Backtalk: VictimblamingToo

This week, Dahlia and Amy discuss comments made by Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, insisting that women could avoid sexual assault by not placing themselves in risky situations. Plus we read some great listener notes that start conversations. 

 

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[FULL TRANSCRIPT]
 
DAHLIA BALCAZAR: Are you exhausted from trying to do everything perfectly? Do you hold yourself back because you’re scared of failure? Then I wanna tell you about a podcast you should be tuning into. You can break away from the cult of perfection by subscribing and listening to the Brave, Not Perfect podcast. It’s hosted by Reshma Saujani. She’s the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and author of the international bestseller Brave, Not Perfect. Her TED Talk about teaching girls bravery instead of perfection has over 5 million views. Join Reshma as she shares her secrets about bravery and success because she wants to help you fear less, fail more, and live bolder. She’ll even answer your questions and give you tips about how to get a little braver every day. Plus, she has revealing conversations with other changemakers about their complex journeys and what we can take from them to improve our own lives. If you’re enjoying Backtalk I have a feeling you’re gonna love Brave, Not Perfect with Reshma Saujani. You can tune in and subscribe to Brave, Not Perfect wherever you listen to podcasts.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
AMY LAM: This episode of Backtalk is sponsored by Lewis and Clark College’s 39th annual Gender Studies Symposium, which will take place March 11, 12, and 13 in Portland, Oregon. Tilted Tensions of Possibility: This symposium invites us to imagine, predict, and hypothesize about the future while also asking us to rethink and reckon with the past. Don’t miss out on this exciting series of free lectures, workshops, and panel discussions, an art exhibit and keynote talks by Jack Halberstam and Feminista Jones. Learn more at Go.LClark.edu/GenderSymp. We’ll see you on campus.
 
[theme music]
 
DAHLIA: Welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
 
AMY: And I’m Amy Lam.
 
DAHLIA: And we start every episode by sharing our pop culture moment. What’s yours, Amy?
 
AMY: So, my pop culture moment is maybe a little bit old news ‘cause it happened about two weeks ago by now, but I would be remiss if I did not mention Parasite won all the awards at the Oscars.
 
DAHLIA: All the awards!
 
AMY: Oh, all of them. Which is just so funny because director Bong Joon-ho famously described the Oscars and the Academy Awards as being, quote, “very local,” [laughs] meaning that it didn’t have the breadth of recognition in terms of looking at films from all over the world, something like the Cannes Film Festival does. And it didn’t matter because they ended up winning a ton of awards! They won the most prestigious awards. They won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best International Film. It was such a joy to watch.
 
DAHLIA: What a sweep!
 
AMY: I know! Such a sweep. It was such a joy to see them win and to see director Bong Joon-ho go up there and receive the little statue and looking giddy over it.
 
DAHLIA: [Chuckles.]
 
AMY: I just loved the film so much that it was it just, I don’t know, it just made me so happy to see them win it. And I guess also in a way because I’m petty, it’s not just to see them win, but to see them win over like Quentin, you know?
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
AMY: To see them win over Joker, things like that. So, I think that those instances, it just made me extra, extra happy. So, I just wanted to shout out the Parasite for just winning. And if you haven’t seen the film, please, please do yourself a favor and go out and watch this movie.
 
DAHLIA: It’s so good. I read that the cast and crew, or the all of them that were there for the awards, partied in Koreatown until 5:00 a.m. on the night, on Oscars night.
 
AMY: [Laughs.] Oh, like I would have died if I was at one of the restaurants or bars in Koreatown and they just came through!
 
DAHLIA: I know!
 
AMY: Oh, that would’ve been so amazing.
 
DAHLIA: In their outfits. Yeah. [Laughs.]
 
AMY: Yes! What is your favorite pop culture moment?
 
DAHLIA: I have just learned that the host and the side host of the White House Correspondents Dinner have been selected. They are going to be Kenan Thompson. He’s gonna be the host. And Hasan Minhaj from Netflix’s Patriot Act is going to be, quote, “a featured entertainer.” But obviously, both of them are gonna be doing standup. I am so excited about this! While I was reading about this, I learned that Kenan Thompson is Saturday Night Live’s longest-running cast member of all time? Which I was very surprised to learn. But just like I feel so much happiness every time I see a skit with Kenan because he was a really large par.
 
And I really expected, I mean, honestly, the White House Correspondents Dinner could’ve been canceled this year because last year, you know, Michelle Wolf hosted. And she was very funny, but people got very angry. Trump didn’t even go. So, you know, it could’ve been canceled or like no host, just a dinner. So, I’m actually really surprised that two comedians who I definitely think are gonna say political things were selected. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing it. Although it’ll be a little bit a while. The White House Correspondents Dinner is on April 25.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
AMY: And I wanna take the time now to thank folks for sending us feedback into the inbox. We’ve got a couple of really great messages in the inbox through BitchMedia.org, and I wanted to read them because we really appreciate the ideas that you all are sharing. And also, just to know that [laughing] y’all are listening and have feelings. So, we got one email from a listener named Liza about the American Dirt episode. And they said, quote, “While listening, I couldn’t stop thinking about this piece by Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda. And the piece is called “On Whiteness and The Racial Imaginary: Where Writers Go Wrong In Imagining the Lives of Others.” And they wanted to share this with us. In fact, I had read this piece, which is like the intro to a collection of essays by many different writers, while I was in grad school, and I remember really loving it. And you can actually find this piece at Lit Hub. I just Googled it, and it was right there. And in particular, I wanted to talk about it because there’s this really great line in it because it’s talking about how writers, especially white writers, are often, when they’re criticized for writing from different perspectives, their retort is always like,  they should be allowed to imagine whatever they like. And it’s sort of unfair to set limits to their imagination.
 
And the argument that’s being made back to them in this essay is something that I thought was so smart. And there’s this quote that I wanted to read from it where it says, quote, “But it is also a mistake, because our imaginations are creatures as limited as we ourselves are. They are not some special un-infiltrated realm that transcends the messy realities of our lives and minds.” So, that’s something that I just thought was so poignant and actually does speak a lot to American Dirt. You know, it’s not that we’re saying that, you know, we’re trying to police anybody’s imagination and what they wanna write down from their imagination, but to really reflect on the limits of their imagination.
 
DAHLIA: Mmhmm.
 
AMY: And I think that’s the big thesis of this piece. And so, I really wanna thank Liza for bringing that piece up, ‘cause it is super pertinent to the discussions around creators and where they’re creating from.
 
DAHLIA: You know, that quote kind of reminds me of this horrible Donald Rumsfeld idea about how there are known knowns and known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Sorry to bring this up! But it’s like when you, a writer or any person, even in your imagination, which we have been told is limitless, there are unknown unknowns about the way other people live. And those are things that you cannot know. You don’t know that you don’t know them! And I think it takes a lot of work to really think about what you take for granted when you’re imagining the lives of others and sort of the limits of those lives. And I haven’t read this essay before, but I definitely will. I really appreciate the recommendation.
 
AMY: Yes. And we got another email from a listener named Andrea. I actually titled this Cynicismgate. [Laughs.] It reminded me of I think it was last summer when Dahlia and I were sort of reprimanded for giggling too much. And so, we called that Gigglegate.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah!
 
AMY: [Laughs.] And in this email, they are responding to the feedback we got from a couple episodes ago where somebody said that we were being too cynical about climate change in terms of personal responsibility. ‘Cause we were framing it like it isn’t just about personal responsibility. In fact, it’s more about corporate responsibility and corporate contribution to pollution and how sometimes this framing of just putting it on the individual detracts from that. And so, we got feedback saying that they were disappointed that we were framing it that way and that actually individual actions do help a lot. So, when I read that feedback, I was like, yes, thank you for pointing that out, that maybe sometimes I know that I’m very cynical. But Andrea says that, they said, quote, “I must disagree strongly with the listener who suggested you be, ‘less cynical.’ My blood was boiling!” [Laughs.] They said, “Focusing on what individuals do to combat climate change has not worked. Even worse, it has distracted us from the role governments and multimillion dollar corporations have played in this disaster.” This was actually a really, really long message, but there were such great points to it.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah, totally good points.
 
AMY: Yes. And they actually give a recommendation here, where they recommend a podcast episode on this topic Below the Radar: The Great Derangement. They say, “Indian author Amitav Ghosh talks about how climate change denial is particularly strong in English-speaking countries. Specific to the feedback you received, he talks about how the overwhelming focus on individual actions rather than the actions of governments and corporations is a problem. For example, he says that defense spending is responsible for 25 percent of climate change. And what are individuals supposed to do about that? This is why Greta [Thunberg] is attending all those government conferences rather than spending time telling people to recycle. She’s asking governments to unite behind the science.” What a great point! Thank you so much, Andrea, for saying that.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: And then, Andrea ends the email with this other point that I think is very interesting. They say, “I think that listener’s comment was actually about policing how young women process information and express their feelings about it. The comments that they were referring to, I took as humorous.” That was when Dahlia and I were chiding Joaquin Phoenix for saying that they should stop taking private jets to Palm Springs! [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Mmhmm.
 
AMY: “The comments that they were referring to, I took as humorous, a valid way for women to express themselves.” So, thank you so much, Andrea, for—
 
DAHLIA: I appreciate that!
 
AMY: Yeah! Such thoughtful feedback. And this is the stuff that, I don’t know, makes me feel like there’s a conversation happening between us and our listeners.
 
DAHLIA: Mmhmm. And I think that’s something that we’ve, I don’t know, not struggled with but maybe sort of like toyed around with in the years that we’ve been doing Backtalk is that I think you and I used to joke, like we’re both glass-half-empty people.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Although, maybe you’re slightly more half-empty than I am. You know, this balance of humor and cynicism and honesty, it’s you know, I think we, like you, our listeners, feel a lot of different, sometimes even conflicting, feelings about many things in the news, but especially these kinds of ideas about where is the balance of personal responsibility versus personal responsibility to influence governmental responsibility. To say that I totally understand that apathy doesn’t help anyone. And at the same time, I feel a lot of cynicism about the idea that the government has interest in listening to the people in this country. And that’s definitely something, like a thread that I think has been through a lot of our conversations is like, do we laugh? Do we cry? What can we do? Well, we can go protest in the streets, but will they listen? And I think that that’s maybe increasingly how a lot of people feel about both government action and individual action.
 
AMY: And I think you really, you brought up a really great point about how, often, we have conflicting feelings inside of us, and they can both exist at the same time. And they are both valid.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: Like I took the feedback that we talked about in the last episode, I thought it was valid feedback. You know, like you guys need to [laughing] stop being so cynical about this! And that we do need to make small, individual changes. ‘Cause I think that on the one hand, doing those small, individual changes is like a constant reminder that we’re doing something active and that we’re constantly thinking about the effects of climate change. And whereas in this feedback, it’s saying like, well, sure. But also, there’s things that are happening that contribute to climate change that we literally cannot control. Like this thing where defense spending is responsible for 25 percent of it. And I think that we can hold both of these things true. And I think that’s often the things that we talk about and how we have those conflicted feelings. And it’s okay to have them.
 
I mean, yeah, there’s sometimes where I do feel like we do get policed for how we process our information. But I also really appreciate the conversation around that, ‘cause then I think that, I think it’s productive. And I think it helps us think about how we talk to each other, how we process our ideas, how we share our ideas. And so, I really appreciated all kinds of feedback, honestly. I mean, except for the time that we were told not to laugh as much on the show. [laughing] That was…that was definitely a piece of feedback, and I think both Dahlia and I were like, fuck that. But [laughs]…
 
DAHLIA: [Chuckles.]
 
AMY: But besides that, I mean, I think that all of these comments are so helpful.
 
And actually, in talking about all this, this is bringing me to a point where I have to bring up something that’s kind of sad for both Dahlia and I. And that is that this is the second to last episode of Backtalk. Our next episode that will be airing in March will be our last episode. And in that episode, we will be reflecting on the years of the show and the conversations that we’ve had. And it’s, I think it’s gonna be a little kind of a sad thing for Dahlia and I.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: And so, in this segment, when we’re talking about listener feedback, we would love to hear from our listeners about maybe some of the favorite conversations that you’ve heard, maybe recommendations that you’ve heard from us that have changed your life. For example, for me, a whole new world of horror—
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: —and horror onscreen opened up for me because of Dahlia’s enthusiasm for horror. And we would love to hear any other farewell messages that you might have. If you would love to leave us a message, we would so appreciate it. You can leave it on iTunes as a comment, or you can even just send us a message like our last two listeners did through BitchMedia.org. We’re really sad that the show is ending because we’ve loved these conversations that we’ve had. But we’re so excited that we’ve had this chance to talk to each other and to talk to you all. And so, please let us know if you have any messages for us!
 
DAHLIA: Yeah, I think often, we’ve said what feels so good and fun about Backtalk is the part that we’re hopefully part of a community of people who are processing these same feelings and thoughts and trying to deal with the news. And so, I think it would feel really good and special to have our last episode be sort of a community kind of episode about the past many years of Backtalk. And yeah, I am also very sad, but I am very looking forward to hearing any thoughts or farewells from you, our audience.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
Originally used in 2006, #MeToo’s launch into public consciousness in 2017 has continued to break silence about sexual assault and harassment. It has continued to empower survivors through huge strength in numbers. We’re now a few years into sort of the new #MeToo era, and the conversation around what sexual assault looks like continues to change. As always, I should say we’re recording this a few days before you hear it, so it’s possible we might be in a little bit of a time lag. But right now, as we’re recording this, jurors are deliberating five criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein. Over the weekend, just days before the jury started deliberating, Weinstein’s lawyer, Donna Rotunno, published an op-ed in Newsweek basically scolding the jurors and demanding that they do what they know is right. Part of the op-ed reads, “I expect a fair and impartial jury for Mr. Weinstein and every other American. I implore the members of this jury to do what they know is right and was expected of them from the moment they were called upon to serve their civic duty in a court of law. The facts are the facts. Harvey Weinstein is innocent. His fate hangs in the balance, and the world is watching.” Dang!
 
AMY: [Laughing.] Wow!
 
DAHLIA: What an op-ed! [Laughs.] So, as you might expect, the article in Newsweek infuriated the Manhattan DA’s office. They argued that it is jury tampering. And I have to say, I kind of agree. You can’t threaten the jury! That’s what jury tampering is! And in fact, last month, prosecutors requested a gag order because Donna Rotunno criticized Mr. Weinstein’s accusers in interviews with reporters. And they made the same complaint again after she participated in a New York Times podcast and implied that the accusers were liars who were seeking fame. And it was actually that podcast that made me wanna do this episode. The podcast was The Daily, the New York Times’ daily podcast. And in it, Megan Twohey, who is one of the writers of She Said, who broke the Weinstein story. We talked about her maybe a few episodes ago. And Megan Twohey interviewed Donna Rotunno, Weinstein’s lawyer. And in that episode a few weeks ago, we talked about what the narrative of Weinstein’s trial was gonna look like. You know, in advance, we were sort of speculating about what it was gonna look like. And now we know.
 
AMY: Yeah. So, that Daily episode was, I think, so stunning because she shed light on how we were to understand her defense of his heinous behavior. So, essentially, Donna Rotunno boils it down to the fact that the women who Weinstein assaulted knew exactly what they were doing when they were left alone with him. She’s essentially said that they were basically entering into an agreement, like an unsaid agreement, that they would trade sexual favors for career favors. Rotunno’s defense in framing that Weinstein isn’t so much of a violent attacker, and if anything, he’s just like a sad, unfaithful husband. But that everything that he did with the survivors in these specific cases were consensual acts.
 
DAHLIA: I mean, yeah, if you can stomach it, I very much recommend this episode. Like Amy said, it was stunning. I listened to it several times because it was just…I was stunned to hear this kind of very old victim-blaming rhetoric, but coming out in this kind of post-MeToo kind of way. She was being asked about #MeToo. And the stuff that was coming out of her mouth was like, these are choices that women are making. Maybe women regret these choices, or maybe they don’t regret these choices. But they made the choice to go out with Harvey Weinstein. They made the choice to go to his hotel room. They could’ve known something weird was gonna happen! Why did they go to his hotel room if they didn’t know sex was on the menu!? Like it was shocking to hear all of that.
 
We sort of talked about this a while ago, but in the trial, a lot of the main defense has been like the women in this particular case contacted Harvey Weinstein after the assaults had occurred. And so, Donna Rotunno is saying, like, would you send an email? She wouldn’t have emailed him if he had really assaulted her! And then she’s also been arguing that he didn’t have power over their careers. That he wasn’t one of the most powerful people in the world.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: He was just only—she said something like—he was one of many very powerful people. And I was like, oh, my god. And there’s a moment—the interview, it’s unbelievable—but there is a moment that is particularly unbelievable. And it’s when Donna Rotunno is asked if she’s ever been sexually assaulted. And so, I just wanna play a clip of that right now.
 
[clip from The Daily plays]
 
MEGAN TWOHEY: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Donna.
 
DONNA ROTUNNO: Thank you.
 
MEGAN: I really appreciate it.
 
DONNA: Thanks. I appreciate it, too.
 
MEGAN: Are there any question, any other questions, guys? I know that was, that was a long one.
 
DONNA ROTUNNO: That’s all right.
 
MEGAN: Oh, and actually, I had another question, which was whether or not you’ve been sexually assaulted.
 
DONNA ROTUNNO: I have not.
 
MEGAN: Okay.
 
DONNA: I have not…. Because I would never put myself in that position.
 
MEGAN: So, you’re saying you— okay. Actually, I’m sorry. So, you’re saying that you, you’re saying that you have never been sexually assaulted because you would never put yourself in the position of being sexually assaulted?
 
DONNA ROTUNNO: No, I’ve always made choices from college age on, where I never drank too much. I never went home with someone that I didn’t know. I never, I just never put myself in any vulnerable circumstance, ever.
 
MEGAN: Do you believe that every woman who’s been sexually assaulted somehow put herself in that position, whether it was having drinks or agreeing to go to a hotel room?
 
DONNA ROTUNNO: Absolutely not. But just as we make smart decisions when we walk out on the street at night, I think you have to make the same decisions when you’re putting yourself in circumstances with other people. When we walk out at night, we look around. We make sure we have our phone. Some people take mace. We take precautions. And all I’m saying is, is that women should take precautions.
 
DAHLIA: I could not believe what I was hearing! It’s like, it’s definitely one of those cases of like, wow! You did not have to add that. You could’ve just stopped and that would’ve been okay. But just like at every turn, she’s just infusing this, like I’m saying, old school—but I guess it’s still current school—kind of victim-blaming of like, women make choices, and whatever happens when they make those choices, is their fault. You’re in a butterfly effect pattern, and it’s all your fault from the beginning. As if there is no responsibility on other people to not assault or commit crimes against other humans.
 
AMY: And I think like your reaction to what she said, it kinda came out in Megan Twohey, the interviewer’s, reaction when you listen to the podcast. I think she’s stunned ‘cause it kinda sounds like Rotunno is saying the quiet part loud! [Laughs.] You know, like the part that victim blamers harbor inside of them and that they feel about people who are assaulted, but they don’t really wanna say it out loud ‘cause then they’ll be punished for it. But here is Harvey Weinstein’s attorney saying that, no, I would never put myself in that position. As if all the survivors who have ever been assaulted put themselves there to be assaulted, knowing full well like here’s the possibility I might get assaulted! But I’m gonna go do it anyway!!! Lemme go check it out! You know? I think that a lotta people who listened to that episode and heard her say that, I think we all had a gasp, you know, like, whoa.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: For her to say that, there is this subtle implication of Harvey Weinstein’s behavior, and I think that’s a sort of reading between the lines thing. I think she knows that Harvey Weinstein is a violent sexual predator, and she’s essentially low-key, saying, like, if those women didn’t wanna be assaulted, they shouldn’t have shown up in his hotel room. Because there’s no way that this woman who’s smart enough to be an attorney, who’s probably spent hundreds of hours poring over information about Harvey Weinstein’s life and all these cases against him, all these accusations against him, and not know that he is a violent predator. And so, I’m sure she has understanding that these women also knew this, but they still showed up. So, not only is her saying that a fucked up, victim-blaming, bullshit argument about what do survivors do and how do they protect themselves and how they shouldn’t be putting themselves in these positions. But I think she is also saying that they should’ve known better because Harvey Weinstein has this reputation for being—
 
DAHLIA: Had a reputation, yeah.
 
AMY: Yes. Yeah. And she knows. She must know that now, you know, after taking this case on. And if they had known that, why did they show up then? You know? And I think that that’s what’s happened here. It’s like the thing that she said is so horrific, and it’s horrifying in these so many ways and these layers. Because not only is she saying this just as a human being, but she’s saying this as his defense attorney. This is how she’s arguing so that he won’t be held responsible for his behavior. It’s… this is really weird. I don’t know why I’m stunned that this is her argument. But I think it’s because it’s so boldly incorrect and fucked up [laughs] that I think that’s why so many of us were like, “Gasp!”
 
DAHLIA: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s what you said, that it’s like she said the quiet part out loud. I shouldn’t be surprised because I know that people think things like this, and I know that there’s rhetoric like this all the time and that it’s very old rhetoric. But I guess I expected more from, you know, a professional attorney being interviewed by the New York Times. I expected a more careful hiding or a more careful obscuring of this bald face horror of her saying like, well, the sheep knew the wolf was a wolf. So, I don’t know why the sheep hung out with the wolf.
 
AMY: But I wonder if, in these Trumpian times—
 
DAHLIA: Mmmm.
 
AMY: —her saying the quiet part loud is—
 
DAHLIA: That’s a very interesting point.
 
AMY: Yeah, is just, is actually very intentional. And it’s not even like a dog whistle. It’s a whistle-whistle. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Whistle, yeah.
 
AMY: You know? Yeah, to say just very flatly, these women knew, and they went anyway. So, what do you expect?
 
DAHLIA: Actually, horribly to your point, during that same interview, I have a quote from her. She says, “We’ve created a society of celebrity victimhood status. We’ve created a society where women don’t have to take any responsibility for their actions. And we’ve created a society where, if we say, ‘believe all women,’ that means we’re not supposed to question anyone at all. So, there’s absolutely no risk for a woman to come forward now and make a claim. Zero.” Which is like, that’s full of lies! But also, I totally see what you’re saying, that that’s a whistle-whistle. That’s like saying it is now like a legally accepted in the largest public sphere, we can say, don’t you think things have gone just a little bit too far? Ugh. It’s just very frustrating.
 
AMY: It’s frustrating. It’s grotesque. And in a way, maybe it works, you know?
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: Because in this landscape, to say something like that, to say, “Well, I would never put myself in a position to be assaulted,” it’s a very quote-unquote “politically incorrect” to say. But I’m sure she’s not the only person to think that. I’m sure she’s not the only woman to think that about these other women who were assaulted. And I think that her saying it out loud in that way is sort of opening this door to start this backlash against #MeToo and against the survivors.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: And start shifting the spotlight to survivors and their motives. And why did they behave that way?
 
DAHLIA: Yeah!
 
AMY: It’s shifting back to how, before #MeToo times, where often, it wasn’t the assaulter who had the spotlight on them. It was usually the person who was making the claim who had the spotlight on them. And I think she’s trying really hard to budge that spotlight over and off of Harvey Weinstein and onto these women who accused him.
 
DAHLIA: And you know what? I think your point that in these Trump times, you just say the quiet part out loud. You know, at the beginning, I started out by sort of joking like, oh, she shouldn’t have kept talking. She should have just said, like, “No, I’ve never been sexually assaulted,” period and not said anything. But I think what I’ve realized just now in this conversation is that wasn’t bad media training. That wasn’t like a Freudian slip or a mistake. She’s on this show with the agenda to create the narrative women make all kinds of choices, and the consequences of those choices are their fault because they chose that choice, and they accept a culture where you go to Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room. So, if they’re so against going to Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room, why did they go? And that’s, actually, I’m very disturbed.
 
You know, I think in my earlier thinking about that episode, it just seemed like a lot of poorly-chosen words and mistakes and fumbles. And it’s actually very chilling to consider what’s more likely is actually what you’re saying: that her agenda is to inject that theory into the public consciousness about, not just these women in this case, but Harvey Weinstein’s accusers more broadly, which is that there are tens and tens of them. And then also, of course, women who accuse men of sexual assault, this is actually her specialty. She’s defended, I don’t know if I have the exact number right, but I think the the New York Times podcast said 40 men accused of sexual assault. So, I think that in these Trump times, it’s very easy to see what we see as maybe ineptitude or fumbling or saying the wrong thing. And I think it is a light bulb moment for me right now to think, to my ears, it sounds horrible and disgusting and vile. But to the ears of a lot of other people, it sounds like permission to continue using that rhetoric.
 
AMY: Mmhmm. And it’s interesting, ‘cause you said, that she goes on the show with this agenda. I think she did just go on the show with an agenda to start this conversation, to sort of bring us back in time in a way.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: Because when she’s on the show, she actually accused Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor of having an agenda in their book.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: You know?
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: And that was a really interesting exchange because she’s just like, yeah, well, you wrote a book called She Said. Well, what about what he said? You know?
 
DAHLIA: Yeah, what about what he said?!
 
AMY: Yeah! And then she essentially accused these two New York Time writers of having an agenda. And I think Megan Twohey had, her response was kind of like, no, we just reported a story with facts. Like there’s no agenda. We just reported a story that we worked really hard on, that we spent many, many hours on. We vetted, we make sure it was true and full of facts. There’s no agenda in our work. It’s just it’s fucked up that you think that us reporting true facts is like us, pushing through an agenda ‘cause that’s what you’re doing, lowkey. But it was surprising because I think that’s also a Trumpian move, to attack people on facts.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: And I think she was doing that, and I see why she’s doing this in sort of a way to shift the conversation culturally. I’m not familiar enough with how courtrooms work and how juries work in cases like this and how her statements could influence a jury’s decision. But I do think that she’s doing these things in an intentional way to shift the conversation culturally, probably in hopes that it will shift the perspective of the jurors. But yeah, it was fucked up to see. And it really reiterated the very specific need of a movement like #MeToo and how a movement like #MeToo sort of needs to continue to be in the cultural zeitgeist.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: And it needs to continue to be supported from all sides, because I think for you and I, because we talk about this a lot, and we think about this a lot because we’re thinking about pop culture, and especially, we’re thinking about gender in pop culture, you know, I think for us it’s like, wow, this shift has been really amazing. And to see that women have been empowered to come out and talk about these really violent things that happened to them and to think that culturally, I think we’re shifting in a really great way, that makes it so that perhaps one day, this notion of sort of unbridled violence against vulnerable people was such a horrific memory. You know, I think that even though we’re hearing such terrible, disgusting stories about things that, violence that happened against vulnerable people, we’re seeing some kind of like the dial on discussions around sexual assault moving a little bit. So, I think for you and I it’s like, wow, this is amazing. But that there can be counter movements to that to put us back in our place.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: And I think that this lawyer is a part of that. And it’s something that we need to be really aware of and to know that the #MeToo movement has to continue to be supported and talked about in a way that doesn’t move us backward.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah, I think it’s really striking to realize that whatever gains we feel like we’ve made or whatever visibility we feel like we’ve drawn to talking about sexual assault, which is, I absolutely think, huge shifts have happened. I think you’re totally right that there are people ready to make counterattacks to that movement and to take back those gains and to go back to a regressive, offensive, sexist way of talking about violence. And so, I think that maybe it’s a little bit of a bubble issue, a little bit, you know, that the kind of media that I read generally acknowledges #MeToo and supports #MeToo. And to think that there are very many people in the world, in the country who are reading that Newsweek op-ed that Donna Rotunno wrote. That there are people who maybe haven’t quote-unquote “made up their minds about #MeToo,” or as I was joking before, think #MeToo has gone too far, despite the fact that we’re now years into, like years post-MeToo and despite the fact that we see sort of nominal lip service to it in Hollywood. A classic Backtalk statement is remains to be seen what that looks like in the real legal system.
 
AMY: [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Classic us. [Chuckles.]
 
AMY: [Laughs.] I think that culturally, there’s a feeling that things have changed. But behaviorally, have they changed amongst actual people? I read this really sad story over the weekend about Elizabeth Smart. Elizabeth Smart, who’s most well-known for I think it was in the mid-2000s, she was a teenage girl. She was kidnaped out of her bedroom and then held hostage with this man who was leading like a mini-cult between Elizabeth Smart and his wife. And he had sexually assaulted Elizabeth Smart like every day of her, during her capture. So, she tells the story about how she was able to escape that capture and tried to lead a normal life. And she’s as healthy as she could be. And just last summer, she was on an airplane ride, and she had fallen asleep. And she woke up to a man assaulting her.
 
DAHLIA: Oh, my god.
 
AMY: I read this piece about it. And she has this moment in this Washington Post story where she says, like, wow, do I have like a target on my head that says, “I’m easy prey,” you know? For somebody to be in that position, to be assaulted in these ways, it just makes you think, yes, culturally, our discussions around sexual assault have changed and how we think about it, how we think about survivors, and how we think about perpetrators has changed. But behaviorally, you know, here’s a person who’s just sleeping on a plane. And this makes me also think about Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer, you know, with her remark being like, well, I would never put myself in a situation that I could eb sexually assaulted.
 
DAHLIA: Right.
 
AMY: It’s like this is just a person taking a nap on a airplane.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah.
 
AMY: And she isn’t, and Elizabeth Smart isn’t the only one who’s this happened to.
 
DAHLIA: Right!
 
AMY: There are many dozens of cases that are reported every year of people waking up, being assaulted on airplanes. Are those people entering into situations where they were fully aware that this is a risk and a possibility? No! They were just taking naps on planes, you know? So, I think that there are moments where this conversation feels really good. It feels healthy, feels productive, feels like we’re moving forward. But then we have to understand that do these conversations move into action, into behavior, into sort of training people to not behave this way? And so, that’s why when we hear Harvey Weinstein’s fucking attorney say that her defense essentially is, if you don’t wanna get assaulted, don’t go into situations where you will get assaulted. Which to me, as a vulnerable person feels like, oh, so, I should just sit in my bedroom then?
 
You know, I think there’s so many situations in which we can be vulnerable when we leave our little, small spaces. And even sometimes those small spaces are not very safe. I think that’s a fucked up defense. I’m unsurprised that his attorney is using that defense. I’m so grossed out by it. But I guess it remains to be seen what the jury will say in this case and how in the years to come, this conversation will continue to unfold and the effects of it on the behavior of people who are perpetrators.
 
[cutesy bells ring]
 
DAHLIA: At the end of every episode of Backtalk, we share something we’re reading, watching, and listening to. I wanna recommend the book Ceremonials by Katharine Coldiron. It is a 12-part lyric novella inspired by the Florence and the Machine album Ceremonials. It’s sort of between prose and poetry. It’s the story of two girls at a boarding school who fall in love. But then one of them drowns on the eve of their graduation, and it’s about her ghost haunting the other one. And it was just a really sort of like special, magical experience reading it, of course, because I’m a huge Florence and the Machine fan. But sort of hearing these echoes of narrative and words from a piece of music echoing in a piece of prose was very interesting. I really enjoyed reading it. So, that’s called Ceremonials by Katherine Coldiron.
 
AMY: I love it when art influences more art.
 
DAHLIA: So interesting!
 
AMY: Yes! It’s like such a great intertwining of conversations between artists. That’s always so fun and so lush and—
 
DAHLIA: Yeah, lush. That’s a great word for it. Yeah.
 
AMY: Yes. And produces more great art. Yes. Yes to that. It sounds like a great recommendation.
 
I have the watch pick, and my watch you pick is a Netflix series called Next In Fashion. [Laughs.] I’ve mentioned this before, but I love shows like Project Runway. I just love design-y things where people are under pressure [laughs] to sort of do their best work. I’ve always sort of daydreamed about what a Project Runway type show for writers would look like. [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Oh my god.
 
AMY: Because I wanna be on a show like that!
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: But obviously, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun ‘cause there’s no visuals. Like, what would it end in? Us doing a reading? [Laughs.]
 
DAHLIA: Yeah, they would film nothing. Yeah.
 
AMY: [Laughing.] Yeah. It would just be us sitting around, staring off into space.
 
DAHLIA: Tearing your hair out. [Laughs.]
 
AMY: Yeah. And at the episode, we would go to some smoky bar where we do a reading where nobody’s listening to us, you know?
 
BOTH: [Laugh.]
 
AMY: And then the judges are talking amongst themselves, Texting on their phones. [Laughs.] Yeah. So, I think that’s why I love these shows so much, because you can see somebody’s creative process being manifested. And they’re so much fun. And so, Next In Fashion is like the Netflix version of Project Runway. It’s actually a little bit more fashion and less reality TV tomfoolery.
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: ‘Cause that’s the one thing about Project Runway that I think I’ve noticed in the years I’ve watch it is that there’s a lot of you know, the cast, sometimes they cast characters more than they cast designers. But on Next In Fashion, it is these people who have put the hours in and worked for design houses or amazing designers. It’s hosted by Alexa Chung and Queer Eye’s Tan France. It’s just been a really amazing series. And I am going to start the last episode so that I’ll know who wins.
 
DAHLIA: [Gasps.]
 
AMY: I don’t know who wins.
 
DAHLIA: I do.
 
AMY: Oh, my gosh. Okay, I’m super excited. But the series has just had amazing garments, beautiful, beautiful garments. And also, I really appreciated the guest judges. No shade on Project Runway, but often their guest judges are celebrities who wear fashion, which is like a good perspective. But on Next In Fashion, they have stylist judges, and they also have designers judges who talk about the designs and the clothes in this technical way that I so appreciate and that’s actually so fun to listen to. Because fun fact about me. I am a home sew-er. But I also took a pattern drafting class at this design, fashion design school in Portland. And it was one of the hardest things [laughing] I’ve ever done!
 
DAHLIA: [Laughs.]
 
AMY: Because with pattern drafting, it’s a ton of math.
 
DAHLIA: Yeah. [Laughs.]
 
AMY: And I am very bad at math. And it is so hard. It’s so technical. And to see, so, I think that understanding how much sort of innate talent and knowledge has to go into being able to make these garments just look so effortless, it gave me this whole other level of appreciation for when I see a pristine piece of clothing come down the runway. So, Next In Fashion has been so much fun, and I just really, really loved it. I hope they do like a billion more seasons like they do with Project Runway. And that is my watch recommendation.
 
DAHLIA: No spoiler, but I’ll say the person who wins’s clothes are amazing!
 
AMY: Okay. I’m super excited.
 
DAHLIA: So, I’m happy for you to get to watch it soon.
 
AMY: Yeah!
 
DAHLIA: [Chuckles.] I wanna recommend this song by one of my favorite musicians of all time, Fiona Apple. Allegedly, she has an album coming out this year, which—
 
AMY: Squeeeeee!
 
DAHLIA: Yes! Oh, my god. I love Fiona Apple so much. This song is “Sullen Girl.” It’s from her first album. I didn’t actually know until recently, I was trying to figure out a song to recommend at the end of this episode about #MeToo. And so, I found on the internet there are many lists of like #MeToo songs and songs about sexual assaults, and it was really kind of moving and overwhelming to listen to a bunch of them. But “Sullen Girl” is about Fiona Apple’s sexual assault that happened when she was 12. This album came out when she was 17. And I’ve always just been in total awe of Fiona Apple’s musical talent that she was so young when she got famous. And her work is just so gorgeous. And at the same time, I think I never noticed all of its autobiographical qualities. And the song is just so beautiful, and everything she’s ever sung is the most beautiful song. But this is “Sullen Girl” by Fiona Apple.
 
[“Sullen Girl” plays]
 
♪ “Days like this, I don’t know what to do with myself/
All day and all night/
I wander the halls along the walls/
And under my breath I say to myself/

I need fuel to take flight/
And there’s too much going on/
But it’s calm under the waves/
In the blue of my oblivion/
Under the waves/
In the blue of my oblivion” ♪
 
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This episode is produced by Emily Boghossian. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to Bitchmedia.org and donate.
 
♪ “Is that why they call me a sullen girl, sullen girl/
They don’t know I used to sail” ♪
by Amy Lam
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Amy Lam was a contributing editor and co-host of Backtalk at Bitch Media. Find her at byamylam.com & Twitter / Instagram.

by Dahlia Balcazar
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Dahlia Balcazar was a senior editor at Bitch Media, the co-host of the podcast Backtalk, and the host of the live show Feminist Snack Break. She’s passionate about horror films, ’90s music, girl gangs, and Shirley Jackson. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.