Lucia Posteraro explores life after Weinstein.
Content Warning: This article discusses sexual abuse and rape
The truth on Harvey Weinstein came in earlier this week, and all women in the world must feel a sense of devastating victory. I was even more relieved to hear it after Saturday night: a dear male friend rejected the label of sexual violence for cases in which a woman experiences an orgasm during forced penetration. For him, involuntary contractions were a sign of consent despite a clear will not to engage in the act. The verdict on a man who committed sexual abuse, both in established relationships and with women he just met, will probably be a valid argument for the next time I have to dissociate psychology from mere biology in such a delicate context. And yet, all I can feel is a fierce sense of worthlessness and anger.
When I was 16, in a small seaside town, a random stranger began to stalk me. It took me a while to realise that he kept switching between pavements every time I did so. When the revelation came over me, I ran, but then his arm was quickly around my throat, his hands on my breasts. When I recounted the incident to my classmates every reaction was the same: “That’s terrible, but it could have been so much worse”. My grandmother justified the guy’s action as “the kind of stuff boys do”. At the time, it didn’t strike me what had happened as he was described as “just someone with pesky hormones.” However, I couldn’t bring myself to wear the skirt I had worn that afternoon for three weeks. The 10 minutes separating the bus stop from my home became the worst part of my day.
My mother probably didn’t understand why I was always so frequently lazy or sick, begging to be picked up by car. And yet, the only punishment for what happened was my excessive reaction. As two women suffered extreme panic attacks during the Weinstein trial by the hands and words of a female lawyer, all I could think of was how I have never again sat next to a man on the bus or on a train coach without women when I am alone. I once dared to walk back from a party alone as my friends were too drunk; two hours later my flatmate stormed into the bedroom to check whether I was actually alive. Call it friendship or female solidarity, but to me, it’s the lucky or unlucky dip of who you will meet at night.
The recent cases of sexual assault in Glasgow’s west end have brought back some nasty memories about the sense of randomness which characterises sexual violence for women. Most embarrassingly, the majority of the girls I know resorted to the usual mantra: keep your hair loose to not be grabbed from behind, stick to the main roads, hang in groups when possible, and pray for the best. What hurts the most in all of this is how your agency may be well limited by your gender, and such limitation is even encoded into the list of best practices. The same applied to Weinstein’s employees. In the most ironic way possible, I look forward to meeting the next Weinstein, just for the purpose of seeing what the new model might do to demean women on the basis of their simple being. It is difficult to believe that a similar ordeal of scum and lies could get worse, but life is surprising and so are the outcomes of trials.
It is this kind of constant surveillance and “worst-case scenario” line of thinking that makes me cringe as Weinstein is finally put on the line. Someone braved to speak out when their entire professional efforts would be compromised by the abusive behaviour of one well-established member. It was not those women’s choices to come in touch with Weinstein in the course of their lives when they first began pursuing their aspiration. And yet, they are the ones blamed for (unwillingly) bearing with him, in an industry with limited representation full of once-in-a-lifetime entry-level jobs. The few who were indeed in a relationship with him, some of whom did so to normalise the violence, are now psychoanalysed on social media by inept strangers.
It doesn’t matter if Weinstein may risk ending in prison for 25 years for what can only be defined as criminal acts. Victims had to endure the worst reversal of fortune, in which the attribution of responsibility was aptly distorted to promote an untruthful paroxysm of sluttiness. Even when a choice is available, the side effects are behind the corner and the blame shifted to the next real victim of a system in which voices of trauma and oppression are silenced. We should not cheer for the final decision which has come after decades of systemic abuse. However, we should well believe that we at least comprehend the extent of gender discrimination at its worst, and devise a way to come to terms with it to fight back, now more than ever.