Yes, yes, very accomplished

Mimi Kramer on Harvey Weinstein and all that.

I spend a lot of time reading about the Weinstein scandal. Like most women, I imagine, I’m fascinated by it and by everything that seems to be happening — and not happening — as a result of it. My interest probably derives from the two years I spent being sexually harassed by a married writer at The New Yorker. There’ve been some wonderful things written on the subject, not only the original exposés by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in The New York Times, and by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, but also “think” pieces, mostly by women, that have made my heart soar: Rebecca Traister in The Cut, Lena Dunham in the op-ed section of The Times, Jia Tolentino again in The New Yorker, Amanda Marcotte in Salon, and Megan Garber, in The Atlantic, who used the history of the phrase “open secret” to craft the most elegant and purely literary treatment of the subject I’ve come across.

I’m not sure, though, that anyone had really put their finger on what this kind of behavior is all about and what makes it possible — until yesterday morning, when news broke that Leon Wieseltier, the longtime literary editor of The New Republic and one of our premier moral intellectuals, had been harassing female colleagues for decades. More than once in Wednesday’s coverage, a statement Wieseltier made in a 1994 essay (“Against Identity”) was cited, albeit out of context, and quoted as well on Twitter: “I hear it said of somebody that he is leading a double life. I think to myself: Just two?”

That, right there — I’d argue — is the impulse behind sexual harassment. It’s about getting away with something. It’s about seeming to be one sort of person, a “pillar of the community” — responsible, dignified, respectable, a family man, a liberal, a progressive, Presidential, whatever — while really being A Very Bad Boy. That’s exciting for some men. Not the being bad part. The getting-away-with-it part. It isn’t just about power over individuals, the women you victimize. It’s about power over society and the court of public opinion, the thrill of risking everything on one roll of the dice, knowing that it isn’t really all that much of a risk — because nobody will believe her.

Hmm. I’m not convinced. I think it’s more about self-image – about being both an intellectual Top Dog and a rakish sexy beast and dominator of women. Being a male intellectual always risks being seen as a sissy, a weak nerdy indoors type who can’t play basketball, a girl. Solution: be a dawg.

What goes through the mind of every woman who has ever been sexually harassed in the workplace — and what working woman has not? — is, “Who will survive this? And who will control the narrative?” It’s largely men who control the fate and the perception of women in the workplace. And when it isn’t men, it’s the powerful women who enable them. Women like Tina Brown, who co-founded Talk magazine with Weinstein and with great alacrity went on the talk show circuit trying to distance herself from him.

This is, as Smith pointed out in the same Weekly Standard piece, a bit of a farce. Brown did more than anyone else in America to blur the lines between print journalism and Hollywood, creating the very climate that made someone like Weinstein untouchable. “The catchword,” Smith writes, “was ‘synergy’ — magazine articles, turned into books, turned into movies, a supply chain of entertainment and information that was going to put these media titans in the middle of everything and make them all richer.”

It’s actually even more of a farce for Brown to hold herself out as a champion of women. (“This is a purifying moment.”) Brown fired more women staffers at The New Yorker than Elvis fires up engines in Viva Las Vegas, and when you pointed this out to men on the staff, the response tended to be something along the lines of, “Well, she wants to be the only chicken in the henhouse.” I remember one editor using exactly those words not long before I was fired, after Brown had fired Veronica Geng, a celebrated New Yorker writer and editor who, oddly, had had an affair with the same married writer who targeted me.

I didn’t know that about Tina Brown. I knew she’d made the New Yorker more ordinary and less interesting, but I didn’t know she’d fired a bunch of women.

Sure, women got published in Tina Brown’s New Yorker — now and then, from time to time, especially if they were willing to write about sex, particularly their own sex lives. But through 1995 at least, when I stopped taking notice, there were very few women’s bylines in the magazine on a regular basis. And the phenomenon of women writers who were associated with a particular sphere or field of expertise actually publishing on their subject became virtually unheard of. The back of the book, meanwhile — the culture section— which traditionally had been a breeding-ground for critics, some of them women like Pauline Kael and Arlene Croce who had invented new ways of writing about a particular art form, was largely de-feminized, its columns filled by generic male voices that could have been found in any publication, like the very ones some of them had been hired away from.

Why that sounds like PBS panel shows, stuffed as they are with generic dull male voices.

I remember a story told me by Veronica, who was in on a few of Brown’s early editorial meetings. The question of how certain managerial roles would be meted out came up and someone brought up the name of the editor who had stopped me in the hall that time. Veronica told me that Brown quipped, “Oh, you mean the fat, homely girl with glasses,” and the men all laughed. Yes, they agreed, that was who was meant. Veronica pointed out that the woman under discussion was an accomplished poet and translator, and the men, chastened, all quickly agreed, “Yes, yes, very accomplished.”

Tina Brown was the enabler-in-chief. It’s absurd for her to carry on as though she didn’t know of Weinstein’s depredations and wasn’t complicit. She’s the woman who put a young actress who wouldn’t sleep with Weinstein on the cover of the premiere issue of Talk dressed in S&M garb, crawling painfully toward the camera on her stomach like a submissive, and so generically made up as to render her unrecognizable as an individual. What the hell did she think that was saying?

It’s equally hard to stomach Brown on the subject of Weinstein’s grossness and unloveliness. Brown did more to vulgarize and uglify American letters than any other single person in America. She was the queen of the nothing-is-sacred mentality, establishing a redefinition of writing and journalism whereby nothing had any value at all but sex, shock, money, power, or celebrity.

And here we are today.

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