Natalie Portman
Photo: Rex

OPINION

Post-Weinstein, Natalie Portman is seeing past experiences differently. She’s not alone

We are all reassessing what harassment means to us, says Rachael Sigee. And the process is both painful and unsettling

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By Rachael Sigee on

Since the Weinstein scandal broke, the whole world has been trying to navigate how to handle the situation. The flood of allegations and accounts was unprecedented and Hollywood insiders have been as thrown as the rest of us in confronting it.

Speaking at the Vulture Festival in LA this week, Natalie Portman explained that she had initially categorised herself as one of the lucky ones until she reconsidered: “When I heard everything coming out, I was like, wow, I’m so lucky that I haven’t had this. And then, on reflection, I was like, okay, definitely never been assaulted, definitely not, but I’ve had discrimination or harassment on almost everything I’ve ever worked on in some way. 

“I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking ‘Oh wait, I have 100 stories’. And I think a lot of people are having these reckonings with themselves, of things that we just took for granted as like, this is part of the process.”

She gives the example of accepting an invitation to fly on a producer’s private plane only to discover it was just the two of them, and only one bed was made up in the cabin. Although nothing happened, she was made to feel uncomfortable: “That was super not okay, you know? That was really unacceptable and manipulative and could have been – I was scared, you know?”

Like Portman, the past few weeks have seen thousands of women telling their stories of sexual discrimination, assault, harassment and abuse. For many it has been cathartic to hear them. We are not surprised; we all have a story; we’ve been saying it for years; we all knew it all along. Yet alongside sharing what we already understood, we are reassessing what we thought we did – and many of us are reckoning with the realisation that what we had taken for our memories and our pasts may have, in fact, been alternative facts.

There are the things we always knew were wrong. That hurt and confused and ashamed us at the time. That we have relived and replayed and blamed ourselves for. Those wounds have been reopened. But there are also the wounds that we didn’t even know we had; nicks and grazes that we didn’t remember getting. Except now we are remembering. And it is a scary and disconcerting thing to realise that your life was not quite what you thought it was. To suddenly catch on that your perception of events might be skewed – or you were mistaken.

With this in mind, Slate have collected accounts from 56 people who have reexamined relationships, interactions and anecdotes that they have subsequently come to question or that fall into a grey area in their minds. And the resulting stories mirror those being dissected by millions of other women as we try to figure out the implications of experiences that it transpires are so commonly shared.

To suddenly catch on that you were manipulated or vulnerable or violated without even comprehending it is overwhelming

Right now, we are all that meme of the Confused Math Lady in front of the blackboard figuring out an algebra equation. Except our sums are made up of winks and hands on knees, provocative questions and sexualised nicknames, being poured unwanted extra drinks and saying yes when we definitely wanted to say no.

To suddenly catch on that you were manipulated or vulnerable or violated without even comprehending it is overwhelming. And it might not just be reconsidering that brief moment at a nightclub or a single comment from a colleague; it might be reassessing a whole relationship and abruptly seeing the weighting of power very differently.

So many women are feeling a collective nausea as we reclassify events and interactions and interrogate our own complicity. It’s like being seasick and never knowing when a previously inconsequential moment will be thrown up as a painful recollection.

There are so many ways in which women work to convince themselves that they made their own decisions; that it was their mistake and not his; that they are the guilty party.

If you went along with the advances of an older, more powerful man. If you ultimately benefited in some way from that. If something happened multiple times, or over many weeks, months or years. If you said yes in order to try to take ownership of something that you felt was inescapable. If you felt flattered or turned on or excited. We have doubted ourselves, excused men and buried our gut feelings.

Now it is as if the ground under our feet has jolted and everything we know is settling in a slightly different place. The horizon has tilted – and while sexism has always felt like a crushing weight to carry, we are discovering that it is even heavier than we realised.

@littlewondering

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Photo: Rex
Tagged in:
harvey weinstein
sexual harassment
Sexual assault

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