Clémence Michallon, The Independent
When Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial began on Monday morning in Manhattan, I was ready. I had done my research. I had woken up early and bundled up to be outside of court by the time Weinstein was scheduled to arrive. I had a phone, a portable charger, a notebook and a pen — which is pretty much all you need to do journalism these days. I quickly found a spot on the sidewalk right across from the New York County Supreme Court. And I waited.
I was a woman on a sidewalk. I was here to do my job. I was doing my job. And it took less than five minutes — perhaps less than two — for it to happen: a man catcalled me.
It’s pretty telling that as I type this, I’m immediately overwhelmed by the need to tell you that I know this is not a big deal. He wasn’t aggressive. In fact, what he said was: “You’re beautiful, miss.” That’s a compliment, right? That’s nice. The man was being nice. I’m a cool girl. I’m not going to raise hell because a man on the street told me I was beautiful. In fact, I should probably be grateful, right? Surely, I was just having a good hair day and the man rightfully thought it was an occasion worth celebrating.
You know what else is pretty telling? That I immediately started thinking about what I was wearing. I was wearing boots with a tiny bit of a heel. I was wearing red lipstick. I had done my hair that morning. Sure, I had done all that because the first day of the Weinstein trial was going to be a busy work day — before going to court that morning, I stopped by a radio station’s studio to be interviewed about the case. I thought I might need to talk to people on the street, approach potential sources. I wanted to look professional and polished.
But we all know how it works, don’t we? You make yourself pretty, the men are going to have opinions. But shouldn’t I have borne that in mind? Am I not a little too old, a little too experienced to feel so unnerved by one unsolicited comment about my physical appearance?
I was confused, I was flustered, and then I was just annoyed. Because in the few seconds it took my internal monologue to progress from guilt to outrage, I wasn’t thinking about the trial. I was here to do my job and the man’s comment stood in the way of that.
Of course, it was all so terribly ironic. This was happening right in front of the courtroom where Weinstein now faces trial for his alleged predatory behaviour. I am, of course, not comparing an early-morning catcall with any of the allegations brought against the former movie mogul. That man on the street’s comment wasn’t the worst thing that could possibly happen to a woman by far. It wasn’t the worst thing that had ever happened to me by far.
You can acknowledge that and acknowledge the fact that catcalling isn’t flattery. It’s harassment. It’s a way of reminding you that the streets don’t belong to you. People who catcall other people appear to operate under the assumption that you want their approval. I didn’t. I was a woman on a sidewalk, trying to work.
The Weinstein trial — the second big #MeToo criminal case after Bill Cosby’s conviction in 2018 — is expected to serve as a test of sorts for the movement. There are signs that the entertainment industry has started shifting (although as I write this, BAFTA has just unveiled an overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly white list of 2020 nominees). The day before the Weinstein trial opened, Michelle Williams gave a powerful speech at the Golden Globes, speaking out in favor of reproductive rights and urging women to vote in their own self-interest because “it’s what men have been doing for years”.
Over the next few weeks of the Weinstein trial, both the defence and the prosecution are expected to put up a contentious fight. But on Monday, Sarah Ann Masse — one of seven Weinstein accusers who spoke outside of court — described the trial as “a cultural reckoning regardless of its legal outcome”.
She’s right about that. The world is watching. The world is listening. Narratives are changing.
And who knows, maybe one day I won’t feel the need to explain why catcalling is bad for six paragraphs. Maybe one day people will just know.
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