my former ballet teacher used to have us ‘fatties’ wrap our thighs in saran wrap all the time. For me, it was an extension of that process. The producer left my friend and me alone to wrap ourselves. When we finished, we were pleased that you couldn’t see our naked bodies. We were camera ready!
We opened the door and told the producer we were ready. We were supposed to go on camera and read our lines a few times. But that never happened. Instead, he asked my friend to lie down on the bed. (Did I leave out that we wrapped our bodies in his bedroom?) I hovered over her as my antenna had finally snapped up. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. He leaned into my friend, and said something like, you missed a spot, as he glided his finger across the top of her bikini line. She flinched. Being covered in plastic didn’t prevent her from feeling his touch. When I asked him what he meant, he said she had stray hairs. I looked where his finger had been and saw a few pubic hairs sticking out of the plastic. (You won’t believe what happened next.) He said, Remember, it’s sci-fi. Aliens don’t have hair. I’ll go get some scissors. As he turned to leave, I grabbed my friend’s hand, picked up our stuff off the floor and said that won’t be necessary. We’re not interested in your film. We ran out the door without looking back.
I can’t remember if we threw our clothes over the plastic wrap or stopped somewhere to change. Neither one of us ever mentioned it again. I felt 100-percent responsible since I found the audition. I can’t believe we even let it get as far as it did, but when you’re a new actress with no film credits, you will do almost anything to get your first one. The fact that it was a paying film was a bonus.
Less than three months later, the producer was on TV for sexual assault. An actress had auditioned for him and he had attacked her. She said he made her wrap herself in plastic wrap. After she got away, she filed a police report. My friend and I were lucky. Damn lucky.
Around the same time the date rape happened, I attended a party in Hollywood. A talent manager brought me to the party along with some of his other clients. I felt out of my element since the other girls were tall, thin, and blonde. They looked like Playboy Playmates. I, on the other hand, looked like Scully from The X-Files. Short, curvy, redhead. So I was surprised when an older gentlemen walked past the blondes and approached me. The talent manager gave me a thumbs up from across the room. The man, whom I will call Vlad, worked with Robert Evans at Paramount. At that time, Robert Evans was the former head of Paramount with his own production deal. Vlad worked as the Vice President in Evan’s production company. I would have thought he was joking except for the talent manager’s thumbs up, Vlad’s business card, and my ridiculous gullibility.
Anyway, Vlad was from Eastern Europe. Poland, I think. He oozed Old World charm. Instead of only talking about himself, he asked me questions. What did I want to do? What were my goals? Why was I at the party? He appeared polite, sincere, and honest. When I asked about his work with Evans, he seemed modest but proud of his success, especially as an immigrant. He had come to America and made a better life for himself. He was married and had children. Though he spoke English well, he still had a slight accent, just enough to be intriguing but not enough to be distracting. Despite our age difference (at least 20 years), I enjoyed our conversation.
Vlad didn’t assault me. He didn’t touch me inappropriately. In fact, what he did was something no man had ever done before and no man has done since. He asked me to consider an unusual offer. I fascinated him, he said. He wanted to help me. He could guide my career. Get me auditions, roles, acting classes. My eyes narrowed. I knew offers that generous were not without strings. I would like it very much if you would be my mistress, he said. Flat out. No pretense. He loved his wife and would never divorce, but he lacked excitement in his life. He had gotten everything he had ever wanted, but he was lonely. I will take care of you, he said. All of it. Food, clothing, shelter. Whatever you need.
Stunned, I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to be revolted by his offer, but I wasn’t. He was so polite that it was hard not to laugh. I was not attracted to him. He was too old for me. Also, I didn’t want to be a kept woman. As much as I wanted an acting career, I never wanted to look back and think I didn’t earn it. As these thoughts skipped around my brain, I smiled at him. No, thank you, I said. He gave me his card and told me if I ever changed my mind to call him.
Though I never called Vlad, I was tempted. Perhaps I would have had a film career with his assistance. His offer occurred almost a year before Adrienne came to live with me. (By December, I was raising Adrienne.) I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had said yes to him. With his financial support, he would have had all the power. I’m glad I said no. At least I was in control of my destiny.
In April 1996, I started working as a clown/games supervisor for a corporate picnic company. That summer, I also worked part-time in the office as a coordinator. The company was small with less than five full-time employees and no HR department. The owner, whom I will call Tom, was a tall, fat man with odd pockmarks on his face. No boils. No warts. But weird pock marks. We all called him ‘Tom the Troll’ behind his back because he acted like a tyrant from a fairytale. When he became angry, his face would turn beet red with rage, which only accentuated the pockmarks thus making him resemble a troll.
Anyway, I was walking in between the offices toward the copier. He walked out of his office and slapped my ass. Hard. I wasn’t wearing a skirt. I wasn’t wearing tight pants. (Not that clothes matter.) I was wearing jeans as the office dress code was casual. I turned around and looked up at him. Keep up the good work, he said. I froze. I wanted to say something. Even if other people in the office didn’t see what happened, I have no doubt they heard that slap. But no one said anything. Tom was the big boss. He could and often did fire people at will. I sort of laughed it off.
Later, I told the vice president how I upset I was. He assured me it would never happen again. Though Tom didn’t touch me again, he continued to make overtures. He asked me to accompany him to Paris. For business, he said. I cannot imagine what ‘business’ he had in Paris when his company revolved around corporate picnics in Southern California. I said no. As much as I wanted to travel to Paris, I was not going to get on a plane with him much less spend time with him in one of the most romantic cities in the world. When I declined, he said he understood. Within a few weeks, we had another office coordinator and she agreed to go with him. I wanted to warn her, but I couldn’t afford to lose my job. Instead, I dropped hints.
Are you sure it’s for business, I asked her. Of course she said. (She was more naive than me.) We have separate hotel rooms. And your boyfriend doesn’t mind? Of course not, she said. He understands it’s for business. When they returned from the trip, she looked like someone who had been beaten up — from the inside out. Tom had attacked her one night but she got away. The rest of the trip he acted like nothing had happened. After the Paris trip, she only lasted about two more weeks before quitting.
As for me, Tom never touched me again. In fact, he went out of his way to avoid me altogether. The funny thing is I ended up working for him and later the vice president when he opened his own company. Between the two companies, I worked corporate picnics for 11 years from April 1996 – May 1997. My sister Adrienne began helping me on picnics when she was 12. I paid her out of my pocket. The vice president and other employees were impressed with her. When Adrienne turned 14 (i.e., legal age to obtain a work permit), the vice president hired her at the rate of $125/day. She was allowed to spend $25, but I made her put the remaining $100 in her new savings account. She saved $900 that summer and convinced all her friends that she had the best summer job ever.
I have one celebrity #MeToo moment: Dennis Haysbert. From 2002 – 2004, I worked on Seasons 2 and 3 of the Emmy award-winning television show 24 starring Kiefer Sutherland. I was a background actor in the CTU unit. During those seasons, actor Dennis Haysbert played the President of the United States. I never had any scenes with him so I didn’t know him well. Though I almost never saw him, he seemed to like me. I couldn’t tell if he smiled that way at everyone, all women, or if it was just me. Looking back, it was probably somewhere in the middle.
One day on set, in between takes, he grabbed me by my wrist. (Why do men think this tactic is effective?) He pulled me toward him. Even though we were in front of the entire crew, no one seemed to pay any attention. It wasn’t that no one cared; it was that a film/television set is unlike any other type of work environment. I don’t think anyone is talking about this particular issue. While every production company has an HR person/department, no one is present on set. Ever. As Dennis pulled me into him almost forcing me to sit on his lap, he asked, “Hey, does the carpet match the drapes?”
Once again, like so many other times, I froze. I was too stunned by his remark to come up with a witty reply. I twisted my arm trying to get my wrist out from underneath his grasp. I don’t know if you have ever seen Dennis, but he is a big guy. Still speechless, I shook my head. Finally, someone said let’s do another take. Dennis released my wrist. I walked away. I thought the whole thing was over, but I was wrong. He was a successful actor used to getting any woman he wanted. He was not going to give up so easily.
Since the day ran long, the production company paid for dinner. The crew and cast usually ate together on 24. The buffet dinner was laid out on the table with people walking on either side serving themselves. Hey Red. I looked up. There was Dennis. He had positioned himself to be across from me in line. Want to grab some dinner? he asked smiling. I love your hair. I will give him an ‘A’ for being a persistent asshole. I bit my lip. He wasn’t my boss per se but if he got pissed off he could get me fired. I shook my head and said no.
A good friend of mine, who worked as an electrician on the show, was standing next to me. An older, black man, Kevin looked out for me like I was his daughter. I don’t think anyone else speaking to Dennis would have made a difference, but Kevin did. He had more years on Dennis. He worked ‘below the line’ so Dennis had little power to affect his job. Kevin was in better shape than Dennis. And I believe it helped that Kevin was black like Dennis. Kevin leaned across the table. “Layoff. She doesn’t want to go out with you. Stop or I’m gonna say something to someone who will stop you.”
Dennis Haysbert did not look at me again. He did not speak to me again. All it took was one decent man standing up for me to stop a persistent asshole. Dennis believed his celebrity status gave him the power to do whatever he wanted to do with women. He was wrong.
Makes you wonder why those guys, the ones who knew about Weinstein, didn’t stand up for their female friends/coworkers. Those men are cowards. All of them.
As women, we get used to being harassed on some level. But when it happens in the workplace, especially by someone who has any amount of power over you, it’s wrong and it’s illegal. I believe the reason the political and entertainment industries took a while to catch up is because the boundaries are not as clear. People will sleep with people, including their bosses, to get ahead. People will have affairs in the workplace. You are more likely to meet your future spouse at work than almost any other place.
The line between right and wrong is not always easy to define. Sometimes, cases of sexual harassment are black and white. Most of the time, I believe they exist in the grey.
If I could go back in time …
- I would report that nurse who touched me because I guarantee he did it to other women.
- I would report that producer on the non-union film for attempted sexual assault on my friend.
- I would slap the corporate picnic president across his face after he slapped my ass.
- As for Dennis Haysbert, I would respond to his question this way, “Dennis, you want to know if the carpet matches the drapes? Well, honey, I prefer hardwood floors. Now fuck off.”
Also published on Medium.