Do We Believe Women Yet? The Battle to End Sexual Harassment

The term “sexual harassment” was first coined in the 1970s.  Fast forward to 1991 when the lawyer and academician Anita Hill testified before an all-male — and strikingly unsympathetic — Senate committee that was holding hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court.

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Tarantino on Weinstein: ‘I Knew Enough to Do More Than I Did’

She said she told her lawyer to pull the offer within a day of The New York Times publishing an article that detailed decades of Mr. Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment, aggression and misconduct toward women, as well as at least seven other settlements he had reached with accusers. After that, the dam burst, with The New Yorker, The Times and other news outlets reporting on dozens of other women’s experiences with Mr. Weinstein.

Mr. Weinstein, his accusers say, built his long history of abusing women on a risky gamble that worked for him over and over — the assumption that money or threats could buy women’s silence on a subject so intimate and painful that most would prefer not to go public anyway. While Ms. McGowan was the rare voice suggesting that the cover-up was not fail-safe, even she considered not naming him, having already, she believes, paid a career price for that long-ago episode and its aftermath.

A Weinstein spokeswoman, Sallie Hofmeister, said that “Mr. Weinstein unequivocally denies any allegations of nonconsensual sex.” Ms. McGowan’s lawyer, Paul Coggins, confirmed that Ms. McGowan received the offer.

By 2015, Ms. McGowan, who felt alienated by the industry, started using her sizable platform on Twitter to maximize her status as both insider and outsider — someone with enough Hollywood experience to speak with authority about sexism within it, and someone liberated enough from its compromises to unleash the fury in her that had been building for years. Only now does the scope of the news about Mr. Weinstein — and the public conversation about what’s wrong with Hollywood — seem to match the scale of her outrage, giving her the clout of a contrarian at last proven right.

On Friday, at the inaugural Women’s Convention in Detroit, she was a featured speaker — a new, combative face of feminism, endowed with Hollywood charisma yet anything but slick. “I have been silenced for 20 years,” she told the gathering. “I have been slut-shamed. I have been harassed. I have been maligned. And you know what? I’m just like you.”

A Crusade Gathers Strength

As other women told their stories in recent weeks, Ms. McGowan not only addressed what happened to her but also attacked those she considered complicit.

When the actor Ben Affleck claimed he never knew of Mr. Weinstein’s history, she wrote in a tweet: “‘GODDAMNIT! I TOLD HIM TO STOP DOING THAT’ you said that to my face,” adding, “The press conf I was made to go to after assault. You lie.” (Mr. Affleck declined to comment.) She called out the larger apparatus of Hollywood, criticizing talent agencies — “you are guilty of human trafficking,” she wrote — and a film studio that she believed knew of Mr. Weinstein’s alleged misconduct.

When Twitter suspended her account — the company said that it was because she had published a private phone number — users retaliated with a boycott that drew support from celebrities such as the actress Alyssa Milano and the writer Cheryl Strayed. The actor and filmmaker Jordan Peele tweeted, in response to Ms. McGowan’s blistering attacks, a moody still of her from “Grindhouse” in which she surveys burning wreckage her character has wrought. “Get ’em, Rose,” he wrote.

On Oct. 13, the day of the boycott, Ms. McGowan retreated from Los Angeles, where she had been working on her memoir, to a beach cottage in Hawaii, safely ensconced behind two gates, near a park locals call the City of Refuge. “I wanted to come to a place that had so much power to it, that it could hold a lot at bay — a lot of monster energy,” said Ms. McGowan, sitting at a picnic table near the ocean. “I came to a place that almost has a protective zone around it.” Her hair was short, but not shaven, as it had been in the past. Once featured on the covers of Maxim and Rolling Stone as a longhaired, barely dressed object of desire, Ms. McGowan seems to have settled on an aesthetic of chic simplicity.

If not a time of celebration, this moment could be perceived as a moment of vindication for Ms. McGowan. Yes, she said, she sometimes feels like laughing — “kind of like a witch’s cackle,” she clarified. But at other times she feels emotionally raw, just knowing that a click on her phone would bring her to conversations others were having about her assault allegation. The phone had come to feel too powerful: “It’s like a live wire that you’re holding in your mouth, and it goes directly to your brain,” she said.

The Meeting and the Aftermath

Her story of assault, although uniquely her own, shares some of the now familiar hallmarks of a Weinstein encounter. Ms. McGowan, then 23, was in Park City, Utah, in early 1997 to attend the Sundance Film Festival and the screening of a film in which she appeared, “Going All the Way.” She had also recently appeared as a smart-mouthed beauty who dies a gruesome death in the blockbuster film “Scream,” on which Mr. Weinstein was an executive producer.

Ms. McGowan’s manager then, Jill Messick, told her to meet Mr. Weinstein at the restaurant in the Stein Eriksen Lodge for a 10 a.m. appointment. On her arrival, the maître d’ directed the actress upstairs to Mr. Weinstein’s suite, she said. Ms. McGowan remembers passing two male assistants on the way in. “They wouldn’t look me in the eye,” she recalled.

She sat at the far end of a couch as Mr. Weinstein sat in a club chair, and they had a brief business meeting. But on their way out, she said, he interrupted himself to point out that the hotel room had a hot tub. “And then what happened, happened,” said Ms. McGowan, who has described her experience, on Twitter, as rape. “Suffice it to say a door opened and my life changed.”

She declined to share the details of the encounter. “That’s my story to tell,” she said emphatically. But she said that she walked out of the hotel suite and directly into a press event. She remembers fighting back tears, and the conversation with Mr. Affleck. She said she told Ms. Messick, then of Addis-Wechsler & Associates, what had occurred. “She held me,” Ms. McGowan said. “She put her arms around me.”

But in the months to come, Ms. McGowan did not feel supported by her management team. She was referred to a lawyer specializing in sexual harassment and assault cases who, Ms. McGowan said, gave her the impression that filing a criminal charge was hopeless. “She was like, ‘You’re an actress, you’ve done a sex scene, you’re done,’” she recalled.

Anne Woodward, now a manager herself, was a young assistant in Ms. Messick’s office at the time, and was in on many of Ms. Messick’s calls. “I remember that Rose was extremely upset and did not want to settle,” Ms. Woodward said. “She wanted to fight.” No one around her, as Ms. Woodward recalls, supported that instinct. “It was an emotionally shocking way to see a woman being treated,” Ms. Woodward said. “That’s what stuck with me.”

Ms. McGowan with her parents near Florence, Italy, in 1974. Her father was the leader of a religious cult from which her grandmother extracted her before she reached middle school. Credit Asaph Silver Adullam
Nick Wechsler, then a principal at Addis-Wechsler & Associates, said that he and his partner, Keith Addis, met with Mr. Weinstein at Ms. Messick’s request and confronted him with Ms. McGowan’s claim. “I remember Harvey saying he was going to get psychiatric treatment or some kind of therapy for his sexual behavior,” Mr. Wechsler said.

Ms. McGowan initially asked for about $25,000, enough money to cover her therapy; by the time she signed the settlement, the amount had been raised to $100,000. Both Ms. Woodward and Ms. McGowan were shocked when, only a few months afterward, Ms. Messick accepted a job working as vice president for development at Miramax, then run by Mr. Weinstein. Ms. Messick did not respond to a request for comment.

At the time of the alleged assault, Ms. McGowan had finally been emerging from the trials of an insecure childhood, with loving but unconventional parents: Her father, said his sister, Rory McGowan, Rose’s aunt, “almost certainly had undiagnosed manic-depressive disorder.” He was the leader of a religious cult in Italy, from which Rose’s grandmother extracted her before she reached middle school. Both parents were hippie intellectuals, members of the counterculture who taught their children to prize independent thinking and buck the system.

Maddie Corman, an actress who befriended Ms. McGowan in the mid-90s, perceived a change in Ms. McGowan after the 1997 episode (she says she was aware of the settlement, but could not recall if she learned it directly from Ms. McGowan or from others). “Rose was never this sweet, simple soul — there was always something ferocious about her,” Ms. Corman said. “After that assault, a light dimmed. I remember her souring on the powers that be. And she became very protective of us. It was sometimes cryptic: Keep your guard up.”

Ms. McGowan’s friends watched as she made choices that surprised them, including beginning a relationship with Marilyn Manson, a controversial rock star and ordained Satanist who has called himself “the Mephistopheles of Los Angeles.” (“I ran away for three years and joined the circus,” Ms. McGowan said of that romantic involvement.) She showed up for the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1998 in a dress made of tiny beads that left her nearly nude. “That was my first big public appearance after being assaulted,” she said. “And I thought — you want to see a body? I did it with a giant middle finger.”

Ms. McGowan in the show “Charmed,” on which she worked until 2006. Credit The WB, via Photofest
Camilla Rantsen was also a young actress in Los Angeles who was close to Ms. McGowan, and was aware, only through friends, of what had transpired. “I think some of the people she started surrounding herself with weren’t as great as the people she had before,” said Ms. Rantsen, who is now a writer.

Plenty of young actresses with promising starts see their careers founder for one reason or another. But Ms. McGowan believes that after she finished up work on “Phantoms,” a 1998 film produced by Miramax, her career suffered because collaborations with Weinstein productions were for many years off the table. “And they were doing the kinds of movies that I would be doing,” she said.

She continued to work, on “Charmed” until 2006, but also in independent films. Eventually, she appeared in both of the two films packaged as “Grindhouse,” directed by Robert Rodriguez, with whom she was romantically involved, and by Quentin Tarantino. It was distributed by Dimension, run by Bob Weinstein, Harvey’s brother. As the film critic David Edelstein put it in New York, Ms. McGowan played “the ultimate abused-and-fetishized action-movie femme.” The experience, Ms. McGowan said, left her shattered. “I was really lost at that point,” she said. “I was damaged.”

Shunning ‘Celebrity’

It is impossible to predict how Ms. McGowan’s career path in film would have proceeded had the episode with Mr. Weinstein never occurred. She is an unconventional figure, occasionally provocative and profane, but also sometimes old-fashioned and even formal in spirit. “I never considered myself a celebrity,” she said at one point. “I hate that word. It’s tawdry.”

Ms. McGowan became an increasingly outspoken voice for women mistreated by Hollywood. In 2015, she was dropped from her agency after mocking a casting call that encouraged women to wear push-up bras in auditions. (Her agent had been fired a few days earlier, but the agency did not fight to retain her, as agencies typically do of valued clients.)

Ms. McGowan at the Women’s Convention. “I have been harassed,” she told the gathering. “I have been maligned. And you know what? I’m just like you.” Credit Erin Kirkland for The New York Times
In The Hollywood Reporter, she passionately defended Renée Zellweger last year from what she perceived as sexist comments in Variety about the actress’s plastic surgery. “How dare you bully a woman who has done nothing but try to entertain people like you?” she wrote, in a direct accusation of the piece’s writer, Owen Glieberman.

“It was startling and inspiring to see someone who was willing to put herself out there in support of other women/actresses,” said the actress Molly Ringwald in an email to The Times. “Her tenacity is something that you would hope for in an union leader but of course never really get.”

And Ms. McGowan spoke, in veiled terms, to the Buzzfeed reporter Kate Aurthur in 2015 about her experience as an assault victim. “You are taking part of someone’s soul,” she said. “It’s happened to me.” Last year, during a Twitter campaign called #WhyWomenDontReport, she all but named Mr. Weinstein as the perpetrator of the violence against her that she had mentioned in the past.

During her recent visit to Hawaii, Ms. McGowan, over a day and a half in Kona, revealed a person much more playful than her fierce Twitter persona. She would interrupt a thought to smile and smell a flower that caught her eye; she could not resist a swing hanging from a large tree, and enjoyed twirling an umbrella the same blue as her sundress while walking on the beach. She seemed free, in some ways, from both a long-kept secret and a labor of love that had occupied her for the last year and a half — her book, “Brave,” which will be released by Harper One early next year.

To some degree, she had shielded herself from the news. But when she learned how many women had stepped forward to complain of assault or harassment by Mr. Weinstein, she said: “I knew we are legion. We are legion.” She had been corresponding lately with Asia Argento, an Italian actress who also accused Mr. Weinstein of sexual assault (and was subsequently shamed by the Italian press). “It feels,” Ms. McGowan wrote to Ms. Argento, reading from her text, “‘like toxic slime going out of a spiked birth canal.’ That’s what the whole experience feels like to me. It’s an intense process.”

Sometimes she feels fresh rage. “But I’ll tell you what I don’t feel anymore,” she said. “Despair.”

26th Annual ‘I Believe Anita Hill!’

For Immediate Release

Contact: Claudia Smith Brinson, 803-546-1982, or Jan Collins, 803-446-9632

Networking Event in Columbia

The 26th annual “I Believe Anita Hill!” networking event will be held Thursday, Oct. 12, in Columbia, to once again encourage women and men to stand up and speak out for justice and equality.

This year, the 75 hosts will introduce a new initiative, “Connecting Community.” The hosts, who are S.C. professional women and activists, know that many people want to volunteer but may not know where to turn to make a difference. “I Believe Anita Hill!” will make that easier by introducing potential volunteers and donors to vetted organizations that can support their values.

The 2017 event will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at 701 Whaley Street in Columbia. Admission is free and open to the public.

“I Believe Anita Hill!” is likely South Carolina’s largest networking opportunity for women. “I Believe Anita Hill!” is also the nation’s oldest continuous remembrance of Hill and her testimony. In 2016, 750 women and men attended.

The networking event celebrated its silver anniversary with Hill’s attendance; she also attended in 1997 and 2011.

Hill, an attorney, electrified the nation in 1991 at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing when she described alleged sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, her former supervisor and then a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. At a Congressional hearing, Hill, who is African-American, was grilled aggressively by an all-white, all-male panel. That sparked a nationwide discussion on sexual harassment in the workplace as well as what was called the “Year of the Woman,” when more women than ever before ran for and were elected to Congress.

The first 10 years of the organization were dedicated to informing women and men about workplace issues such as sexual harassment and to empowering women to actively change any hostile work environment. Hosts then decided to broaden the mission to show concern about justice and equality, by encouraging women to push back and resist the continuation of unequal pay and unequal access, for example, to health care, to mortgages, to top corporate jobs or to board rooms.

The organization now enhances that mission with its “Connecting Community” effort.

“We know many people want to volunteer but may not know where to turn to make a difference,” said Barbara Rackes, an S.C. entrepreneur and coordinator of “I Believe Anita Hill!” “They may fear they don’t have the right skills or the ability to match their values and skills to the right organization.

“So this year we will mobilize 750 people to put their boots on the ground; we will connect them with the organizations just right for their donations and volunteer work.”

The 26th annual “I Believe Anita Hill!” networking event will be held Thursday, Oct. 12 in Columbia, to once again encourage women and men to stand up and speak out for justice and equality. This year, the 75 hosts will introduce a new initiative, “Connecting Community.”

“I Believe Anita Hill!” is likely South Carolina’s largest networking opportunity for women. In 2016, 750 women and men attended.

The 2017 event will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at 701 Whaley Street in Columbia. Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information, http://anitahillparty.com

Anita Hill comes to Columbia

Anita Hill, the young law professor who in 1991 sparked a nationwide conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace, visited Columbia last week. More than 700 women—and a few dozen men—came to hear her and cheer her on.

Professor Hill was the guest of honor September 15 at the 25th annual “I Believe Anita Hill!” Party, the longest-running, continuous event in the United States that voices support for Hill and seeks to highlight gender inequality issues.

Now a social policy and law professor at Brandeis University, Hill was introduced to the large, enthusiastic crowd as a “reluctant hero who stood her ground, and she told the truth.”

The event has continued to grow. This year’s party, which had more than 90 hosts, was the biggest yet. The nonpartisan gathering encourages women to network, to tell their stories, and to get involved in ways that help women and the community.

Hill told the crowd that “I want people to know that I truly have a blessed life. But don’t underestimate how difficult it is for people to come forward, even today. It is still difficult. The pain does not end, and in some cases, it is just the beginning.”

Hill said she is “eternally grateful” for the support she has received over the years. She told of one letter from a schoolteacher, sent to her shortly after the 1991 hearings, that predicted “there will be waves of women behind you.”

View the full article here.

Hundreds celebrate 25th anniversary of Anita Hill’s mark for women’s rights

wistv.com – Columbia, South Carolina

Hundreds were out in Columbia Thursday evening to look back on a major step in the fight for women’s rights.

Attorney Anita Hill was back in the Capital City to talk about the role she played in that struggle. It was the fall of 1991 when Hill went before lawmakers in the U.S. Senate. Hill testified that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was a nominee for the office at the time, sexually harassed her while she was working under him at the U.S. Department of Education.

The event put a new focus on sexual harassment in the workplace. Hill and her supporters say since that time, they believe progress has been made for women in the working world. They do, however, say more needs to be done, including narrowing the wage gap between genders.

Click here for the full story and video.

I believe Anita who?

The I Believe Anita Hill Party was Sept. 15, and it has students thinking about the history of Anita Hill and what her story means for women everywhere.

In 1991, Anita Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma at the time, came forward with allegations that Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court Justice nominee under President George H. W. Bush, had sexually harassed her during the time she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Anita Hill’s courage to speak out has been a catalyst for victims of sexual harassment to bring their stories to light and a remarkable leap forward for women,” Andy Herrington, junior computer and information science major, said.

Click here for the full story and to see photos.

Anita Hill party goers inspired by Hill, female presidential nominee

For 25 years, a Columbia group has gathered annually to mark the testimony of Anita Hill before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 about alleged sexual harassment by her former supervisor, Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the Supreme Court.

This year, they heard from Hill herself and also considered the possibility of the first woman president of the United States.

Siegler, a freshman at Columbia College, said her male high school classmates in Aiken told her there was no way a woman would lead the country.

But, with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president, that possibility is “really inspiring,” Siegler said.

Hill addressed the packed gathering at 701 Whaley on Thursday, telling the mostly female crowd, “I don’t want you to forget (how difficult) it is for people to come forward even today.

Anita Hill to return to Columbia for 25th anniversary of historic hearings

In the aftermath of the hearings, a band of women met in Columbia to discuss how they might seize upon the moment conjured by Hill’s testimony in order to address the pervasive inequalities they felt existed toward women.

“We started getting together and talking about what we could do,” said Eve Stacey, another one of the original event organizers. “What we came up with was a social event, and networking. It started small. It has evolved over the years.”

Two large banners were strung up between trees spanning the entrance sidewalk to Smith’s home to welcome people to the first “I Believe Anita Hill” event as autumn approached in 1991. A table was set up so that people could sign in.

“The number of women who showed up was much more than expected. It was amazing!” Smith said.

Organizers endeavored to create an opportunity for women to come together, share their stories and build a network of mutual support. It has been 25 years since the inaugural gathering, and organizers’ hopes are high that the 25th annual “I Believe Anita Hill” event will continue to exceed expectations. Hill, currently a professor of law, public policy and women’s studies at Brandeis University, is scheduled to be present for this year’s event.

Hill also will be speaking at the University of South Carolina School of Law auditorium during her visit to Columbia.

Click here for the full story.

Sexual Harassment Training With Roger Ailes

Two high-profile lawsuits against Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chairman, have painted a shocking picture of brazen sexual harassment at the network. In her bombshell complaint against him, the former Fox host Gretchen Carlson said that he told her, “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago.” Last week, another former Fox host, Andrea Tantaros, filed her own lawsuit, stating that Mr. Ailes told her to turn around so he could “get a good look” at her and that she was harassed by other employees and even show guests.

The details both women lay out portray Fox as a place where sexual harassers roam free, grabbing or ogling whatever they fancy, with consequences brought to bear only on the victims who speak up.

Click here to read the full story.

After Ailes and Cosby, a Moment for More Women to Speak Up

In the fall of 1991, an obscure law professor named Anita Hill pushed the issue of sexual harassment into the public consciousness when she accused her former boss, the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, of having repeatedly made lewd overtures toward her.

But the episode sent a mixed message, in the view of many discrimination experts. While it raised awareness about a corrosive workplace behavior, the intense backlash against Ms. Hill, not least from members of the United States Senate, suggested that women faced great obstacles in redressing such abuses. (Mr. Thomas denied the allegations.)

Nearly 25 years later, after a string of sexual harassment allegations that led to the ouster of Roger Ailes, the former chairman of Fox News, and a cascade of sexual assault accusations against the comedian Bill Cosby, some of those experts believe we may be approaching another Anita Hill moment.

The Ailes and Cosby cases, they say, could be influential among women across the work force not just because of the intrinsic power of these examples, but because they come at a moment of empowerment for women in their struggle for equality. And when women’s assertiveness produces dramatic results like the resignation of Mr. Ailes, it can inspire more women to follow the same path.

Click here for the full story.

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