Yesterday, I handed my boss the latest Hollywood Reporter, as I do every week.
“It’s gross,” I warned her, something I do not typically do every week.
“Oh god, what’d they do to his face? They didn’t need to do that, he’s already terrifying,” was her response.
We were talking, of course, about Harvey Weinstein. Who else?
The cover has a bright red background, a grayscale image of Harvey’s ubiquitous face nearly fills the page. His mouth is slightly open, revealing sharp teeth reminiscent of Pennywise’s. The only copy reads “HARASSMENT IN HOLLYWOOD” and “EXPOSED.”
Every day for the past two weeks, I’ve spent my downtime at work catching up on the barrage of stories that have come out since the New York Times first broke their story. I read Ronan Farrow’s heartbreakingly thorough companion piece at The New Yorker. I read Gwyneth’s statement, and Angelina’s, and Romola’s, and Kate’s, and Lena’s. And, and, and.
Their words, their experiences, fill me with sadness and rage and frustration and indignation. And, and, and. It’s as exhausting as it is necessary.
Read enough coverage of the Harvey story, not these actress’s personal statements, but the journalistic breakdowns, the Twitter reactions, or the statements of shocked and appalled men, the “I had no idea”s and the “how could this have happened?”s, and a certain theme emerges, the same one that THR chose to express on their cover.
Monster. It’s naturally, instinctively, one of the first words our mind reaches for when tasked with describing something as horrid as Harvey’s nearly 30-year history of sexual harassment and abuse. It makes sense; monsters are creatures who do scary things, whose stories keep us awake at night as children. As we grow up, it’s easy, then, to assign the word to other behaviors that frighten us. Like Harvey’s.
But that ease with which we deploy monster can be dangerous, too. By calling Harvey a monster, we put him in the company of those supernatural things that were too scary to think about, too confusing to understand as children: ghosts, boogeyman, vampires. Harvey, to my knowledge, is none of those things.
He’s a man in a position of unimaginable power, who used that power to bully and to hurt and to silence and to instill shame in a seemingly infinite number of people, for an obscene amount of time. But he’s still a man.
My boss’s reaction to the cartoonish THR cover said it all: “They didn’t need to do that, he’s already terrifying.”
His actions were disgusting, appalling, completely unconscionable. Monstrous. But they were the actions of a real man, not a mythical creature who exists only in ghost stories. His actions have caused real damage, and have had real consequences, for his victims and, finally, for him.
And what, exactly, is the yardstick for measuring a monster, anyway? Harvey, obviously. Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, certainly. Bill O’Reilly. Donald Trump. But what about Casey? Nate? Woody? How many women, exactly, must be left in someone’s wake for them to turn from man to monster? At what point do we feel the need to draw fangs on them, just to really bring the point home? (I mean, seriously, click on Woody and look at the cover THR gave him last year!)
To call these men monsters is to set them aside, in a neat little box, a class unto themselves. To call these men monsters is to call them an aberration, an exception to the rule. To call these men monsters is to avoid the fact that, actually, they’re just men.
No, not all men are as bad as they are, of course not. But it sure seems like a hell of a lot of men are, if not inclined to, then at least capable of using whatever power they have to hurt others.
And it’s time, it’s beyond time, to just acknowledge it. Head-on. No cutesy fangs, no euphemisms, no performative shock.
We need to acknowledge that men, not monsters, abuse power, in every industry, in every class, around the world. We need to acknowledge it, so we can accept it is real. We need to acknowledge it, so we can make it clear that it is not OK, it’s very, very, wrong. We need to acknowledge it so we can create consequences, and follow through on them. We need to acknowledge it, so that when a woman, a strong, courageous, scared woman with everything to lose, actually comes forward, we listen to her. The first time. And we believe her. And we don’t let it happen again. And again. And again.