She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement
“In pursuing Weinstein, the authors found that the casting couch system, long entrenched in Hollywood, still existed, though perhaps in a mutated form. But the bottom line was the same: yield to the powerful and enjoy a career, or resist, and you’ll never work in this town again. Either way, keep your mouth shut.”
By now, most readers are aware of the #MeToo Movement, which seemed to suddenly burst on the scene just a few years ago. But the conduct it addresses— sexual harassment—has been around for centuries, written off as the “casting couch,” “locker room talk,” “just a little harmless fun,” and a dismissive attitude of “boys will be boys.” In reality, though, there is nothing harmless or acceptable about it.
So say Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in their new book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement. “If the story was not shared,” the authors write, “nothing would change. Problems that are not seen cannot be addressed.”
In this imminently readable and fascinating account, the authors share an important story and bring to light a devilish problem that had largely been swept under the rug. From a President of the United States to a Fox News star to a Hollywood mogul to a nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Kantor and Twohey take the reader through battles fought by brave women to regain their voices that had previously been silenced by a disturbing pattern of behavior by men in positions of authority.
The authors refer to the pattern as a “playbook” for getting away with it so long as women were afraid to speak. Or, perhaps worse, many were barred from speaking by the Hobson’s choice they were forced to make when agreeing to confidential settlements with wrongdoers: Keep quiet and get paid, or speak up and get nothing.
She Said is at its best when telling the story of getting the story for The New York Times on movie producer Harvey Weinstein and his decades of debauchery with women under his sphere of influence and then buying their silence with confidential settlement agreements. That section of the book reads like a thriller, with an evil-doing villain covering his tracks, and the authors, as detectives, hot on his trail as they uncover his dirty secrets.
In pursuing Weinstein, the authors found that the casting couch system, long entrenched in Hollywood, still existed, though perhaps in a mutated form. But the bottom line was the same: yield to the powerful and enjoy a career, or resist, and you’ll never work in this town again. Either way, keep your mouth shut. As actress Gwyneth Paltrow put it, “The ethos of Hollywood . . . was to swallow complaints and to put up with exactly that kind of behavior.”
Once the authors succeeded in getting the necessary corroboration required by journalistic standards—including an agreement by actress Ashley Judd to go public—they faced another dilemma: They had to reveal their story to its subject, Weinstein, to allow him to respond. But doing so gave him an opportunity to take pre-emptive measures to undercut their story before it was even published, including bullying and intimidating the women who had agreed to go public.
The authors take the readers inside the offices of the Times as they huddle with their editors and publisher, agonizing over every word in the article and every strategy in the duel with Weinstein, Hollywood’s most well-known bully, and his high-powered legal team that included David Boies, Lanny Davis, Lisa Bloom, and Linda Fairstein. In the end, the story was published, the villain was defeated, and justice, though much delayed, was done at least in part.
The book also covers the story of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing and the testimony of his accuser Christine Blasey Ford. This portion is not as compelling a narrative as the Weinstein intrigue—primarily because the authors are spectators to those events, rather than participants as they were in the Weinstein story. Nevertheless, the Kavanaugh hearings even more clearly illustrate the obstacles faced by those who have been abused by the powerful, especially when the bully pulpit of the President of the United States can be enlisted to intimidate.
In some ways, She Said is a tragic tale of victimization of women by powerful men but, in others, it is a story of their triumph over fear as they reclaim their voices. As the authors write, “Their stories involved a kind of poetic reversal. They had suffered from harassment but gained new authority and respect from fighting it.” To that, this reviewer can only add, “Well done.”