Slate executive editor Allison Benedikt recently wrote an essay about meeting her husband at work, when he was her boss and she was a 23-year-old entry-level fact-checker: “My boss would look down the gap at the waistband of my jeans when he walked past my desk… My career, at the time, was in his hands.” In the essay, Benedikt worries that the current reckoning around workplace harassment would make relationships like hers impossible. She sympathizes with women who “have written recently that they fear a coming backlash — that one false allegation against a famous man will bring this whole new reality crashing down, or that in the understandable urge to name names, women will be seen as the aggressors, out to tar every man’s reputation.”
On a recent episode of the Longform podcast, the hosts heaped praised on Jodi Kantor and her reporting for the bombshell Harvey Weinstein exposé. The episode was released the same day the New York Times published a story reported by Kantor, Melena Ryzik, and Cara Buckley in which five women accuse comedian Louis C.K. of sexual harassment and assault, a story that had existed in a similar whisper network among female performers for years.
The praise for Kantor, and for the investigations by the Times in general, reminded some listeners of Longform’s 2016 interview with Leah Finnegan, in which she spoke about her experience as an editor at Gawker. Host Aaron Lammer questioned Finnegan about a post published by Defamer in May of 2015, about Louis C.K.’s predatory behavior.
“Part of the reason I went to Gawker was that spirit of wanting to fuck shit up, being into gossip, wanting to talk about things people didn’t necessarily want to talk about,” Finnegan tells Lammer. She cites their stories about Bill Cosby, Louis C.K., and Fred Armisen — “recurring rumors about … men who do gross things” — as examples.
There are rumors that maybe have truth to them, but the Times would not report on them, because they can’t really nail it down. But Gawker will report on them. I think that that spirit is really important, saying what no one else will say, just so it’s out there.
Lammer responds with an oddly irrelevant bit of whataboutism. “Couldn’t you also say that Donald Trump is also saying what no one else will say?” He criticizes the Gawker post as “weird and thin, even for an allegation,” describing it as “some guy said his friend was in a backstage … with Louis C.K. and he whipped out his dick and asked her to do something with it.”
At Rolling Stone, reporter Jason Newman recently revealed another round of sexual assault and abuse allegations against R. Kelly. The allegations are from one of Kelly’s former girlfriends, disc jockey Kitti Jones, who dated the singer from 2011 to 2013.
It was June 2011, and R. Kelly had just performed to a frenetic crowd at the Verizon Theatre outside Dallas, Texas. It had been nearly two decades since the singer’s raunchy lyrics and honeyed voice turned him into a R&B superstar and sex symbol. But despite multiple controversies over his alleged sexual relationships with underage girls, his still-dedicated fan base sent his latest album — the throwback soul LP Love Letter — to number six on the Billboard 200…
[Jones had] been into Kelly since she was a teen in the early 1990s, when she’d hide in her room with his music to escape her mother’s tumultuous romantic relationships. She’d buy every magazine he was in and, upon the release of his 1993 solo debut, 12 Play, took a limo to a third-row seat at her first Kelly show. She’d seen him in concert seven times since. “He was my Brad Pitt,” she says.
The story of Jones’s relationship with Kelly includes food deprivation, forced sex acts, and a dormitory-style, cult-like atmosphere with his other girlfriends. It echoes Buzzfeed’s July story, “R. Kelly is Holding Women Against their Will in a Cult, Parents Told Police,” reported by Jim DeRogatis, who has followed the cloud of allegations surrounding the singer since before his 2008 trial for child pornography.
Jones says she went to Rolling Stone to support the women mentioned in the Buzzfeed report, some of whom are younger than 21 and are, according to one woman’s parents “brainwashed” by the singer.
Reports of Kelly’s illicit, predatory behavior go back to his marriage to singer Aaliyah in 1994 when she was 15 years old and he was 28. (Vibe published an apparent marriage certificate in its December issue that year). Over the years I’ve personally heard from Chicagoans with memories of Kelly traipsing the halls of local high schools looking to befriend teenage girls. Much less clear than Kelly’s gleeful exploitation of women and girls — he calls himself the “Pied Piper” of R&B — is how and why he gets to keep an audience and a job.
Rolling Stone’s article came out just a week after accounts of producer Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior were first published in The New York Times and The New Yorker. The public responded with shock, outrage, and then action. Weinstein was fired from the company he co-founded, expelled from the Motion Picture Academy, and could face criminal charges. Some of his accusers, like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, are powerful Hollywood players, but regular women also stepped forward on social media to tell their own stories of sexual violence, using the hashtag #metoo.
Accusers of other powerful, predatory men soon followed: actor Kevin Spacey, Amazon Studios executive Roy Price, NPR’s senior vice president for news Michael Oreskes, former New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier, and ex-New Republic publisher Hamilton Fish.
In a tough news cycle, the courage of survivors heartened me. I’ve been the victim of sexual violence more than once. I know many women who can say the same, but often, it’s only behind closed doors, in voices thin with internalized shame that we speak of these things if we ever do at all. Also heartening, of course, were the consequences forced on many of the predators — the public shaming of them, the loss of deals, relationships, credibility.
Weinstein’s victims, that we know of, were mostly white — with the exception of Lupita Nyong’o, who published a detailed account of her experience with the producer in the New York Times. Bim Adewunmi, a critic I admire, wrote that black actresses, who get fewer roles for less pay than their white counterparts, were mostly saved in this instance because of their lack of desirability in the eyes of the mainstream. Weinstein was reported to have turned down actress Sophie Okonedo for a role because he doubted that she was “fuckable” enough to draw audiences. Adewunmi’s thinking didn’t sit right with me; sexually predatory behavior isn’t fundamentally about desirability. Also, women of color — especially indigenous women — have a higher lifetime incidence of sexual violence than white women and are less likely to report it to authorities or use social services to get help. We haven’t been saved from anything just because multitudes of us aren’t on one predator’s list.
There was a lot of silence after Nyong’o spoke up, and with R. Kelly’s victims, there’s been a similar silence. Perhaps it’s news fatigue: Everything is exhausting and heartbreaking, and one can only be outraged so much. Still, it’s curiously telling who the outrage and action follows. There are black women writers and activists who’ve tried to wake us up to the horror of Kelly’s behavior, yet he continues to tour and record music. Right now, on this very day, about half a dozen girls and women may be held in a weird, multi-city sex cult in R. Kelly’s homes. Some of their parents have asked for help. Aren’t they worthy of our collective fury, too?
I know what you’re thinking: Not another sexual harassment post. Bear with me.
I’ve spoken to many women over the past few weeks who feel exhausted by the current news cycle, I count myself among them: the endless onslaught of horrific stories, interspersed with the occasional, extremely bad non-apology.
I know it’s tempting to look away, and it’s fine if you have to; please take care of yourself. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad feminist. But it’s important the stories keep coming out, that the issue remains in the public discourse. It feels like we are in a moment of momentum, working our way towards something better, however clumsy, messy, and painful the process can be. It’s a little cheesy, but I keep thinking of the quote often misattributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” This momentum feels like hell, and we have to keep going.
Felling a man of Harvey Weinstein’s stature was undoubtedly going to create aftershocks. It must help that the actresses coming forward with accusations against him are famous, people we recognize, people we believe we love even if we don’t actually know them. It helps us to care about them and, as female crew members afraid to come forward about their own abuse told The Hollywood Reporter, it helps the actresses:
“We don’t have the power that Rose McGowan or Angelina Jolie has,” says one female below-the-liner, and others agree that it is a lot easier for a production to replace a woman on the crew than it is to lose a bankable actor or director.
The female crew members told THR they’re afraid to come forward, lest a producer deem them “a liability” or “a troublemaker.” It’s not the men who abuse that are liabilities, it’s the women who would be so inconvenient as to not shut up and take it. One crew member says what many of us know about human resources departments: “Human resources is not there for us; it’s there for the company. To protect it from a liability.” Again, here, the liability is the person who tells the truth, not the person who behaves wrongly.
Still, since the New York Times and the New Yorker published their Weinstein exposés, less famous women have revealed abuse by powerful men. Men have followed with apologies. (The best one came from Ryan Gosling, who said he was disappointed in himself for not knowing about Weinstein’s treatment of women sooner — we’ll come back to this.) Kim Masters was finally able to get an outlet to publish a piece she’d been doggedly working on for months, in which a producer on the Amazon show The Man in the High Castle came forward to report harassment by a top Amazon executive, who has since resigned.
The #MeToo campaign on social media — originally created by a black woman activist, Tarana Burke, 10 years ago and popularized in the wake of Weinstein by actress Alyssa Milano and others — brought out even more stories beyond the entertainment industry. The #MeToo campaign also seems to have been eye-opening for a lot of men. Maybe you think we should be pleased about this, but I feel more like Alexandra Petri, who wrote in the Washington Post, “I am sick of having to suffer so that a man can grow.”
I received a late-night email this week from someone who crossed a line with me 13 years ago. He wrote that he “struggled for a while tonight” with the email, which made me laugh, that he thought I should care that he “struggled” for a few hours that night, after 13 years. But of course he thought that. His whole email was about him. He wasn’t sure if he had done anything wrong, but thought maybe he had. He appeared to not remember that 10 years ago, I had written him an email of my own, telling him how his violation had hurt me. He had dismissed it then, telling me — a college student who had worked up a tremendous amount of courage to even write him that email — that I was overreacting. Hysterical woman, your feelings are incorrect. He wants forgiveness now, but can’t be bothered to go through his email and see that I told him, a decade ago, exactly what he did wrong and how it hurt me.
After a six-month investigation, Annie Hylton uncovers third-world working conditions and rampant sexual harassment at industrial laundry facilities serving Manhattan hospitals, hotels, and restaurants.
At Dissent, she recounts how workers, who went without health and safety training and personal protective equipment, routinely handled linens contaminated by human blood, urine, vomit, and feces. When workers weren’t dealing directly in others’ sh*t, they were forced to endure it. One manager routinely preyed on migrant women workers who had little English and less recourse; women were subject to unwanted touching and lewd suggestions. And after they finally stood up to complain? Retaliation, of course, in the form of reduced hours and more strenuous duties.
There are more than fifty industrial laundries in and around New York that employ thousands of workers, most of whom are recent immigrants, mainly women. These workers typically operate in noisy, dirty, stressful conditions, and are frequently exposed to harmful chemicals. Meg Fosque, an organizer at Make the Road New York who testified before New York City Council in 2015, described the laundry industry as one plagued by rampant violations of labor law and exploitation of the largely immigrant workforce by “unscrupulous employers.” Fosque concluded, “the industry as a whole has a disturbing track record and is in need of oversight.”
Until legislation was passed in 2016, there were no comprehensive and enforceable standards or licenses for industrial laundries in New York.
In November 2011, twenty-four-year-old Milton Anzora, a laundry worker at a commercial facility in Long Island called Prestige Industries, was crushed to death by a conveyer shuttle (this facility has since closed). In 2015, OSHA found that the company continued to expose employees to similar hazards at its Paterson facility. “It is unacceptable when a company continues to neglect basic safety and health procedures, especially after experiencing a fatality. Prestige Industries’ deliberate failure to uphold its responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace is an indication that worker safety and health is not a priority, which is intolerable,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York.
The largely female and immigrant workforce has meant that some workers are also subject to sexual harassment or assault, much like that faced by Gonzalez and her coworkers. Workers whose rights are violated often do not come forward because of their immigration status or because they lack legitimate union representation, allowing the cycle of abuse to continue.
Gabriel Thompson | Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture | Voice of Witness / Verso Press | May 2017 | 22 minutes (6,254 words)
The stories of the more than 800,000 men, women, and children working in California’s fields—one third of the nation’s agricultural work force—are rarely heard. The new book Chasing the Harvest compiles the oral histories of some of these farmworkers. Longreads is proud to publish this excerpt about Maricruz Ladino, who shared her story with journalist Gabriel Thompson.
Occupation: Produce Truck Driver
Born in: Sonora, Mexico
Interviewed in: Salinas, Monterey County
Agricultural region: Salinas Valley
Sexual harassment and violence in agriculture is both widespread and underreported. For years, the everyday threats and assaults faced by female farmworkers was a story that mostly stayed in the fields. In the past decade, however, a number of investigations—made possible by the bravery of women who have come forward—have uncovered a human rights crisis. In 2010, UC Santa Cruz published a study based on interviews with 150 female farmworkers in California. Nearly 40 percent reported that they had experienced sexual harassment, often from their supervisors; this harassment ranged from unwanted verbal advances to rape. Two years later, Human Rights Watch published a report, “Cultivating Fear,” based on interviews with more than fifty farmworkers across the country, which concluded that the persistent harassment and violence faced by women in the fields was “fostered by a severe imbalance of power” between undocumented farmworkers and their supervisors.
Maricruz Ladino knows all about that imbalance of power. “A supervisor can get you fired with the snap of his fingers,” she tells me. And so she stayed quiet, putting up with her supervisor’s daily harassment—and later, violent sexual assault—in order to hang on to her job at a lettuce packing plant in Salinas. Then came the day she gathered the courage to walk into the company’s office and file a complaint. She feared the worst: she could lose her job, or be deported. Both came to pass. But she has never regretted her decision.
We meet at a vegetable cooling plant in early October, where Maricruz welcomes me aboard her truck, which is carrying pallets of iceberg lettuce eventually destined for Honolulu. While she waits for more produce to be loaded, she talks about growing up on the border, her intense drive to always keep moving forward, and why she eventually broke the silence about the abuse she suffered. Read more…
When I am fourteen my classmate’s mother is killed by her boyfriend. He stabs her to death. In the newspaper they call it a crime of passion. When she comes back to school, she doesn’t talk about it. When she does mention her mother it’s always in the present tense – “my mom says” or “my mom thinks” – as if she is still alive. She transfers to another school the next year because her father lives in a different school district.
Passion. As if murder is the same thing as spreading rose petals on your bed or eating dinner by candlelight or kissing through the credits of a movie.
– Anne Thériault, on The Belle Jar, traces a lifetime of gendered violence, assault, harassment, and threats starting at age six in this brutal but important read.
On Monday, Jessica Hopper (music writer, culture critic, author of the recent and wonderfully titled The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic) asked her Twitter followers a simple question:
“Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t “count”?”
Needless to say, more than a few people responded. After a short period of writing back encouraging, personal responses, Hopper started retweeting the stories en masse.
Over the past 48 hours, Hopper’s timeline has filled with hundreds of individual stories; specific events, conversations, and aggressions, relayed in 140 characters or less. If you were hanging around the internet yesterday—or at least certain corners of the internet—you probably heard people talking about what was going on, and urging you to head over to Hopper’s page for a look.
A Twitter user named Laupina put together a Storify of Hopper’s timeline from the period in question. It’s a brutal, intimate, moving, difficult to read, and also inspiring testament to what it’s like to a be woman in the music world.
And what’s it like to be a woman in the music world? You will be mercilessly hit on, sexually harassed, endlessly accused of being the girlfriend/sister/mom, treated like an imposter, made to justify your presence, possibly threatened with violence, and constantly on the lookout for whatever fresh hell (and/or groper in the mosh pit) might be coming your way next. And that’s just the very short version.