“I have something I need to talk about and I’m afraid you’re going to judge me,” he said. He told me that he had been thinking about women he had slept with and that he felt terrible about some of the encounters.
“I didn’t rape anyone or anything like that, but I think I made them pretty uncomfortable.”
I’m a psychotherapist who works largely with men in New York City. Before last fall, I can’t remember hearing a statement like that — a voluntary admission of coercive or manipulative behavior with women. The #MeToo era has changed my work. If therapy has a reputation for navel gazing, this powerful moment has joined men in the room, forcing them to engage with topics that they would have earlier avoided.
.. But I am also heartened by the private work that men are doing in therapy and how it can help us understand the relationship between what has been called “toxic masculinity” and the reservoirs of shame that fuel these behaviors.
.. I began to feel the effect in my work not long after the stories about Harvey Weinstein broke, with a noticeable uptick after a report on the comedian Aziz Ansari. Though the accusations against famous men were in one sense far from the people I saw, they were relevant to the questions they often brought to therapy. Why did they so misunderstand the women in their lives? Why were they often being accused of hurting them?
.. He’d been experimenting with approaching women in a more “dominant” and assertive way, since he’d heard that’s what women wanted. He had made an aggressive move on a prospective date and was told that his approach was creepy.
.. he had been so focused on performing for dates that he wasn’t really connecting to them, unable to accurately read his date’s reactions.
.. appear either flat and emotionless or superficially engaged but hiding behind impenetrable niceness.
.. Most men have spent little time with their feelings and have very limited vocabulary to describe what is going on in their hearts.
.. has done such a good job of disconnecting from his feelings that he can’t ever really tell if he’s had a good time on a date.
.. Almost always, the men I work with notice a tight tension in their chests and stomachs — anxiety. They often admit that they feel this tension most of the time.
.. underneath the anxiety that is always humming along are layers of shame. Shame at having feelings at all, shame because they believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, shame that they are not men, they are just boys.
.. Shame is the emotional weapon that allows patriarchal behaviors to flourish. The fear of being emasculated leads men to rationalize awful behavior. This kind of toxic shame is in direct contradiction with the healthy shame that we all need to feel in order to acknowledge mistakes and take responsibility.
.. still a 15-year-old boy craving the approval of his peers: “I actually don’t even like the sex that much, but there’s something satisfying about adding a notch in the belt. I imagine other guys would be impressed if they knew.”
.. In their efforts to manage the feeling of shame, some men numb themselves. Others sink under it and slip into depression or chronic underachievement. And others take the pain that they feel and project it back out into the world with violent words and deeds.
.. They begin to heal when we can both embrace them and hold them accountable.
.. “I want you to know that I respect the courage it takes to acknowledge something like that and to share it with me, but I also don’t want you to numb yourself out, because then you’ll just forget about this and move on,” I said.
.. He began to cry and then sob. Waves of sadness emerged as he imagined the hurt that he caused these women. As the tears subsided and we began to process it, more tears came, this time tears of relief — that he’s not a monster, that he’s capable of remorse and empathy.
.. He had been desperate to boost his self-esteem through sexual conquests. He ultimately put his own pleasure before someone else’s discomfort, behavior that was forged in moments in which he had felt worthless
.. He had been thinking about one of the women he had told me about. He reached out, they met for coffee and he apologized.
Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it wasn’t my friendship with them — and Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney — that saved me from being raped.
.. The range of his persuasion tactics went from sweet-talking me to that one time when, in an attack of fury, he said the terrifying words, “I will kill you, don’t think I can’t.”
When he was finally convinced that I was not going to earn the movie the way he had expected, he told me he had offered my role and my script with my years of research to another actress.
.. he gave me a list of impossible tasks with a tight deadline:
1. Get a rewrite of the script, with no additional payment.
2. Raise $10 million to finance the film.
3. Attach an A-list director.
4. Cast four of the smaller roles with prominent actors.
Much to everyone’s amazement, not least my own, I delivered, thanks to a phalanx of angels who came to my rescue, including Edward Norton, who beautifully rewrote the script several times and appallingly never got credit, and my friend Margaret Perenchio, a first-time producer, who put up the money. The brilliant Julie Taymor agreed to direct, and from then on she became my rock. For the other roles, I recruited my friends Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton and my dear Ashley Judd. To this day, I don’t know how I convinced Geoffrey Rush, whom I barely knew at the time.
.. Now Harvey Weinstein was not only rejected but also about to do a movie he did not want to do.
Ironically, once we started filming, the sexual harassment stopped but the rage escalated. We paid the price for standing up to him nearly every day of shooting.
.. So he told me he was going to shut down the film because no one would want to see me in that role.
It was soul crushing because, I confess, lost in the fog of a sort of Stockholm syndrome, I wanted him to see me as an artist: not only as a capable actress but also as somebody who could identify a compelling story and had the vision to tell it in an original way.
.. I was hoping he would acknowledge me as a producer, who on top of delivering his list of demands shepherded the script and obtained the permits to use the paintings.
.. But all of this seemed to have no value. The only thing he noticed was that I was not sexy in the movie.
.. He offered me one option to continue. He would let me finish the film if I agreed to do a sex scene with another woman. And he demanded full-frontal nudity.
He had been constantly asking for more skin, for more sex. Once before, Julie Taymor got him to settle for a tango ending in a kiss instead of the lovemaking scene he wanted us to shoot between the character Tina Modotti, played by Ashley Judd, and Frida.
.. When Harvey saw the cut film, he said it was not good enough for a theatrical release and that he would send it straight to video.
This time Julie had to fight him without me and got him to agree to release the film in one movie theater in New York if we tested it to an audience and we scored at least an 80.
Less than 10 percent of films achieve that score on a first screening.
I didn’t go to the test. I anxiously awaited to receive the news. The film scored 85... the film industry stopped making an effort to find out what female audiences wanted to see and what stories we wanted to tell... between 2007 and 2016, only 4 percent of directors were female and 80 percent of those got the chance to make only one film. In 2016, another study found, only 27 percent of words spoken in the biggest movies were spoken by women.