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Another Day, Another Sexist Controversy

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by Melissa Silverstein
October 11, 2012 2:05 PM
5 Comments
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Alfred Hitchcock is having a renaissance  this year.  First, Vertigo was named the Greatest Film of All Time in Sight and Sound's recent poll.  And now not one, but two, films that deal with Alfred Hitchcock are coming out this year.  The first, The Girl stars Sienna Miller and tells the story of how Hitchcock sexually harrassed Tippi Hedren.  The film premiered last week at the Hampton's Film Festival and will be shown on HBO on October 20.

The second film Hitchcock stars Anothony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as his wife.  The film tells the story of Hitchcock's struggle to make The Birds Psycho and to get back on top in Hollywood.  It will be released on November 23rd.

Tippi Hedren has been doing the press rounds for the HBO film and she sat down for an interview with Andrew Goldman who does the what I call the 20 questions interview in the NY Times Magazine.

Aside from the fact that it takes enormous guts to speak out about how a man sexually harrassed you and ruined your career because you wouldn't sleep with him, Goldman had the nerve to ask Hedren whether she considered sleeping with him in order to advance her career.  That's damn close to saying a woman asked to get raped.

Here's the question:

The worst abuse happened after you rebuffed his advances. Actors have been known to sleep with less powerful directors for advancement in show business. Did you ever consider it?

Before I get into the response from writer Jennifer Weiner which was dead on, I want to make a point that the Hollywood casting couch is notorious and illegal and to just be flip about this issue is insensitive, and yes sexist.

Here's what Jennifer Weiner tweeted when she read the interview:

Saturday am. Iced coffee. NYT mag. See which actress Andrew Goldman has accused of sleeping her way to the top. #traditionsicoulddowithout

Goldman then took to twitter and put his foot in his mouth by saying to Weiner:

@jenniferweiner sensing pattern. Little Freud in me thinks you would have liked at least to have had opportunity to sleep way to top

WTF Mr. Goldman?  The little anti-Freud in me thinks you need to see a therapist if that's your response.

The twitter war continued with others getting involved including the NY Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren who defended Goldman, and the NYTimes public editor Margaret Sullivan who took him to the woodshed calling him a highly replaceable freelancer.  Ouch.  (Sidenote- how happy are we now that there FINALLY is a female public editor at the Times.)

Here's what I learned from this incident. 

1- talking about Hollywood and sexism is still really hard which is where this all began.  Hitchcock is revered and Tippi Hedren is calling a spade a spade which no one does in Hollywood.  She's a real hero.

2- Jennifer Weiner is using her platform to stand up for women.  She does it constantly and is a highly effective voice.

3- The sense of male privilege is astounding.  Weiner's reaction was her reaction. The question from Goldman was highly suspect and inappapropriate.  That he had to defend himself by throwing in Freud and saying that Weiner would have been appreciative of sleeping her way to the top is unacceptable behavior for a reporter for the NY Times, even if he is a freelancer.  It's actually unacceptable behavior for a human being. 

We all say stupid things on twitter.  When you do it, you should apologize and not continue to defend yourself by making other sexist comments.  What bothers me the most is that he really believes that it is ok to say that.  Does the Times really want a person who thinks like that to be doing these very important weekly interviews?

4- I was heartened that other women got into the discussion in smart and meaningful ways and made Goldman and the Times understand that this is a bigger issue than just one woman's reaction to one question in an interview.

Margaret Sullivan reminds rowdy NYT freelancer he’s ‘highly replaceable’ (Poynter)

Andrew Goldman Sparks Twitter Controversy (Storify)

NYT, Tippi Hedren and 'Sleeping Her Way to the Top' Question Sparks Twitter War (Hollywood Reporter)

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5 Comments

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  • ColdHands | October 31, 2012 3:26 PMReply

    Star,
    I don't think it's the question/issue; it's the way it's phrased, which makes sexual harassment sound like just one more hoop to jump through instead of the horrible abuse of power that it is (and trauma that it was for Hedren, at least according to _Girl_ and interviews she's given).

    In other words, his question is phrased in a pretty victim-blamey way. Here's my paraphrase of what Goldman said: Gee, Tippi, lots of women have slept with powerful men in order to be successful. Why are you complaining so much? It's not such a big deal."

    The fact that he is so cavalier about the issue demonstrates his privilege--that he cannot fathom how traumatizing it is to be sexually harassed. It really reminds me of the lie-back-and-enjoy-it [rape] comments.

  • Star | October 11, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    I'm missing what was so inappropriate about the question. Hitchcock was threatening Ms. Hedren and making inappropriate advances toward her. Asking her if the pressure being put on her made her at least consider giving in to his advances is a good question and one that women everywhere would benefit from hearing answered. Hedren never considered giving in to the advances, consequences be damned. A good answer to a good question.

  • Nikki | October 11, 2012 3:05 PMReply

    Hitchcock (with Hopkins and Mirren) is not about the making of The Birds but Psycho.

  • Melissa | October 11, 2012 4:42 PM

    Thanks so much. Made the fix.

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