We are the Witches.
Welcome to Haut Takes- the Witches edition. In honor of Halloween, Friday’s premiere of Stranger Things 2, and especially of the countless women and men who continue to come forward and hold their harassers accountable I fashion myself something of an editorial witch. This week’s issue is dedicated to providing you- my subscribers- with the pertinent information needed to sniff out those responsible for one of the infinite number of gaping wounds that are quickly turning our society into one giant septic infection: the lack of recourse for victims of sexual harassment and assault.
Consider it our own, digital newsletter version, of Salem. But the tables have turned.
First some context, the term Witch Hunt was recently reintroduced to the public lexicon by none other than Woody Allen, New York’s own persistently neurotic filmmaker you would never want to be in a room alone with. Allen, of course, decided to add his two cents to the Weinstein controversy with the following words of workplace wisdom. After declaring in a BBC interview that Weinstein’s downfall was “sad for everyone involved”, including Weinstein himself, Woodster added he feared offices would turn into a:
“witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself…that’s not right either.”
Ahhhhh. According to Woody, we MUST protect a man’s right to tell a gal she’s a hot piece while she is trying to do her job. Nothing is more validating and empowering for a lady than being reduced to the subjective value of her appearance while on the clock.
The sheer fact that Allen decided to throw his Harry Potter glasses in the ring here is deeply ironic. As many of you already know, Allen’s adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow (daughter of then girlfriend, Mia Farrow) presented accusations in 1993 that Allen repeatedly sexually abused her from the age of 7 onward. (Read her 2014 open letter to the NYT detailing the abuse. It ends by calling out frequent stars of Allen’s movies including Diane Keaton, Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson for continuing to support her father). Allen OF COURSE, did not suffer any legal consequences. He was briefly blackballed by Hollywood in the mid- 90s until none other than MIRAMAX agreed to distribute his 1994 film Bullets over Broadway. (The NYT also inexplicably gave Allen prime column inches in a 2014 Sunday Review to defend himself. Here he called Farrow’s accusations a “ploy”). OF COURSE, Weinstein had this to say at the time: “Shunned by Hollywood means nothing to Miramax,” Mr. Weinstein told the Los Angeles Times in a 1994 interview. “We’re talking about a comic genius.” Allen OF COURSE repeatedly dismissed complaints from the actresses in his film that they felt uncomfortable around Weinstein.
You see where I am going with this? OF COURSE, Weinstein prioritized Allen’s comedy talents over the moral calamity of distributing the film of an accused pedophile. OF COURSE, Allen played along as Harvey jacked off into potted plants and desperately solicited massages from young women. And OF-FUCKING-COURSE Allen likened Weinstein’s take down to the death by burning of 20 women who were insanely convicted of being mystical, evil creatures in Colonial Massachusetts. OF COURSE, because we are all trapped inside a circle jerk of threatened masculinity that allows despicable sacks of insecurity to blow smoke up each other’s asses until they’ve ascended so far into the atmosphere that they mercifully implode.
(Additional facts worth knowing: Allen’s completely estranged son, Ronan Farrow wrote the New Yorker article that served as the second bombshell Weinstein article where he was first accused of actual rape. Farrow has also repeatedly validated his sister Dylan’s accusations- although in this 2016 Hollywood Reporter editorial, Farrow regrets not adamantly seeking justice for his sister. Oh, and Allen is married to another of Mia Farrow’s adopted daughters. So, there’s that.)
In response to Allen’s incredibly stupid, foot-in-mouth commentary, the brilliant Lindy West wrote this editorial for the New York Times re-appropriating the term “witch”- and deeming herself head witch. In it, West claims the hunters have become the hunted. Those who continue to exploit their power to wrangle gaggles of “witches” to absorb the indignity of their own shortcomings are ripe for persecution. It’s incredible title… “Yes, This is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m hunting you.” West has this to say:
“The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your legacy. The cost of being Harvey Weinstein is not getting to be Harvey Weinstein anymore. We don’t have the justice system on our side; we don’t have institutional power; we don’t have millions of dollars or the presidency; but we have our stories, and we’re going to keep telling them. Happy Halloween.” Lindy West
The Hunted #1: My former employer.
Sexual Harassment is much discussed, yet rarely addressed. An assumption exists that workplace sexual harassment only happens in male-dominated industries rife with corporate greed where women are simultaneously seen as both interlopers and objects for male amusement. This assumption is based on fact but is not entirely whole. As most of you know, I have spent the last seven years working in education in Newark, NJ and NYC. K-12 education is a notoriously female dominated field. It is a presumable safe haven for women in the workplace. And most of the time, it is. I have been surrounded by like-minded, caring, smart, and dedicated educators (both male and female) 99% of the time. Unfortunately, there is a 1%. This 1% is usually a man who possesses a very specific type of entitlement that I have found comes with being one of very few men in a room. This 1% often feels like the power that society has bestowed on him is at risk when surrounded by a number of incredibly smart(er) women and far more secure men. This 1% behaves in the same way the 1% behaves anywhere else. They harass, diminish, grope, grab, and assume that every female they cross paths with should be dressing for and vying for their attention. It is like they live in some VR version of The Bachelor.
I spent four of those years working for an incredibly successful Charter Management Organization. While I will not name the CMO here, this is incredibly thinly veiled. Like there is no veil at all, y’all. It is just straight up air. I worked with many of you there, and many of you still work there. If this remains a mystery to you- find me on Linkedin.
I was sexually harassed by one male teacher for the better part of my first year of teaching. I won’t go into detail, as both my dad and brother are reading (Hi!) And most of it too gross to be worth repeating. But it was persistent, continuous and incredibly uncomfortable.
Being a first-year teacher in any environment is like being thrown into that scene from Twister where the cow is just straight up flying across the freeway. You are pretty much Helen Hunt. You really want to be a storm chaser. You have an incredible amount of passion for it, and just a little bit of equipment to do it but you aren’t really sure how to use it. Sometimes you have a dedicated Bill Paxton like partner who will just storm chase with you- but usually you are alone. You learn to navigate the swirling detritus of sleepless nights, ungraded papers, malfunctioning copy machines, and trying to earn the respect of children who really are not that much younger than you and are definitely aware of this minimal age difference. Throw a creepy, inappropriate coworker in there, and you are no longer Helen Hunt. You are the cow.
I said nothing, besides to a few close friends, for a year. In retrospect, I was scared. This is not a feeling I feel often, but I remember this being one of the scariest times in my life. (I wasn’t always physically scared, more so that one comment would derail my entire day- which was already barely being held together by the stapler I’d already jammed twice that morning.) I was scared to bump into him in an empty hallway. I was scared when he would come into our classroom in the morning. I was scared that whatever outfit I put on in the morning would be perceived as an effort to entice him. I was scared to ask him to provide Special Ed support (his job) for my students for fear it would become an uncomfortable exchange. Most of all, I was scared to tell on him. I was scared to not be taken seriously. I was scared I couldn’t prove it. I was scared of adding yet another unmanageable situation to my to do list.
In the end, my fears were valid. I finally confronted him in a fit of exasperation at a network wide event in the Spring of that year. It didn’t go well. He did not harass me again, but he did stop coming to support my class and definitely talked about me behind my back. (It also didn’t end with me, but my story is the only one I have authority to tell). The following year, he served as a team member on the grade level team I led. He openly talked over my co-leader and me at meetings and refused to fulfill any task I asked of him. In a meeting with my female principal where we were troubleshooting the problem, I was more or less forced to come forward. She asked if I could venture a guess about his motives for defiance. Of course, I could. I spilled. I had to repeat to her, my boss, the things he said to me. Her response? “Well, we have a young staff. This happens. It is just something you have to learn to deal with.” Subtext: this is inconvenient for all of us. It wastes time. I don’t want to have to replace him. It happens to all women. Move on. She now holds one of the highest leadership positions in the network. He worked there all three years that I did, and continued to teach there for two more after. He left because he moved cross country, not because he was asked to. As far as I know, he did not suffer a consequence.
There have been many moments in the past few years where I have been moved to come forward. The first time I watched Confirmation, I typed an essay similar to, but more explicit than, this and ALMOST submitted it to a website that hosts the stories of victims. I didn’t. It would have made waves, but I was afraid of what those waves would destroy.
Besides the deterrents all victims face- there was also the factor that the organization that did not support me (and others- but again…authority is not mine) in a very vulnerable moment is a leader in the education reform movement. They have successfully educated thousands of children and are mostly viewed as a bastion of excellence in urban education. Claims of mishandled sexual harassment would be damaging for any company- but especially for one whose sole mission is based on a foundation of goodness. There is a certain cognitive dissonance that exists when considering a teacher, one who parents entrust with the care of their precious children 10 hours a day, could also be a predator (but we’ve all seen the news, y’all, it happens). I was sure that dissonance was strong enough to dissolve me. I knew that me coming forward would not serve me in my career, or serve an organization that I mostly believed in-let alone the children and coworkers I love. In the end, it wasn’t even why I left, but maybe it should have been. And in a lot of ways I think they are doing this education thing better than anybody else. They achieve this because they have curated a workforce of amazing and loyal people. I just wish they would have been a little more loyal to us.
And with that, I guess I’ve rocked the boat and made the waves.
The Hunted #2: R. Kelly
R. Kelly has been in the cross hairs of many witches for years. But one witch won’t rest until the R & B superstar is held responsible for the incredible number of allegations of sexual assault, rape, and child pornography leveraged against him. (Oh and don’t forget he married Aaliyah when she was 15, then produced her album conveniently titled Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number. AND he was famously acquitted of 14 counts of child pornography charges in 2008, even though the 15 year old girl in whose mouth he peed was identified by a number of family members. And for kicks-don’t forget Chappelle’s famous Piss on You skit from the terribly missed Chappelle show, which along with the Hannibal Burress- Cosby is a rapist set is rightfully considered one of the best examples of celebrity condemnation of other celebrities.)
In this Chicago Magazine article, Mark Caro profiles Jim DeRogatis and his “lonely crusade” to dethrone Kelly. DeRogatis was formerly the rock critic for the Chicago Sun Times and, briefly, for Rolling Stone. He now co-hosts an NPR radio show focused on arguing and musical criticism.
Most importantly, DeRogatis now serves as the press receptacle for women and family members of women who have been mistreated by Kelly. DeroGatis published his first article condemning Kelly in 2000. In 2002, a tape of Kelly having sex with an underage girl was anonymously slipped to DeRogatis. This initiated his involvement in the Chicago police’s investigation of Kelly (in subsequent court hearings, DeRogatis pled the 5th-refusing to reveal his source and protecting his journalistic privilege). That same year, Derogatis published an article in the Chicago Sun Times detailing the investigation. That same night, a bullet was shot through the door of his apartment. For this week’s spoiler alert- it wasn’t an accident.
He is a trusted confidant in pursuit of justice for Kelly’s alleged victims. Earlier this summer, he wrote an over 4,000-word article for Buzzfeed entitled “R. Kelly is Holding Women Against their will in a cult”. It is startling. In the article, DeRogatis chronicles the tale of numerous women who are being held at two Kelly owned properties, one in Chicago and one in Atlanta. According to their families, Kelly met most of these women when they were between the ages of 15 and 17, enticed them with some sort of offer of musical stardom, brought them to a private property, had sex with them (probably filmed it), and has now inducted them in his version of a cult. These women are given a number of rules, including what to wear (baggy sweatsuits that hide their bodies from other men), when to eat, and of course when to have sex with Kelly. He has also cut off access to their personal cell phones besides a Kelly-issued phone from which they can call him and him only. Most of the women were not made available for comment, but the one that did said she wanted to be with Kelly, and that she is not being held against her will. She is now over the age of consent, and cannot be forcibly removed.
DeRogatis and the family of these women are relentlessly working to free them and seek justice for many other alleged Kelly victims. DeRogatis’ work has not been popular- SEE GUN SHOT. He wrote his first piece for Buzzfeed in 2013. (He comments on it here. Most poignant comment: “This is rape you are watching, not rock star misbehavior.”) It was shopped to and turned down from three different outlets (including the LA Times) before Buzzfeed bit. Many traditional media outlets were deterred by the Hulk Hogan libel suit that tanked Gawker (and the GUN SHOT) to publish a potentially damning story about a popular celebrity. The Buzzfeed story yielded very little consequences for Kelly besides a few cancelled concert appearances.
Needless to say, Derogatis is frustrated but also determined. He describes his aesthetic as “fuck you”. I can relate and appreciate. One father of an alleged victim compares him to a firefighter saving a family from a burning building- saying he is the only person who has been willing to help his daughter and the other victims. For these two reasons, I am confident that he can fell the perverted Kelly empire. And maybe we can help him do it, his crusade shouldn’t be so lonely. At the very least, next time you hear Kelly creepily croon “I’m like so what I’m drunk”, remember the harem of sweat suit clad women he has trapped in one of his many closets who have heard him say that live.
The Hunted #3: Where does it end?: Coverage by other witches.
- How to become a Witch (actually titled, How to Break a Harassment Story), a NYT article featuring commentary from the three reporters who broke harassment stories about Weinstein, Silicon Valley execs, and Bill O’Reilly on why writing this sort of story is uniquely hard.
- Speaking of Billy (which I wish none of us had to do ever again) the NYT broke a story this weekend revealing that Fox News paid out a $32 million settlement to woman accusing O’Reilly of harassment. Bill responded by invoking the catchphrase of his BFF Don, “these women are all liars. No one ever complained.” (or something like that). Unlikely witch, Megyn Kelly-who is problematic in her own right-called horseshit on that one pretty quick because SHE complained. And guess what, she SAVED THE EMAIL and read it aloud on her morning show for all to hear. (She also noted that the only civil settlement within this ballpark was the $33.5 million O.J. was forced to pay the Brown and Goldman families. Their children are dead. What the hell could Bill have done?) He has already responded by attacking Kelly and blaming God. No link provided. Boy, bye.
- Speaking of DJT (again, wishing none of us had to ever again), the Washington Post allowed the women who have accused Trump of assault to ask, why not him? Weinstein’s fall was fast and hard, why can’t Trump’s be? Is the shield of the presidency so resilient he is immune? What about the pain of the women who have to watch the small hands who once groped them flail about on cable news every day? Is it not just as valid?
A bit of Music: Yesterday marked the 7 year anniversary of the release of Kanye West’s Monster. But let’s call it what it is, NICKI MINAJ’s Monster. It is really the 7 year anniversary of when the world REALLY met Nicki Minaj. This song belongs to her. You’ve never heard anything like her growling, first things first I’ll eat your brains. It’s rap royalty.
Let’s wrap it up. Speaking of Nicki (which we can keep doing repeatedly), here are three profiles of three of my favorite famous women published in the last week. All three are titans in their fields (actors, novelists/ intellectuals, and rap queens/ possible aliens). All three also speak on the issues dissected in Haut Takes through the perspective of women of color, which obviously I cannot.