By Ronan Farrow.
One of those books that is guaranteed to make my blood boil...
This book is about the background story of the Harvey Weinstein scandal predominantly, but more seriously on how NBC, a dominant US Network, suppressed the rumours and thwarted his alleged abhorrent behaviour from becoming mainstream news. Moreover, it catalogues the lengths the wealthy go to protect their reputations: how they coerce victims into staying silent and collude with others to ensure the oppression of reporters of sexual harassment so they cannot or do not speak up, especially in the workplace.
Ronan Farrow is no stranger to the effects of sexual abuse on bystanders: his sister has repeated claimed that their father, Woody Allen, abused her horrifically in childhood. He makes reference to this in his book and has to face the reality that for victims 'moving on' isn't simply a choice nor the result of the passage of time. The trauma can reside for a life-time.
When he's not being an anonymous son of two famous actors, Ronan is a journalist writing and researching for TV programmes on a wide-range of human interest stories. At the commencement of the book, he was employed by NBC at a time when they were facing embarrassment by one their Today presenters, Billy Bush's conversation with Donald Trump - the well-known 'Pussy Grabbing' one. He was already aware that NBC bosses had decided not to release the news to the wider public: for eleven years. Even when the Washington Post released the story, NBC opted not to make such a big deal of it, ironically showing a report, as part of Matt Lauer's weekday morning programme, on why abuse on college campuses are rarely reported. Later, much much later, we learn in to the book that Mr Lauer too was fired for sexual violence against women at NBC - a fact well known within NBC for years, with many colleagues paid generous severance in return for signing 'Non-Disclosure Agreements' in order to maintain their silence.
Although a crime to sexually harass, the onus is on the women to report it to the police as well as her employers or HR department. Add in a powerful TV personality's or boss' chutzpah, with their ability to make time at work a living hell, quoshing career ambitions and utilising the all-powerful rumour-mill that "she's difficult to work with", it doesn't take much imagination that silence is often the only seemingly bearable option. Weinstein exploited this, but so did some influential NBC executives. Then does anyone really want to put themselves through the ordeal of reporting crime? It's not an easy option - particularly where sex crimes are concerned. All too often women question whether they deserved it, 'led him on', could, would or should have done things differently. That excruciating self-doubt blocks any reason. And then add in the intense scrutiny of her sexual relations, her lifestyle choices, her behaviour that these matters invokes. Yes, it is really is an incredible act of courage to speak up.
The great thing about social media is that #metoo was born out of this scandal, although I was disheartened to read recently that it should 'go away' now. Yup, because the problems facing disempowered women in the workforce have miraculously eradicated themselves.
And so it is somewhat frustrating that it took a man, and one who is the child of two influential Hollywood A-listers, for attention to be paid - but doesn't that just sum up the world we live in? That said, Ronan Farrow is searing in his book, reflective on his own beliefs and attitudes, and the behaviour of people trusted to know better. It is because of his dogged determination to get Harvey Weinstein's behaviour out to the public that we get to even talk about it. This book is overwhelmingly about the seemingly endless obstacles that were put in his way: how his NBC paymasters dangled their power over Ronan's contract and his reputation; postponed research on spurious and warped legal ethical arguments; and kept Weinstein's team updated on the progress of Farrow's findings. Farrow then found himself under scrutiny from private investigators, at one point his boyfriend was deemed to boring to continue pursuing: one of the few light-hearted moments in the book.
Ultimately, Ronan Farrow found a sympathetic audience with The New Yorker, and the world can now see it all of its disturbing glory: just how damned difficult it is for women to talk publicly and be listened to. He told the story behind the story of the hundreds of women who have spoken up about being raped, molested, assaulted and exposed to, by just one vile predator. Ronan writes about the hours of painstaking effort it takes to build up a relationship with a victim: to be trustworthy, responsible, understanding and supportive. That he did so, despite the pressure to cave, is remarkable too. He also eloquently describes the stress: the impact on his relationship with his partner, and his health in trying to speak up. For that, I thank him.
A must-read for anyone interested in how society misfunctions, particularly when it comes to sexual harassment and its effects on the wellbeing of everyday people. If you've ever asked yourself why women don't speak up more often, this book reveals so much about why and how particularly the power dynamics deter. A truly excellent, although upsetting, read.