Harvey Weinstein. Bill Cosby. Tom Brokaw. Kevin Spacey. These men, and many others have all been accused of sexual harassment, and the exposure and the trickle from these accusations lead to the #MeToo movement, which has been tremendous, loud, and powerful …and about time.
A few months ago I sat on my computer reading about Harvey Weinstein and the many actors he harassed and abused. After long silences, many were speaking out publicly for the first time. They told their stories about this man, this abuser, who took advantage of his position of power to intimidate and sexually harass women. As the #MeToo movement continued, and the more I read, I began to feel more empowered to tell my own #MeToo story, especially when I saw ‘his’ name finally being called out.
As I walked past the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue, on a sunny summer day, a man approached me and told me he liked my look. He told me I was interesting and beautiful, and I should be an actress. I thought to myself – pretty lame pick up line. I told him I actually was an actress, and he said of course, he could tell. He proceeded to tell me about his background, how he directed various actors and movies, dropping big names. I was not impressed and dubious of his claims. I was young, but not that naïve! He handed me a business card, with his name, title (director and writer) and contact info.
He invited me to his apartment, so we could talk more about how he could make me famous. I took the card, went home and decided to do some research (at the library – where was Google when you needed it right??). His information carried some weight – maybe he wasn’t a guy just trying to make a move on me. I mentioned it to my parents who also looked him up, and they were impressed. They were, however, more cautious and didn’t want me going to his apartment. I wasn’t exactly eager about it either, but it seemed like a legitimate opportunity.
I called him and scheduled a time to stop by. However, I didn’t go alone. I brought my boyfriend at the time with me. I knocked on the door, let the director know my boyfriend was right outside the door and went in.
He started out by again saying that he could make me famous and took credit for making certain actresses into household names. He talked about his work and his process as an artist. Then it got weird pretty fast. He said that sex is sometimes necessary for the creative project and he needs to sleep with his mentees in order to make things happen. He told me how a well-known actress loved women also, and how they would often have threesomes together. He told me what he liked to do to women and what he liked to have done to him. All very detailed and very creepy.
I was taken aback but really not totally shocked. I knew this happened. I had been told multiple times that “sometimes you need to sleep your way to success.” But that was not for me. I told him in no uncertain terms would I ever have sex with him if we worked together. He insisted that I couldn’t really say that because “you never know what can happen.”
I made my exit. I told him I would think about it so I could safely get out of there. I know that some women were not as lucky as I was and it gives me chills. I was able to leave, I was lucky. For many women, it is difficult to remove yourself from a situation like this. You feel trapped, weak and vulnerable. All emotions that arise normally when caught in this type of situation. I cringe when I read the details about how he sexually assaulted many women, mostly famous, some just “unknowns” like me. I am so glad I left when I did that day because I cannot imagine having to live with the pain and trauma he inflicted on these women.
It turns out, he approached women like this all the time on the street. He was and is a predator. Some were established actors, some were just beautiful women. His method of assault was almost the same in all regards – you have a great look, I can make you famous, come to my apartment/hotel room… I was shocked when I read these stories in the news. His ploy almost worked on me.
I had wondered for years if I should have slept with him. I knew people did it all the time, but it was not something I felt comfortable doing. Maybe I would have become famous and successful. You can’t help but think of these things as you get older. The questions of what life could have been like. I don’t regret the decision I made, but I just always wondered about the “what if” of the moment.
The acting world is difficult and by the time this happened, I was already jaded from so many auditions, appearing in off off Broadway productions, working a day job, trying to get an agent…all of those things were fruitless for me. I knew this episode was the last straw for me. At that point, it was time for tough questions and reflection. It’s called a casting couch for a reason, and did I really want to be an actor if this was the way? I decided that was enough, and soon after I called it quits and went back home, applied to law school and ended up where I am today. It’s a hard life, and I admire and respect my friends that stuck with it, stayed with their passion, no matter how difficult the challenges and decisions they had to face. I celebrate their accomplishments and strength.
Judgment is a dangerous weapon, and we, as women, face too much of it. #MeToo, as a movement, has helped remove the shame and judgment women face in speaking up against assault and abuse, particularly by those in positions of power. Women have a voice; they are no longer powerless.
Most women in the world have experienced abuse in some form and speaking out, telling your story, gives you back your voice and your power. You are no longer afraid. If you have a story, share it. If not publicly, journal it or tell a close confident but no longer do you have to feel silenced.
Oh, if you are interested, the man who promised to make me famous, his name is James Toback. So far, 395 women have come forward and shared their stories about Toback with the LA Times; and who knows how many more are still out there. He will not face charges.