Susan Faludi: If only Donald Trump ‘had harassed Angelina Jolie…’

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The last two months has been amazing in one respect: women are being believed. Women are coming forward as named sources, and they’re telling their stories of rape, assault and harassment and they’re being believed. Much like the Bill Cosby situation, there seems to be strength in numbers, which is a problem: why is it so easy to dismiss one woman’s claims? Why does she need back-up from twenty women saying “oh yeah he did that to me too”? I honestly believed that this was the crux of the problem, that it’s not so much about “believing women” as it is about “believe an individual woman when she tells her story, give an individual woman the benefit of the doubt.” But is the Harvey Weinstein story about something else: the power of celebrity? That’s what Anita Hill thinks. That’s what other prominent feminists think too. The New Yorker had an interview with Anita Hill about why the Weinstein stories took hold: because the accusers were celebrity women.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, eleven women accused Donald Trump of making unwanted sexual advances toward them. Following a well-worn playbook used by other previous accused sexual harassers, Trump dismissed the women as “horrible, horrible liars” and their allegations as “pure fiction.” The women’s voices swayed very few voters, it would seem. Even after the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, allowing voters to hear Trump boasting about “grabbing” women “by the p–sy,” he was elected President. Among those who put his candidacy over the top (at least in the Electoral College) were fifty-three per cent of white female voters.

So why have Harvey Weinstein’s alleged transgressions been taken so much more seriously? One answer, it seems, has less to do with the accused than the accuser. Weinstein’s sexual-harassment scandal is unlike almost every other in recent memory because many of his accusers are celebrities, with status, fame, and success commensurate to his own. Sexual harassment is about power, not sex, and it has taken women of extraordinary power to overcome the disadvantage that most accusers face. As Susan Faludi, the author of “Backlash: the Undeclared War Against Women,” put it in an e-mail to me, “Power belongs only to the celebrities these days. If only Trump had harassed Angelina Jolie. . . .”

Anita Hill, a woman with unusual insight into this topic, agrees that the nature of Weinstein’s accusers is the reason that his exposure has proved to be a watershed moment. In a phone interview, Hill emphasized that sexual-harassment cases live and die on the basis of “believability,” and that, in order for the accusers to prevail, “they have to fit a narrative” that the public will buy. At least until now, very few women have had that standing.

Hill, who is now a law professor at Brandeis University, told me that what Clarence Thomas possessed, like many accused harassers, and unlike many accusers, was a winning “narrative.” The lynching story resonated deeply. Without a similarly widely accepted narrative, Hill was vulnerable to detractors supplying their own readings—imputing false motives, insinuating psychological problems, and smearing her, as the American Spectator notoriously did, as “a bit nutty and a bit slutty.”

In contrast, Hill pointed out, “the Hollywood-starlet narrative is part of the folklore. The casting couch is a long-standing issue.” In addition, she told me, “people often believe the myth that only conventionally beautiful women are harassed—and so it didn’t seem that far-fetched to people that this would happen to beautiful starlets who we all know and love.”

Hill says she is “hopeful” that, in light of the Weinstein affair and other recent sexual-harassment revelations against powerful bosses, “people will revisit the women” who accused Trump. But she fears that the Weinstein lesson “won’t translate to everyday women, or even those in high-profile careers in places like Silicon Valley,” who still don’t have the fame, success, and standing of movie stars. “We need to transfer the believability,” Hill said. She argued that the public needs to understand that Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie “are just like women down the street. People need to take this moment to make clear that this is not just about Hollywood.”

[From The New Yorker]

I believe that Hill and Faludi are fundamentally right about the “narratives” of the accusers/victims. But I also think there’s something else at play, especially given that Donald Trump actually did have a history of making crude, ridiculous statements to and about celebrity women. During the 2016 election, several A-list, B-list and C-list women came forward to talk about Trump acting like a pig (remember Salma Hayek’s stories about him?). Trump actually had a long history of trashing and negging Angelina Jolie specifically, remember that? So, something else is at play – and guess what? That “something else” is probably racism. White, female Trump voters were fine with looking the other way when Trump’s accusers came forward because Trump spoke their language when it came to racist bullsh–t.

Official Portrait of US President Donald J. Trump

Photos courtesy of WENN, Backgrid.

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29 Responses to “Susan Faludi: If only Donald Trump ‘had harassed Angelina Jolie…’”

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  1. savu says:

    That Faludi statement is SO. TRUE. Brava.

    • Megan says:

      Of course celebrity has everything to do with it. Was that not obvious?

    • Casey. _. says:

      As a longtime fan of Angelina Jolie, I’m hear to tell you that’s simply some bs from Anita Hill (who by the way I admire and have always supported and rooted for). As Kaiser aptly pointed out, while it wasn’t sexual assault, Trump has long verbally abused and bullied celebrity women, including beautiful celebrity women, be they Angelina, Heidi Klum, or Lindsey Lohan.

      Sadly, other women, and people in this country in general, didn’t bat an eye or lift a finger. In fact, the quickest way to get tons of press and publicity, which Trump and Chelsea Handler knew full well, was to name drop Angelina and beat her up in the press.

      The bully would instantly be splashed across print, tv and web – go viral, get hits, ratings and breathlessly set tongues to wagging. It became something women lined up for, not to defend these women against these attacks but to stand back and gleefully tee-hee watching the head meangirl rip them to shreds.

      I don’t think it would have been much different had Angelina had a sexual assault story to tell about Trump. She would have been called a liar and excoriated by the usual suspects. Maybe overseas they would have believed her.

      That’s where Anita fails to understand women’s misogyny plays a big part in women staying silent. For too long we haven’t supported one another – or rather our support is conditional. It depends on *who* the woman is making the allegation, or getting beat up. If it’s a then-18yo Lindsey Lohan – then Trump could get away with saying ‘troubled teens are great in bed.’ if it had been one of the Bush daughters or Taylor Swift, he probably wouldn’t be President now. The reason why Weinstein is toast is not because some really famous women told their general stories of bad behavior and abuse it’s because his own company fired him and kicked him to the curb releasing the internal memo from a longtime employee who was prepared to take them to the cleaners. That’s when the floodgates opened, and women were able to say, #metoo. Remember Ashley Judd told her story a few years ago (not naming him) and so did McGowan.

      Let’s be real, maybe if Trump had assaulted a famous woman most women could relate to, were unthreatened by and very supportive of (say Aniston, Betty white, Taylor swift, longtime soap opera stars) there may have been a ground swell of disapproval. But women love to side eye each other, negate and dismiss. See Anita Hill herself. Tons of women came for her.

      • Neil says:

        Sadly, so true and truth is what we need in these troubled times; wishful opinions don’t help anyone.

      • Otaku Fairy says:

        Wow. I wasn’t aware that Donald Trump once said that about Lindsey Lohan. It’s not that surprising though. This pig is untouchable and he knows it.

  2. Katherine says:

    You are very right – women are believed more now but one woman is still not believed in way too many cases. In order to be believed, she’d have to be successful and sympathetic, well liked, with excellent judgement and a ‘trusted voice’ – which is ridiculous, sexist and discriminatory.

  3. HH says:

    I don’t think it would have made a difference who Trump’s accusers/victims were. The thing about Trump supporters is that they are not only pro-Trump, but anti anyone and everyone against him. They have the ability to dismiss reality in favor of whatever he tells them. It’s truly astonishing. While not all Trump voters are like that, the ones that are still sticking around are most likely in it for good. Truth be damned. I just read a politico article where a woman admitted that Trump hasn’t done anything about healthcare, taxes, bringing back all the coal and steel jobs, building the wall and having Mexico pay for, but she still likes him because “he does what he says.” Baffling.

    • I Choose Me says:

      Translation: ‘I like what he represents.’ Racism, xenophobia etc.,

    • Curious says:

      some people think that Trump’s blunt rabulistic rhethoric mixed with some populist sentiments is actually “honesty” or “straight talking”. To tell the truth: in the western world politicians have abused and twisted language for far too long. It is like Brave New World’s new speak: whatever they say the opposite is true.
      And I think that that is how Trump’s verbal diarrhoea funktions in today’s society.

      For example (these examples apply to pretty much all modern western countries: GB, FR, USA, GER, ITA, NL, ESP, CA … That these examples do apply to all western countries is actually frightening.) :

      “We will induce economic measures to improve the economy.” = austerity cuts, unemployment, pay cuts and benefit cuts.

      “We will cut taxes.” = Tax cuts for the rich and tax increases or cuts in public service for the bottom 60%.

      “We have to build a reasonably-sized army.” = Increase military spending and invade other countries.

      “We will hold those accountable for the subprime lending crisis.” = Nobody hold accountable, everything swept under the carpet, wholes filled with taxpayer’s money.

    • Citney anise says:

      Trump is a pig, if the Democratic party had nominated anyone other than Hillary, who came with mountains of baggage of her own, we would not have to talk about Trump every single day.

    • KBB says:

      Absolutely. Look how quickly they turned on former Fox News princess Megyn Kelly.

      I don’t know anyone that could accuse Trump or be attacked by him and still be sympathetic to his base.

      Jennifer Garner? Sandra Bullock? It’d have to be someone truly wholesome and beloved. Even then they’d just be called Hollywood liberals.

      The MAGA crowd is cult-like. Even someone they like (Megyn Kelly) becomes instantly unlikeable to them the second she steps out of line, so to speak.

    • shlockOftheNEw says:

      No matter WHAT trump did (“I could shoot someone on 5th avenue”) he was exonerated by Russia’s dis-information campaign of cyber attacks- aimed at the xenophobic electoral college coalition. There is ZERO mystery folks- russia figured out the US voting system and the MINDS of the vulnerable.

  4. HH says:

    I don’t think it would have made a difference who Trump’s accusers/victims were. The thing about Trump supporters is that they are not only pro-Trump, but anti anyone and everyone against him. They have the ability to dismiss reality in favor of whatever he tells them. It’s truly astonishing. While not all Trump voters are like that, the ones that are still sticking around are most likely in it for good. Truth be damned. I just read a politico article admitted that Trump hasn’t done anything about healthcare, taxes, bringing back all the coal and steel jobs, building the wall and having Mexico pay for, but she still likes him because “he does what he says.” Baffling.

    • shlockOftheNEw says:

      Putin cyber attacked with cult doublespeak. It was warfare of the mind , targeted directly to the xenophobic. These social media memes are like intellectual landmines, designed to detonate at the slightest hint of logic. The weapons of “spin” change the molecules of logic. Putin is the Svengali of our era.

  5. I Choose Me says:

    Hmm. It’s something to ponder for sure. Hill’s statement about believability struck a chord with me especially. We really need to stop looking for ‘perfect victims’ and stop to reassess how much our own personal biases and experiences affect our thinking and beliefs.

    I’ve unlearned so much in the past year and a half and I am a better person for it.

    • shlockOftheNEw says:

      Thank you, well said. Back in my personal #meToo story from 2002, I didn’t have the words to describe my experience. Mine happened at a hot yoga teacher training. When I returned, rattled and confused, all I could say was, “that sucked, don’t go”. I was college educated, but had NO WORDS. Inwardly I blamed myself for various reasons. I can now describe what i’m learning as abuse of power, collusion of employees, the compliance of silence. I’ve also learned not to label the victims. This has been HUGE.

  6. Lizzie says:

    what about if Donald trump had harassed no one?

    angelina jolie isn’t the “perfect victim”. in fact, she was totally vilified and has rumors about her difficulty and troubles to this day that were probably fabricated by producers that didn’t get to sleep with her.

    • Casey. _. says:

      Bingo @lizzie.

      …and other women are the first to vilify her, or tee her in the background as someone else starts licking her in the teeth (Chelsea Handler)

      In this now sad silly embarrassing country..Jolie’s story (hypothetically about Trump) wouldn’t have made a dang bit of diff -in fact female first and all the hater women(mostly white)would have probably given Trump that popular vote win. It seems like even 13 yrs later they’re still all
      ‘the enemy of Angelina is my friend,’ types.

  7. frankly says:

    AAAAAHHHH! Why would you surprise me with that frightening picture on the scrolldown? Cruel. Nobody wants to see that.

  8. QueenB says:

    It is not comparable.

    A company firing someone to save face is not the same as voters deciding to vote for someone. We dont know if Weinstein had been a presidential candidate if he would have gotten away with it.

    Im quite sure if Trump was in a company and they could have forced him out they would have. But again its not the same as voters not caring about that.

  9. Sam says:

    I think the problem is, conservative Trump voters have little/no respect for women. That goes for both men and women. I think a big factor has to do with the fake religious angle a lot of his supporters pretend to practice, and unfortunately the Christian religion takes a big ol’ dump on women from the very beginning of the first chapter. It’s pretty deep rooted that women are “evil sexy seductresses ” and men are just too weak to control themselves. So I don’t think learning that their contender for president was a p*ssy grabbing serial sexual harasser. He couldn’t help himself! And plus, we’ve known Trump for a long time. We knew he loved marrying young attractive women and then ditching them for someone else. I just feel like the people who voted for him just don’t care. At. All. Women are at the bottom of the totem pole in their eyes.

    • Curious says:

      Unfortunately we approach / are in an age of reactionary and backwards politics. The bad “good old times” will be back rather soon. It is really sad.

    • Sky says:

      Your spit on the Dump voters support child predators, that right there tells us everything we need to know.

  10. Jay (the Canadian one) says:

    The victims of Cosby were not particularly well known were they? Granted it took great numbers to build the credibility of the accusations up in the eyes of the public at large.

  11. Miss S says:

    The celebrity element of it is important for sure, but anytime a woman goes after someone with power the accusation seems to be that she is after his money and in this case, when actresses who are millionaires and have nothing to gain come forward and say he did the same to them, then that argument dies and adds weight to the accusations of less known women. They have nothing to gain from this, absolutely nothing.

  12. Adra says:

    Donald Trump has said he never found Angelina beautiful.
    His type were mainly Eastern European women and young 20 something year old blondes.

  13. Felicia says:

    I think that the biggest reason that this story got traction was:
    a) a lot of hard work by Ronan Farrow
    b) it was told by a man
    c) said man is the son of an accused pedophile who divorced his mother to marry his sister
    c) said man has the connections in HW to actually know who to talk to and to get them to talk
    d) it was published in a respected newspaper
    e) and Weinstein’s brother was willing to throw Harvey under a bus. Even though he’d been protecting him for years. There is no doubt a reason for that sudden about face that has more to do with what Farrow had gathered and the damage it would do to the company than the raft of celebrity women who spoke up afterwards. Bob cut Harvey loose.

    In brief, the men stopped protecting the men and covering up for the men. Those same celebrity voices prior to that would have likely been brushed off.