The Language of the #Metoomorphosis by Natalie Wood
(With acknowledgement to Frank Kafka)
Make no mistake: the day Harvey Weinstein woke up to discover he was a cockroach, we soon learned the movie mogul is but another disgusting creature on a dunghill so vast we may never dig it up.
Don’t be fooled: while the first revelations tempted satire, it is clear that the phenomenon of universal sexual harassment-cum-abuse should be far too serious for sniggers and lewd laughter.
From private homes to schools and offices; from the Israeli Knesset, to the U.S. White House and on to the U.K. Houses of Parliament, communal institutions, places of worship and everywhere else people collide, it is self-evident that no matter how we identify as human beings, success, as ever, is based not on merit but tiptoes over shards of nepotism, privilege and power.
Children who complain to their mothers of sexual predation are often ignored or disbelieved while workplace victims of bullying cannot complain to the management when the villains are those in charge and who indeed may not be heterosexual men but allegedly vengeful or overbearing women.
But perhaps the root of the problem lies not in sexual tension but in the way we communicate; the fashionable debasement and defilement of everyday speech, let alone written language, all of it pointing to our fumbling through a fug of casual, mutual contempt.
I keep thinking of Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement whose storyline hinges partly on the misuse of a word once considered so offensive that it was scarcely uttered outside military barracks or brothels, but whose stigma has become so faint that last year a British woman judge used it quite airily during a crown court hearing!
Moreover, I’ve wondered if it was coincidental that U.K. emeritus chief rabbi Lord Sacks released the transcripts of two radio talks devoted respectively to the concepts of ‘fake news’ and ‘safe spaces’ soon after the Jewish Chronicle newspaper ran its incendiary features about sexual abuse and harassment, noted here and above.
Certainly, it was personal good luck that against this background, I should receive a copy of **#MeToo: Essays About How and Why This Happened, What It Means and How to Make Sure It Never Happens Again.
A collection of 26 essays edited and produced at break-neck speed by US writer and publisher Lori Perkins, the anthology is a swift, extremely powerful response to “the groundswell of reaction to and exposure of this sexual predation … that has spread throughout Europe and beyond. New revelations of unacceptable behavior in every industry break every day as people come forward in response to the viral #MeToo posts …This is the turning point. Things are going to change”, she writes.
So while there are elements of this collection I dislike, I must champion Perkins’s generosity and courage as her company, Riverdale Avenue Books has published the volume gratis on Kindle and at cost in print.
All Perkins asks in return is that readers “pass this book around. Share it with your sons, brothers, fathers, your daughters, sisters and mothers, your co-workers and friends. Read passages to them, if they won’t read it for themselves. Leave it on the desk of someone who should know better. Help us make this movement more than a hashtag”, she demands.
Now in my sixties, I’m among millions of adults and children worldwide to have experienced several #metoo crises. But I am anxious not to personalise matters, so will instead share some of what I’ve learned from Perkins’s book:
The first woman who attempted to expose Hollywood’s rampant sexual abuse was Patricia Douglas, an occasional bit-part actress who in 1937 was aged only 20 when she was deceived into attending a rowdy, drunken party where she was ambushed by two men who poured liquor down her throat before one of them flung her into a nearby car and raped her. This was the era when the MGM studio wielded such fantastic power that it held everyone in its grip, even the Los Angeles district attorney and police department. So her attempts to lodge official complaints and take legal action were continuously blocked and her character was irretrievably blackened.
For historians the case was a significant, apparent “legal first”. But by the time the full truth of her story emerged in a Vanity Fair magazine feature, Douglas was aged 86, a great-grandmother and “housebound by glaucoma, emphysema and fear”. Still traumatized by what had happened, she had never previously discussed the incident with anyone. She went public in her declining years only because she did not want the truth to disappear with her demise.
I am surprised that Raechal Leone Shewfelt, a senior Yahoo News editor who wrote the essay about Patricia Douglas did not mention the infamous scandal of the 1920s in which silent film comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle allegedly killed a starlet named Virginia Rappe as a result of raping her. Although she died four days after the supposed incident, Arbuckle was acquitted due to lack of evidence. While it is suggested he may have been the victim of a blackmail honey trap, his career was effectively destroyed by Hearst newspapers and the Hays Office, a film industry self–regulatory body that temporarily blacklisted him. He died aged only 46.
Was Arbuckle evil? Or was this an early case of #HimToo?
A book like this, featuring many different writers with a huge range of styles and produced so fast, falters by being occasionally repetitious, a little tedious and also delivers a mixed message because so far as I’m concerned many of the contributors have an unhealthy over-absorption in sexual matters. If this view makes me appear both reactionary and ungracious, I’ll conclude by mentioning a piece that made me chuckle. Wall Street Assets, an excerpt from the memoir of artist, author and sex rights activist, Veronica Vera is by turns funny, ferocious and filthy.
It also returns me to my earlier thoughts about the misuse and abuse of language. Veronica Vera most certainly needed to study her rights after meeting the repulsive ‘Sherman’, a character at a small Wall Street trading house. How in tarnation she ever became his mistress, heaven alone knows.
After all, he began their relationship by calling her ‘shiksa’, then unzipped his trouser (pants) fly and pulled out his shirt tail “as if it were a penis”.
He also had a vile nickname for the car he gave her and did not tell her that the ‘S’ word is not just a disdainful Yiddish expression for a non-Jewish woman. It means that which is loathsome and abominable. No wonder Sherman went back to his wife!
Now, what will Harvey Weinstein do next?
** #MeToo: Essays About How and Why This Happened, What It Means and How to Make Sure It Never Happens Again, is edited by Lori Perkins and is available from Amazon on Kindle ($0.00) or in Paperback ($6.99).
Born in Birmingham, England, U.K., Natalie Wood began working in journalism a month before the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. She emigrated from Manchester to Israel in March 2010 and lives in Karmiel, Galilee from where she writes several blogs, micro-fiction and free-verse. Natalie features in Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoirs On Jewish Life and has contributed to Technorati and Blogcritics along with Jewish Renaissance and Live Encounters magazines.
© Natalie Wood