Tuesday, October 31, 2017

My Harvey

When I first started reading about the numerous allegations piling up against Harvey Weinstein, I didn’t understand at first how this could be going on for over twenty years and no one had come forward before now. That so many women could have such similar experiences with one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and yet it continued to happen. If there were to be no legal repercussions, why at the very least did older women not warn younger women to not go into those hotel rooms, not to be alone with this sexual predator? Why was he allowed to get away with it for so long?

Initially, I resisted the #metoo hashtag circulating on Facebook. Why was it that women had to stand in solidarity in our victimhood? Why are we so obsessed with the woman as victim narrative? I don’t see myself as a victim, and I don’t want to be made to wear that badge because we live in a sexist, patriarchal world. Of course I empathized with the women who had been victimized, but I resisted what felt to me like a celebration of our presumed weakness. I couldn’t imagine being in a room with a powerful man who could make or break my career crossing all the boundaries that lay between us until I felt I had to make a choice between my ambition and my soul.

And then I remembered that actually I had been in a room like this one. A year ago. And I didn’t know how to process it until I started reading these women’s stories. I actually didn’t really understand how to think about what had happened to me until I read in The Atlantic Brit Marling on Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent. I didn’t realize my situation at the time because I had simply accepted it as the status quo. And that’s my really horrifying realization in all of this. Not that Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator, because frankly and unfortunately, I’m not surprised. But that I have been in a room similar to the one these women describe, and I didn’t even realize it.

A year ago, I was hired to adapt a novel into a screenplay by an older female producer. She let me know before offering me the job that she had sent the book to several more well-known and established screenwriters, one of whom was a female writer/director I greatly admired. Lucky for me, those other writers passed. This producer fancied herself a sort of mentor and liked the idea of giving a young woman writer with potential a shot, and I was grateful for the opportunity. I had only ever had one of my feature scripts—a co-write—optioned, and never anything produced except for short films I made myself. This was a very important project for her and she had a reputable director interested. To make myself more appealing while trying to get the job, I lowballed a figure because I knew part of my appeal was being a writer without a quote.

I was paid half up front and was to get the other half upon delivery, but when I ran out of money and needed to pay my rent, I asked the producer if I could get the rest of it now. It wasn’t a lot of money and I knew the guy funding the film was loaded. She said yes, but that her financier wanted to meet me, so I could go pick up the check in person at his office.

As I headed into the financier’s office building, a man passed me in the hall and looked me up and down, smiling as he checked me out. I continued into the building and was led into a conference room by the pleasant young woman working the front desk. A few minutes later, the financier entered the room. It was the guy who had checked me out in the hall. We shook hands and I sat down. He was talkative and energetic. He asked me questions and then talked over my answers. He seemed to want to tell me about himself, to show off his philanthropic work, and I responded attentively like a good student, nodding and smiling and making all the right noises. He asked if I liked the book—he hadn’t read it. I said I thought it would make a good movie. I wasn’t really sure what this meeting was about but apparently he just wanted to put a face to the person to whom he was writing the checks.

He asked about my other work. I told him about my blog, this blog. I told him the title. His face lit up. He suddenly seemed very interested in what I had to say. He asked what made me so comfortable writing about sex. I told him about the shameless way I was raised by a feminist mother. I told him the foundational story of my childhood, that my mom bought me a vibrator when I was twelve. This isn’t privileged information—literally everyone who knows me knows this. And it’s not a story designed to titillate. I sometimes tell it to relative strangers in business meetings because I feel it cuts through a lot of small talk and gets to the heart of something that helps people understand who I am as a person and an artist.

He leaned in, a glint in his eye. He asked if I knew how he and my producer had met. I said no. He dialed her number on the conference room telephone in the middle of the table and said, “Hey, tell her how we met.” She giggled and said, “Oh god.” She hung up and he told me they had met at a sex party. Neither of them knew it was a sex party, of course, and they ended up chatting in the kitchen while everyone else got it on in the living room. He watched me intently as he told this story. I laughed politely and smiled a lot, and still wondered what this meeting was about. Was I going through some kind of test before I was going to get my check? He seemed electrified by the fact that we were now talking about sex, and I suddenly felt like maybe we were headed in the wrong direction. I could feel myself getting hot under my cashmere sweater, an ill-advised choice on what I had assumed would be a chilly fall day and had turned instead into a stifling LA one. But I didn’t want to take it off, embarrassed about the possibility of sweat stains.

I wasn't sure why I felt uncomfortable. Maybe because the stakes felt higher than usual. I had been hired by this woman I respected to write a script after it had been passed on by much more established writers. She had made it clear she was taking a chance on me, and here I was talking about sex with her financier. Somehow I knew there was something about this that wasn't totally above board. But hadn’t he pushed the conversation in this direction? He had probed into my other work and gotten fixated on the subject of sex. It suddenly seemed I had unwittingly tapped into an area where I maybe shouldn’t have gone with this particular guy, and now I didn’t know how to get us back to higher ground.

I guess inspired by my mention of being raised in a shameless household, he started telling me about how he had coached his “gorgeous” seventeen year old daughter that she should play with a guy’s balls when they had sex. I didn’t know what to say to that so I stupidly said, “Oh really, I don’t think I’ve ever done that.”
“I’ll show you if I’m ever lucky enough to have sex with you,” he said.

I just stared at him. I felt my face turning red. I started to think back in the conversation to see if I had provoked this comment. Had I said something that might make him feel like us having sex was a possibility? And even if he thought it was, why would he say this out loud in a supposed business meeting with someone he didn’t know? Had I incited this by talking about my sex-positive childhood? Had I said too much? Probably, I usually did. Or was it just the way this guy talked? He stared at me inquisitively, gauging my response. Perhaps testing how far he could go. This was my opportunity to shut the door, to say, “Please don’t say that.” I didn’t. I was just so surprised; I didn’t know what to say.

Later, when I recounted the story of this meeting to my mom and a couple friends, I left out this part. I told them that I’d found the meeting refreshing. I was charmed by the attention of this rich and powerful older man. I was excited by what I saw as a potential business opportunity. He seemed interested in the Slutty Feminist—maybe he wanted to invest in her?

The meeting ended with him asking me what would make me happy. I waved the check in the air and said, “This helps!” He then said he wanted to take me out for a sushi lunch so we could get to know each other better. I said great. Free sushi lunch with a rich financier who likes slutty feminists and might want to invest in my brand sounded good to me!

We went to lunch and it felt like a date. We ate expensive sushi and he told me about how he loved his wife, she was a great mother, but she had a low sex drive and he had a high sex drive and he said they had kind of a don’t ask-don’t tell policy. He also said that the one time he’d taken advantage of this policy and fucked someone else, the girl ended up blackmailing him, and his wife was furious at him for putting their family at risk. I wonder now if there was a part of this story he wasn't telling me, and if perhaps it wasn’t that she had blackmailed him, but that he’d gotten sued and settled. Now I’m curious about the girl’s side of the story.

He told me about the time he and his buddies went to Vietnam where he met the most beautiful young girl he’d ever seen and his friend was making out with her when his other friend broke the news that this beautiful young girl was actually a beautiful young boy.
“I would’ve had sex with her. She was stunning,” he said, grinning.
He told me he wouldn’t make the first move on me, that I would have to initiate if I wanted “anything to happen”. I stared at him. The words I should have said stuck in my throat. I tried to think of how I might switch gears into talking about business, but my brand was my business, right? And my brand was the Slutty Feminist, wasn’t it? And the Slutty Feminist was just talking about the subject of her work at lunch with a rich businessman so it was all above board, yes?
“That will never happen,” is something I never said. Instead, I told him about the stand up gig I had coming up and he asked what he had to do to get a private show. I laughed and said, “That’ll cost ya!”

He said he wanted to make our lunches a monthly engagement. I said okay. I called my mom after lunch, excited that I might be forming some kind of ambiguous relationship with someone who liked investing in the arts, someone who might want to invest in me. I left out the part about tickling balls and beautiful Vietnamese boys. I left out the part about how, deep in my gut, I felt unsettled.

When I think about the women who went up into Harvey Weinstein’s hotel rooms and drank champagne and allowed themselves to be massaged, I get it. I get why some women stood there while Harvey jerked off in front of them. When I’m honest with myself, I can see exactly how that could've happened. Because they wanted something—a role, a paycheck, a career—and here was the most thanked person at the Oscars after God, and on some level you might assume that someone so rich and powerful was right, no matter what he did to you. 

As Brit Marling says in her wonderful piece on Harvey: “The things that happen in hotel rooms and board rooms all over the world (and in every industry) between women seeking employment or trying to keep employment and men holding the power to grant it or take it away exist in a gray zone where words like “consent” cannot fully capture the complexity of the encounter. Because consent is a function of power. You have to have a modicum of power to give it.”

Looking back on this lunch and the meeting that preceded it, I’m embarrassed about how I acted. I feel ashamed that I didn’t set a boundary for myself, that I allowed this guy to believe there was a chance of sex with me if it meant I might get some career or financial boost out of it. I feel like an idiot because on some deep level I knew exactly what was happening. I knew this guy wasn't interested in my work, he just wanted to fuck me. I knew that and yet it felt good to feel some illusion of power in the situation, when in actual fact, he had all the power. Because as a young, broke, attractive woman in this world, sometimes it seems the only real power we have access to is the ability to make powerful men want to fuck us.

Which is why it adds insult to injury to tell the end of this story. I finished the script and felt really good about it. I think it was the best script I’d written up to that point. I’d poured my heart and soul into it. It was personal yet true to the original story. I knew it was good. I handed it in and waited. And waited. For two weeks, I heard nothing. Finally, the producer called.
“Something has come to my attention that I feel very uncomfortable about and it’s the reason I haven’t called you sooner,” she said ominously. She then accused me of “pursuing a relationship” with the financier, and said she felt betrayed. I was confused.
“He asked me to lunch,” I said. We had one lunch. These lunches happen all over LA every second of every day. LA is built on these getting to know you lunches.
She said she could have picked nine other writers, but she chose me, and I should have been impeccable. She told me she felt like throwing the whole project in the trash. She said this was a huge fuck up, she didn’t know if she could trust me. She made it sound like I had seduced and fucked her husband. I didn’t understand what was going on. I started to cry. She kept going. She said what I had done downgraded my efforts from an “A to a C.”

“You’re not a teenager, you’re a grown woman,” she yelled. I sobbed. I felt so ashamed. I didn’t even know why, but on some level I felt she was right. I had failed at my responsibility: to draw a clear boundary with a horny man who couldn’t help himself. I deserved this. I pleaded, told her I had made a mistake.
“A huge mistake,” she corrected.
As I cried, she yelled. She said I had used the relationship for my own gains, hoping to get something out of it when I should have been on best behavior and grateful to her for giving a chance to an untested writer. I tried to convince her I was trustworthy and honest, that I hadn’t meant any harm. I’d never had to argue for my trustworthiness before; it’s not something that had ever been questioned. I felt like an imposter even saying the words. I felt blindsided by the attack and completely unprepared to defend myself.

In retrospect, I might have asked, “What exactly did I do wrong? What could I have done differently?” Drawn a clearer boundary, okay. But the man writing my checks (aka paying my bills) asked me to lunch. Was I supposed to tell him to fuck off? How do you draw a boundary with someone who within fifteen minutes of meeting you says, “If I’m ever lucky enough to have sex with you…”? I had actually practiced what I would say at our next lunch, the boundary I planned to draw—albeit belatedly. My plan to get us back on track, back to what I wanted out of this. That second lunch would never happen. I never heard from the financier again after the producer’s call. I wondered if she’d berated him as forcefully as she’d berated me. Somehow, I doubt it.

When the producer was done yelling, she pivoted to what a good job I’d done on the script. She said the director had some notes, but they both thought it was a very strong first take. I sniffled, trying to pull myself together and shift gears. I grabbed a pen and paper so I could take down a couple of her initial thoughts.
“We both think you’re a strong candidate to continue working on the script.” I thanked her and we hung up. Then I went and stood in the shower and shook like a leaf. I felt like I’d been assaulted.

I didn't continue working on the script. The project was shelved. I never received any feedback on my months of work, never got a chance to talk to the director. I was relieved to put the episode behind me, but I also felt used. I felt this was my punishment for being a little slut.

I think about the women who stood by silently—the older women, the potential mentors—who knew what Harvey was up to but were too afraid to speak up, afraid of losing their jobs, of jeopardizing their own tenuous position in the pecking order. I do feel for those women. Who knows what kind of awful shit they had to put up with to get to where they are. That’s just being a woman in this business, sweetie. Grow a thicker skin, don’t be so sensitive. What they’re really saying is, turn off your empathy. Turn off your compassion. Turn off your nurturing instinct. Turn off your innately feminine qualities in order to survive in this male-dominated space. No. That’s not what we need. We don’t need more hardened, macho people in this industry. What we desperately need is more empathy, more compassion, more nurturing, more feminine energy. That is what will make this industry stronger. Those women who looked the other way, I feel for them, they too are victims of a patriarchal system, but they are also complicit.

As women, we are really good at twisting ourselves into pretzels, constantly adjusting to fit into a world that wasn’t built for us. These circumstances have made us extremely adaptable, which is a wonderful quality. We know how to do that. Now it’s time to change the culture of Hollywood, politics, the tech industry, the world. It's time to design a world that fits us. So that our daughters and granddaughters don’t have to post #metoo on Facebook.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Those Who Get STDs Together Stay Together?

I’ve been doing stand up and, naturally, my set leans heavily on sex and feminism. The first couple times I got onstage at open mics, I was compared to Eve Ensler—something I would usually take as a compliment, but somehow felt like an insult when the audience consisted of a bunch of dudes. The MC at one mic commented after my set, “What a nice, romantic story. Very Nicholas Sparks.” He was joking of course. I had just finished telling the crowd about my date with the self-proclaimed “female orgasm expert” with whom I had some of the most mediocre sex of my life in the back of his roommate’s van behind the Urth Cafe. I ended the story with, “Spoiler alert: I didn’t climax. But he sure did. Because, you know, he’s a man.” I guess the MC was implying that, because I think some guys are both bad and arrogant lovers, I’m not a romantic. I guess I come off as cynical. Have I become irreversibly jaded about men?

I had just started seeing someone whom I had known, as casual friends, for a long time. We had sex without a condom, so in my usual post-coital panic attack, I immediately went to get tested. The problem with me is that I’m a hypochondriac but I’m also bad at using condoms, so I get tested a lot. On Saturday afternoon, after returning home from hiking and brunching with a friend, I received in my email inbox the results of some of the previous week’s tests. It said I had tested positive for syphilis. I had been tested since my last unprotected sexual encounter and hadn’t had sex with anyone since this new guy, so I was pretty convinced he was the one who’d given it to me. 

Syphilis sounded to me like some pretty medieval shit, so I started looking up the symptoms online (mistake). What would initially start as sores and a rash on your genitals and the inside of your palms could, down the road, turn into blindness, insanity and death. I discovered that syphilis is rampant and has become a national health crisis due to budget cuts to STD prevention clinics

I considered not telling the guy right away, as I knew he was on his way to spend the weekend at a music festival. Part of me didn’t want to ruin his weekend, but the bigger part of me thought that if I had to suffer with this news, then so should he. He was appropriately embarrassed and apologetic when I called to tell him. He contacted the last girl he’d had unprotected sex with only to find out she had also tested positive for syphilis after they’d been together and hadn’t told him. He offered to leave the festival to come be with me, but the clinic was closed for the weekend and there was nothing for us to do but wait, so I told him it was fine, to try to forget about it and enjoy the festival. Meanwhile, I agonized, my imagination spinning so far out of control that I got online and searched, “if I have syphilis, do I have HIV,” which autofilled immediately in the Google search bar, telling me I was not alone in my irrational fear.

Finally, on Monday, we both made appointments to get treated on Wednesday. As I was leaving for my appointment, I received on my doorstep a lovely bouquet of wild flowers from the guy.

At the clinic, they took my blood again and I was called in to see the counselor. She informed me that I was the first ever cisgendered, heterosexual woman to ever test positive at their clinic. "Can I get a medal for that?" I joked. Then I got called in to see the doctor who said that syphilis infections were up 400% in Los Angeles that month. Then he told me that I didn’t have syphilis, it was a false positive. The guy also tested negative, he too didn’t have syphilis. Turned out the girl he'd fucked before me had gotten it from the next dude she'd been with after him. He was enormously relieved and immediately his whole demeanor changed. He felt understandably let off the hook, and wanted to celebrate. I was also relieved, but still felt emotionally hung over from four days of escalating fear and paranoia, and was slightly annoyed at how quickly he was able to bounce back. I was headed to The Comedy Store to see a friend perform, so we went to Saddle Ranch for (gross) burgers, and when he didn’t offer to pay the bill I became irrationally angry and disappointed. I felt emotionally raw and in that moment like I wanted to feel taken care of. It's the oldest story in the book, but I just wanted him to read my mind and know intuitively what I needed. We usually split the bill—which was fine, I’m a modern woman, whatever—but I felt like after this scare he should've at least offered to pay for dinner.

I didn’t like this version of myself. I had been single for five years, I was used to taking care of myself, codependence made me sick, and I didn’t like feeling like I was relying on someone else. My sudden unexplained grumpiness caused him to leave rather than come to the show with me. I texted him afterwards that I was upset that he hadn’t offered to pay after this whole ordeal. He said he thought I should have bought him dinner as he felt I had been really harsh with him over this syphilis scare and then I hadn’t apologized enough when it turned out he hadn’t given it to me after all. Maybe he was right, I didn't know. All I knew was that I hated this kind of lovers’ quarrel; I had successfully avoided it for so long. Was I really going to morph into this needy person when I liked myself so much more as a single woman not reliant on anybody else? On the phone the next morning, in a moment of impulsive frustration, I said that I thought this wasn’t going to work between us. I felt that my heart had hardened—did I even believe in relationships anymore?

Getting an STD with someone is traumatizing, and it can bring out the worst in people. Sometimes this makes a relationship stronger, and sometimes it tears you apart. Although it turned out we didn't have syphilis after all, I think the whole ordeal made us realize we didn't like each other that much in a crisis. Perhaps he saw it coming. When we first found out we didn’t actually have syphilis, he jokingly asked if I was disappointed that now I didn’t have a legitimate reason to break up with him. I laughed and rolled my eyes, saying that no, I was happy to not have it. But I did wonder what made him ask that—was he reading something into my behavior that even I wasn’t aware of? Was I really trying to sabotage this? Why? Was I protecting myself? From what? What I liked most about this guy was the lack of games, his openness about the fact that he liked me, that I never felt like I had to play it cool. He always texted back, he appreciated my jokes, and—perhaps most importantly—he wasn’t afraid of my angry feminism or my history of sluttery—both things I talked about with abandon on our very first date. Perhaps more than any guy I’ve dated since my ex, he seemed completely undeterred by my brashness. I didn’t have to pretend to be demure around him, I could say things like, “are you having a stroke?” when he couldn’t remember something I said, and he didn’t get offended. Throughout the syphilis scare, I realized I wasn’t just worried about my own health, I was also worried about his—and that felt like something new.

Just before I reconnected with this guy, I'd said to a couple friends in all seriousness that maybe I was just going to be single forever, and that was okay. I liked myself single, I had forged a whole identity around being an unattached woman. I didn’t know what me in a relationship looked like anymore. And I was scared of how being “coupled” might change me for the worse. I didn’t ever want to be in a codependent situation again, it was important to me that I maintained my autonomy. Was that even possible in a relationship? I didn’t know. A lot of the women I admired were single. Was that a coincidence or was there a reason? Was there something in me that wasn’t meant to be inextricably linked to another person? And was this view somehow limiting me from experiencing something potentially great? Could a relationship ever be something that actually fed me emotionally and creatively rather than distracting me from my life and my purpose? I decided that, for a relationship to be worth it, I'd have to like being with this person better than being by myself. Because being by myself was actually pretty good. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Angry Feminist

It seems to me that the problem some men have with feminism is that they think it’s about Us v. Them. They hear Feminism and they think War. Instead of “equal opportunities for women” and “a more just and balanced world that values both male and female qualities and perspectives,” they hear, “women who hate men and are trying to take our place in the world.” They assume that we would approach it as they might: as a competition, survival of the fittest, every man for himself. What these men fundamentally don’t understand is that women on the whole don’t operate like that. We want everybody to get along, we want the world to be a better place for everyone living in it. A world that is better for women will also be better for men. Until these guys realize that, feminism will continue to feel like a threat.

Often when I bring up the F word on, say, a first date, a glaze will pass over my date’s face. He is no longer looking at me the individual, but instead seeing me as one face in an amorphous swarm of angry bitches. Every time I meet a man and tell him I’m a feminist, I watch him closely. His reaction tells me a lot about whether it’s going to work out between us on a fundamental level. I have yet to meet the man who says, “Fuck yes, me too!” That guy I will marry.

I'm on a date with a guy I met on Tinder two years ago whom I just randomly came across on the Internet and decided to Facebook message. We had never met up in person, but texted for awhile, and the fact that he appeared in a random Google search made me feel serendipitously like we should meet. We agree on a bar in his neighborhood because he doesn't have a car, so I drive from Silverlake to Culver City on a Friday evening to meet him. I arrive, we hug, and he hands me the happy hour menu. We're both filmmakers and film buffs, so we nerd out about cinematography and directors and within minutes we're arguing about which movies were the best of last year. He mentions Tangerine, a film about two African American trans women prostitutes shot in LA on an iPhone 6.
“I hate gimmicky movies like that,” he says. “It was a piece of garbage that people only thought was good because it was about trans people and was shot on an iPhone.” I bristle.
“I feel like you can’t call telling a story that hasn’t been told before a gimmick,” I say.
“The filmmaker only made that movie to capitalize on all the trans stuff in the media,” he says.
My warning flags start going ballistic. As an avid support of trans rights and the president of Jill Soloway’s fan club, I'm not the person to sympathize with someone calling a story about trans women a “gimmick.” I decide not to write him off just yet, though I'm starting to get the sense I probably won't ever see this guy again, and I'm only on my first drink.

He starts telling me his entire life story, complete with the fact that he was medicated as a child for bipolar disorder, got kicked out of school for beating up other kids, and had a substance abuse problem as a teenager. I just stare at him as he monologues at me, wondering what I've said or done to inspire such an aggressive confessional. He tells me in detail about his father, his uncle, his family history, his family recipes. Finally, he takes a breath and says, “Sorry, I talk a lot, tell me your story.” I start to tell him about where I grew up, but he's reminded of an anecdote about his own life and interrupts me to talk about it. I decide to stop trying to insert things into the conversation. He tells me he usually dates lawyers and doctors and architects, women in different fields, because he's really interested in other people’s lives that are different from his own. He seems very proud of this fact about himself and I wonder if those women were able to get a word in edgewise. Who raised him to believe it was okay for him to talk for so long without stopping? I wonder something I often do on first dates with men, how it is he can be so un-self-aware.

We walk to another bar down the street and this is where he turns to me and says, “You’re hard to read.” I consider informing him that it's easier to read someone when you ask them a question about themselves rather than just constantly talking about yourself.
“You don’t seem to care what I think of you,” he says.
“Why should I?” I ask.
He says he's hoping to get a second date with me.
“Why do you think I’m buying you so many drinks?” He chortles.
He mentions several times throughout the night this girl he was dating in the Midwestern city where he lived before moving to LA.
“She showed me I could actually really like someone,” he says. He’s never been in love, but the amount he talks about this girl makes me think there's still something there.
“Maybe you should give it another shot with this girl,” I say. “You seem to still really like her.”
“Nah. It would never work. She wants too much from me.” Apparently, she wants kids and stability, while he isn't ready for any of that. “I’m not looking for a fuck buddy, but like not a big commitment either.”
He asks what I'm looking for and I say probably more than he is. I'm not interested in having casual sex anymore. Then he insinuates that he doesn't want me to get too attached to him if he can't give me what I want.
“You’re worrying about me getting too attached?” I laugh into my beer.
“I think women have certain expectations.”
“There is something biological that happens to us because we literally let men inside our bodies,” I say.
He tells me he wishes he hadn’t said anything about looking for something casual, because he's open to seeing where this goes. I say again that we're probably looking for different things.

Somehow we start talking about rape culture and the accusations brought against Bill Cosby
“It’s scary as hell for a guy to think about being accused of that,” he says.
“It’s scary for a guy!” I practically shout. He laughs, conceding that this came off wrong. The fact that straight white cisgendered men are somehow capable of twisting the narrative so that they become the victim in the rape scenario never ceases to amaze me.
Then he says, “I just don’t understand how someone could get off on rape. Like, how do you even get hard when someone isn’t wet?” Ick.

Because I know I don't want to see this guy again, I decide to try an experiment. 
“Just so you know, I’m a raging feminist," I declare, watching his reaction.
He looks at me sideways and asks warily, “What does that mean?”
“I consider myself a social activist for empowering women’s voices. I’m really passionate about it and believe that women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
“I mean, yeah, but is that even feminism? It should just be called humanism.” He says this as though it's a totally innovative new idea he's just come up with. Then he proceeds to explain feminism to me. I laugh out loud.
“You are mansplaining feminism to me right now!” I say.
“I hate that word,” he says with a disgusted look on his face. Of course you do, I think, it was invented precisely for guys like you.
“Everyday there’s another article written about this stuff,” he says, by way of arguing that we don't need feminism anymore.
“Yeah, because nothing’s changed yet. Once there’s real change there won’t be the need for so many articles.”
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he says. I wonder how long we have to wait, how many more years of male justification of the insidiously sexist way things are will we have to live through before there is quantifiable change. How many levels of entitled white men defending the status quo are there left to battle?
I ask if, as a director, he hires female crews.
“Have you ever hired a female gaffer?” I ask.
“There aren’t really any,” he says.
“What about DPs?”
“They’re never recommended to me. How am I going to hire someone who isn’t recommended to me?” He raises his voice, getting frustrated. “I don’t think about gender when I’m hiring, I think about the best person for the job.”
“That’s really fortunate for you that you don’t have to think about gender, because as a privileged white male you’ve never had to.” Full disclosure, I may have said something about him having a penis between his legs.
“My makeup artists are women and gay men. I don’t care that they’re gay.”
“Wow. Good for you,” I say.

He then tries to convince me that women don’t make less money than men. He says he knows a lot of female directors who are successful. I ask if he’s ever honestly asked them how it is for them as women directors. He hesitates.
“Yeah, I mean, they said it was hard to get where they are but now that they’re there, it’s fine.”
“So you think we should just shut up and stop complaining.” 
“You’re putting words in my mouth.” 
Maybe this is true, maybe I am putting words in his mouth, but the point I'm trying to get at that he doesn't seem to understand is that he is fundamentally resistant to even acknowledging that things aren't equal. The fact that he insists on defending the way things are and refuses to recognize the problem seems to me the most insidious thing about the sexism in this town. The fact that if men continue to refuse to acknowledge the need for change, they will never change themselves. This is why we need feminism, and I tell him as much.
“The old guys are dying anyway,” he says by means of consolation.
“But here you are a 29 year old man and you don’t hire women. Where’s the progress there?”
He ramps up for another session of mansplaining and I decide to get real with him.
“You know what,” I say. “I know a lot about you and you know very little about me. You have been talking at me and interrupting me all night. And I know you talk a lot and that’s okay, I do too, but it might behoove you to listen to someone every now and again.” I may not have been this eloquent. I am a little tipsy and very angry.
He just stares at me. Then he says, “You started telling me about yourself and then just stopped.”
“Because you interrupted me,” I say. I start talking again and he interrupts me again.
“I am trying to tell you about how you interrupt me and you’re interrupting me,” I point out.
“So interrupt me back,” he says.
“I really don’t have any interest in doing that.”
“Well then don’t go to New York because that’s the way it is there,” he says, grinning. I had told him earlier in the night that I was thinking of moving to New York. I decide this is it. I'm tired of listening to this idiot. I stand up.
“Okay, it was nice to--“
“Yeah, you’re welcome for all the drinks,” he interrupts.

I march out of the bar and LOL all the way home, exhilarated to have walked out on a first date, to have spoken my mind rather than quietly stewing over the ubiquitous misogyny that women are constantly swallowing. The days of swallowing it are over for me at least. If that means I’ll be single for life, so be it. I know this guy probably didn’t hear a word I said, but it doesn't matter. I said my piece and he was right, I don't give a fuck about what he thinks of me.

I think about the me of just six months ago. She would have smiled and nodded through the mansplaining, had a couple more drinks, gone home with this guy for some mediocre one-sided sex. The new me simply can't stomach it anymore. I don't want to let another misogynist inside my body. I don't even want to let in another culturally-blind, privileged white male. That's a harder bar to clear, and I think it's understandably difficult for some of these men to see past their own privilege and sense of birthright entitlement. Regardless, I've decided to start having higher rather than lower expectations for the men I have sex with. I will hold men to a higher standard and believe that they can be better than so many before them. This I feel is the true essence of feminism—that men and women don't need to be in opposition, a world that is better for women will also be better for men. Until I find a guy who sees that, I will stop letting these lesser males inside my body. Perhaps that means I won't be having sex for awhile. If that's the case, so be it. Any guy who tells me to stop complaining, that I should be satisfied with the status quo, can literally go fuck himself, cuz he ain’t fucking me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dating Myself

I've decided to start dating myself. I came to this conclusion on Saturday mid-morning after dragging my tired ass out of bed to take a walk in my neighborhood. I ended up outside a house that used to belong to Anais Nin, the renowned French writer of erotica. I couldn't see much of the house, but it was comforting to know she had once lived in my hood. I kept walking, working up a sweat on the steep hills. I started to feel better.

The night before, I'd felt like I was coming down with this mysterious multi-week cold/flu that all my friends seem to be getting. I huddled in bed with my iPad binge-watching Jessica Jones on Netflix when the front doorbell rang. I wasn't expecting anyone, and I couldn’t hear either of my roommates making noises about answering it. In my PJs and not in the mood for company at 9pm on a Friday night, I texted them. "Expecting someone?" One responded back right away that she wasn't home, the other didn't answer. The doorbell rang again and now someone was fumbling with the handle. My heart started beating fast. I put my iPad aside and crept out of bed with my cell phone gripped in my hand. I padded into the living room and could hear what sounded like a group of guys talking outside. I thought I saw one of them trying to peak into the window on the side of the house and then a dark shadow ran past the other window towards the backyard. I was shaking now, suddenly and viscerally scared out of my rational mind. I crept upstairs and shone my iPhone’s light towards my roommate's bedroom—the one I thought was home. The light was off, her door open. Not home. Now I was terrified. I crept towards the front door and instead of opening it, slid into the dark garage where I stood on a chair peering out the garage windows into the street. My roommate’s car was in the driveway and there was no sign of anyone outside. I couldn't hear voices anymore. I stood on that chair and shook for a good five minutes, my phone clutched to my chest. I imagined this group of guys casing the house, surrounding it, deciding the best way to break in.

I gingerly stepped off the chair and pressed my ear to the door in the pitch-black garage, listening hard for the sound of breaking glass or jimmying locks. My phone was now sweaty in my palm. Should I call someone? The police? And say what, “someone rang my doorbell”?? Why the fuck was I so scared? It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't know any of my neighbors and that I didn't have anyone to call at a time like this. No nearby friend who would drop everything to come be with me until I calmed down. This made me feel sorry for myself and I almost texted the guy I’d gone on three dates with to see if he was back in town, to let him know I was a damsel in distress and needed his manliness to protect me from whatever perceived danger I was apparently in. Men love that shit! I imagined winning him back with the scenario of the helpless female. Then I imagined the opposite, him feeling put-upon and thinking doesn’t she have anyone else to call? I decided instead to wait it out. I stood in the dark as my breathing gradually returned to normal and I felt the fear slowly dissipate. I decided I was safe and had invented the sense of danger. I returned to my room and finished the episode of Jessica Jones I had been watching (probably the reason I was scared in the first place—the show is terrifying).

The next morning, I had trouble getting out of bed. I watched more Jessica Jones and finished a bag of potato chips before 11am. I started having a general sense of FOMO, so I decided I should probably leave the house. At least take a walk. Exercise usually helps the feeling of ennui that often settles over me these (unemployed) days. Maybe it was Anais Nin's house or maybe it was the fresh air and endorphins, but I began to feel better and I made a sudden, inspired decision to start dating myself. That's right, ladies and gentleman, I decided to stop waiting for that mysterious man to come along and take me on cool dates, and instead to take my own damn self out on some cool dates. If I were dating me, where would I take me? I decided first I would take myself to see City of Gold, the new documentary about LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold. I know my fondness for food and how much I love Jonathan Gold, so I knew this date was sure to please me. Who knew, afterwards if things were going well and I still seemed interested, perhaps I could take myself to one of the restaurants featured in the film? That would be the perfect date for me! I felt better already. Why hadn't I thought of this before? Fuck these men. Who needs em? I'm an only child, I know how to play by myself.

City of Gold was wonderful, a love letter to Los Angeles with its vast mosaic of various cultures and cuisines. I decided Jonathan Gold is my personal hero, for he found the one activity he enjoys above all else—eating all the foods—and made a career out of it. Jonathan Gold eats everything. He picks restaurants the way I like to pick restaurants—democratically. He loves equally the highest-end fine dining meal at Providence (LA Times #1 Best Restaurant in Los Angeles three years in a row) as he does the street tacos from the Guerilla Tacos truck. Jonathan Gold is living the dream. He gets paid to eat and write about it! Sitting in the back of the movie theatre on a Saturday afternoon, watching this film—that was a really lovely date with myself. Afterwards, I thought about going to Jonathan’s favorite Thai place, Jitlada, which was not too far from the theatre, but I was due to meet Best Guy Friend and his girlfriend for dinner and another movie, Zootopia. I’m not in the habit of crashing Best Guy Friend’s dates with his girlfriend, but seeing as I’m now dating myself, this was actually more like a double date. And Zootopia, while not a movie I would have gone to see without them, I found absolutely delightful. I was so enthralled that I leaned over to Best Guy Friend in the middle of it and exclaimed in his ear: “This is a feminist parable!” To which he laughed at me.

The next day, Sunday, I went on a three-hour hike with my friend Paula in Topanga Canyon. As we often do on our hikes, we got to talking about the feminist injustices in the film industry and how we sought to remedy them, and soon we were huffing and puffing up the steep hills, red in the face with both exertion and conviction. After we had worked up an appetite with the exercising of both our calves and jaw muscles, we went to Milo and Olive for brunch.
“I’ve decided to date myself,” I declared happily, sweaty and red-faced.
“I think that’s great,” beamed Paula. Paula would also like to meet a man. She is a hot and sexy woman in her 40s who is incredibly talented, fun, smart, and amusing; she has a gorgeous house and an amazing ass. The fact that Paula can’t seem to find someone to date I find equally hard to believe as the fact that I can’t find someone to date. By all accounts, and I say this with the utmost humbleness and objectivity, we are both catches.

I think about the guy I went on three dates with several weeks ago. The last time I saw him he said, “I really like you and want to get to know you.” Then he cancelled our next two dates (because he was understandably very busy) and left town for two weeks without trying to see me before he went. I asked if he was doing the fade away to which he LOL-ed and replied, “No! But to be clear as day, I’m seeking a slow burn. I’m not rushing into anything. But I’m enjoying our time together.” To me it didn’t feel like what we had going was a slow burn. It felt like what so many of these flings feel like: hot and heavy in the beginning and then the flame gradually goes out. I had texted with him on and off since he’d been gone, but now I hadn’t heard from him for a whole week, and I feel like if you really like someone and want to keep the burn going, you don’t just forget about them for a week. Especially since in the beginning his attention had felt constant and intense, texting me the day after our first date that he was “still smiling” and when we had a date coming up on Saturday, rhetorically exclaiming, “Is it Saturday yet?!” I missed those days, I missed the attention and the sense of consistency, the lack of games. Now I was feeling the age-old pressure to not seem too eager, to not text first for fear of seeming more interested than him. How did this happen, I wondered. I wasn’t even sure I was attracted to him in the beginning. I felt like he had worked really hard to fish me out of the ocean and then, once I was caught and in his hands, decided to throw me back. Had I no say in the matter?

It didn’t help that I hadn’t been able to talk to him in person since that third and final date. My ex-boyfriend encouraged me to be honest with him and express what I want, what I need—but how was I supposed to do that on text when I didn’t even know if he was back in town or not? I had preemptively invited Best Guy Friend to come to Dan Savage’s amateur porn festival Hump! with me in case this guy bailed, but it was depressing to think I had to prepare for that. Preparing for disappointment. Why can’t I date someone who is true to his word, who doesn’t feel like a slippery fish who could slink away at any moment? And furthermore, what had I said to turn him off? Sure, I had tested out some feminist rants about abortion rights on him, but he seemed to be able to handle this aspect of my personality—he even seemed charmed by it. Was I really so deluded and unable to read the situation that when I thought he was watching me fondly, he was actually thinking, get me the fuck away from this woman?

I didn’t think so. But I honestly didn’t know what had happened. And the not knowing was making me nuts. I didn’t understand a guy’s impulse to work so hard to woo a girl only to lose interest in her after three dates. Why would he have treated me like this could develop into something if he knew he didn’t really want it go anywhere, or he wasn’t sure? Why not play it a little cooler and not say things like, “I really like you” and “let’s sail to Hawaii”? Or was this all in my head? Would I receive a text from him any day now stating, “I’m back in town and I want to see you!” Somehow I doubted it. It felt like it was over. And I felt once again disappointed, and tired of feeling disappointed by men. Was this what he meant when he said sex was a contract and women got hurt—was he warning me that I might get hurt? Is that what had happened?

“I just don’t want to start over with someone new,” I told Paula. “This guy already knows everything about me.” She laughed, but it was true. I was tired of small talk, of the whole getting to know you rigmarole. We had cut through so much of that, and that’s what I ultimately liked most about him. We got to the real shit. By the third date, I felt he knew all my secrets—such as they are. Was that too soon? Did I say too much? Did I show too much of myself? Was I just really bad at dating? I guess this was possible; I didn’t have a lot of experience. Or rather, I had a lot of experience with first dates and sex, but not so much with second and third dates. Was it possible I had actually become something I had been called once by a man: undateable? And what did that even mean?

I brought in girlfriend reinforcement to analyze our text chain. I showed my friend Cheryl how we’d had a flurry of flirtatious banter back and forth on Monday, and then I hadn’t heard from him for a week. On Sunday night, I was watching a great documentary called The Mask You Live In about the culture of masculinity boys are raised with in this country, and I thought it might interest him based on some of the conversations we’d had. I texted him the recommendation and didn’t hear back. Now it was Monday night and we still had plans to see the amateur porn fest on Saturday.

Cheryl expressed feeling lucky that she never had to date in the age of texting. She’s been with her boyfriend since back when people used cell phones to call each other, when people used to communicate, and if you stopped liking someone you couldn't just ignore their texts. I could tell by her text suggestions that she had never done this before, never played these games, and that she’d been in a LTR for a very long time. She encouraged me to ask him if he was still coming with me on Saturday night, seeing as we were now within a week of the date. I texted him and he responded: “Fuck I’ll be in New York! For work.” Although I knew in my gut that this was coming, it still blew my mind. I invited him to this event, he said unequivocally yes, I asked him when he wanted to go, he picked the date, then he not only made other plans, but also neglected to tell me about them? Would he have ever told me? I flashed back on something I had said on our second date.
“We shouldn’t make too many plans.” I said this out loud, as though channeling, as though warning myself from the future. I didn’t know at the time where this piece of advice was coming from, but clearly I’m more intuitive than I’ve been paying attention to.

Inexplicably, I found myself relieved by the confirmation that he wasn’t coming. At least I wasn’t waiting anymore. I had my answer. That was it. The end of the road. I thought about what to write back, I consulted my girlfriends. A sampling of my favorite suggestions:
“Third time. Not so charming.”
“Put a fork in you. You’re done.”
“You owe me $25.”

I decided to give it a beat. I didn’t want to respond in the moment from a reactive place. I wanted to be honest. But I also didn’t feel like writing him a novel via text with all my thoughts and feelings, about how I felt disrespected by his lack of consideration for my time, for my schedule. I also didn’t feel like calling. Somehow his lack of remorse made me feel like he really didn’t care to hear from me, and this made the thought of calling him absolutely sickening. Part of me wanted to never write back and to never talk to him again, but as we all know, I’m bad at letting things lie. I got into bed and tossed around. I couldn’t get comfortable. I wanted to express myself, but I didn’t know how. I opened my phone and deleted our text chain. Then I considered blocking his number, so I wouldn’t know if he ever wrote me again and therefore wouldn’t feel compelled to respond. Instead, I deleted his number. I lay back down. Still couldn’t sleep. I sat up in bed. Searched his name, he came right up—of course, the iCloud makes deleting numbers absolutely impossible. I wanted to keep it simple and sweet. Express myself eloquently and succinctly. Really get the point across but in a relaxed way that read: I will be over you in five minutes. “Wow. That’s disappointing,” was what I came up with. I felt okay about it. I haven’t heard from him since.