“I hate that look. The dead look,” Dov Charney, ousted founder of American Apparel tells Lisa Chow during an episode of Startup season 4. He’s criticizing the AA ads that were placed after he left the company. So I took a look at the ads he put in place and had to admit that these were not dead looks. (Okay, yes. Some of them are.) But the models are vacillating between pornographic recreations and anxious looks for reassurance. These are not women removed from the male gaze and empowered. These are women asking, “Am I _____ enough?”
Charney isn’t asking himself that question, though. He feels good about looking at them. Given Charney’s apparent lack of sensitivity as evidenced time and again throughout the series, I imagine he prefers to not think about how his models feel. The dead look reminds him of the agency his subjects are offered through their relationships with him. (None.) Since many of the models are AA employees, the power dynamics of these ads could write a book.
But that’s not what this post is about.
My family is one of those that receives Rolling Stone for some unknown reason. Better than that is we get two subscriptions. I was reading the December 15-29th issue with Barack on the cover when I saw their list of Movies of the Year.
10. Birth of a Nation:
One of the damn shames of this movie year is the way director Nate Parker’s incendiary telling of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner (a stellar Parker) got lost in the controversy over the charges against Parker for sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman at Penn State in 1999. He was acquitted at trial, but the court of public opinion has left a flawed yet formidable film struggling for the wide audience it deserves.
Mostly, I am surprised that this film is even on the list of top 10 movies of the year anywhere. Every review I read talked about the history rewrites and, specifically, about the inclusion of a rape scene to incite Turner to action, as if slavery itself weren’t bad enough. No, this guy had to be a savior of black womanhood, which kind of makes sense since Parker also regards himself as saving black manhood by not playing gay characters.
But that’s not what this post is about.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Birth on the list, however, given the list’s runner up:
2. Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck gives the performance of the year as a Boston janitor faced with unspeakable tragedy. In only his third film, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan cuts to the core of what makes us human and gives us the strength to carry on.
This summary does not mention the sexual assault lawsuits against Casey Affleck, but we didn’t expect them to. There’s too much privilege and too little auteur going on, as Anne Helen Peterson pointed out on BuzzFeed earlier this week. But still, that’s not what this post is about.
In Petersen’s and The Cut‘s articles on why Casey Affleck has managed to evade sexual assault as a death knell, both quoted Affleck’s response when questioned about the assault:
He does not feel responsibility for what happened, and that “it was settled to the satisfaction of all. I was hurt and upset — I am sure all were — but I am over it.” To Variety, he characterized the lawsuits this way: “People say whatever they want.”
I freaking bet he doesn’t feel responsibility for what happened. It’s so rare that a man does feel any culpability for his own actions. It’s easy to shirk responsibilities when your friend who goaded you on or did the same thing is not held accountable. But that’s not what ethics are. Ethics are what you do when no one is looking. Ethics are taking responsibility for your own actions. Ethics are being comfortable with anything you’ve done being printed on the cover of The New York Times.
That’s what this post is about.
This post is about men being over it–it=sexual assault, harassment, offensive actions, abuse of privilege, chime in with more, etc.–and moving on with their lives without repercussions.
It’s about people (many of whom already know about the past allegations and settlements) investing in Dov Charney’s new brand, Los Angeles Apparel (truly, bravo at his creativity), regardless of the heinous actions he has committed time and again against women. Moreover, his ability to run a business has been found lacking. So what is it we are investing in? Him as a trustworthy person and women as always out for a quick buck? Even when he frames them?
Imagine what a world we’d be living in if investors thought about people instead of their bottom line. Given their knowledge of past allegations, who will be held accountable should Charney’s new company (which just made its first million) find itself dealing with claims of sexual harassment and misconduct?
It’s about lamenting the lack of success of Birth of a Nation because even though he was acquitted of his crime he isn’t reaping rewards now. Because even though the film wasn’t really that good, we should still give him a pat on the back because he worked hard to raise money and direct the thing.
It’s about not even mentioning allegations and settlements in the promotion of a film starring someone who plays a starring role in sexual assault cases. Oh, is it a film about what “gives us the strength to carry on”? I’ll bet that strength is being a white man. Whatever it is, its absolutely not going to be about the strength it takes to be a woman in the world today.
Affleck complains that people will “say whatever they want,” but even when they are telling the truth, we let them go. A man can easily evade association with sexual assault charges (unless he’s black, #duh) but a woman will forever be that victim. A man can ADMIT to sexual assault charges (:cough: unpresidented :cough:) and get through an interview without fielding questions about it. A feature story can be written about him without it even being in the footnotes.
Look at Woody Allen and you might never even know about his molestation charges. We keep awarding and watching his movies. Actors keep performing in them and finding ways to muddle their ways through various defenses of offensive actions.
(Fun fact: When I previewed this post with a friend and snapshotted the Rolling Stone movies of 2016 list, she asked if Allen’s was on it. There’s a pattern of behavior we are allowing here.)
The problem is that we conflate women with being victims and survivors of sexual abuse, but we let men who are abusers maneuver away from that label. And they maneuver their ways out without doing any actual work on themselves or making any attempt to atone for their violations.
Meanwhile, can we talk about Anita Hill, accomplished lawyer and published author and professor at Brandeis (shoutout Maryse!), without talking about her association with Clarence Thomas and sexual harassment?
Have we ever gotten through an interview with Monica Lewinsky without mention of Bill and stains?
Woman seems to pay forever. Man pays not at all. The list came at a bad time, you see.
A week earlier, on This American Life, Australian ethics professor Eleanor Gordon-smith is a cat against catcalling on “Once More, With Feeling.” She goes out on the high street in Sydney to have a real conversation with the hollerers. She ends up talking with a guy named Zac, who admits to catcalling and slapping women’s behinds, for two hours.
EGS: What is it that you’re thinking that makes you so reluctant to give it up?
Zac: ‘Cause I try and put myself in their position, and I try and imagine what it would be like to just be walking and have some compliment thrown at me by whoever. I would get some type of compliment out of it. If they’d had enough balls, or had enough beers, or fucking whatever to be able to yell something out, I’d be like, yeah, fucking whatever. Yeah, that’s the way I try and like, look at things. How would I feel?
When Zac tries to put himself in her position, he can’t. Her position is thinking about him. It’s a fascinating trip into the mind of men where they don’t have to think about women at all. Again, woman has no way to think about herself. Her feelings are in service of him, so that everyone is thinking about him. It’s that world where you don’t rape someone because she’s someone’s daughtersistermotherniece rather than someone on her own.
Gordon-smith presses him and straight out asks him how he would feel if someone were to slap his ass whilst he’s out for a night.
EGS: So how would you feel if someone did what you do and slapped you on the ass without warning and without asking?
Zac: I would feel a little bit special. If I was with a group of mates, I’d be like, ha, that’s right. I’ve got a better ass than all you cunts.
Even THIS time, when he is receiving this “compliment,” his response is relational. There is no mention of the degradation, the feeling of vulnerability, the number of potential doomsday scenarios a woman mentally runs through when she’s on a street at night. She doesn’t think about herself, only about those around her. What I am asking for is for men to stop thinking about themselves for one minute. (And then grow from that experience to think about other people for minute after minute.)
I once was with a group of friends (three gals and a guy) walking along U Street in Washington, D.C. at night when a guy walking with his own crew slapped my girlfriend’s ass.
“NO!” I yelled. “No! No! No!” The slapper got in my face and yelled “No” back at me, mocking me. Without saying more, he challenged me asking what I was going to do to reclaim my safety and permission to walk there without literal assault. There was nothing to say, and he knew it. His face in my face the evidence of no shame and no changed perspective. I’ve often thought about him telling the story later, casting me as the shrew.
For too long, men have been given carte blanche while women wear scarlet letters. I don’t want to say that the incoming administration will do nothing for women, but I don’t know how to not say it. (Especially when the guests of honor for the President-Elect at the Wash U debate were there because they were sexual assault accusers. Again, identities based on a man, this time being used by a man to shame a woman.)
Eventually, I assume, we will be let to live on our own and in our own right. Our relationship to men will be made by mutual choice and not by expectation. Or maybe it will be made not at all.
I know, I know. #NotAllMen –but I just came from a holiday where the men were gone all day at the movies and being tourists while the women worked to prepare the house for Christmas Eve. Upon return, they sat with their beers and asked for egg nog and left their bottle caps on the table. These are men who voted for Hillary and have talked about the gender bias against her and who spend hours watching Rachel Maddow. Even all this goodness doesn’t save them from being part of a pattern of life where women do all the work, and men sit back to take what’s left for the taking.
On Christmas Day, I was as polite as possible about my misandry. When it came time to clear the table, my uncle said, “I guess I’ll help since Jess made me feel guilty about it.”
“You don’t have to wait ’til you feel guilty to help,” I responded.