This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Sometimes I wonder what school I went to. I mean, I know perfectly well. I attended a place I never wanted to go: Yale. But when I was 17 years old, my parents -- and a familial urge to be upwardly mobile -- more than overwhelmed my personal and private desire to go elsewhere. So, in 1962, I ended up at that all-male college in New Haven, Connecticut, and, despite the education I received, much of which I genuinely enjoyed, I've regretted it ever since. It was that school's particular version of all-maleness that did me in -- an elite, powerful style of masculinity that I found painful and eerily shameful even then (though men, or boys pretending to be men, didn't admit to such feelings in those years or, until recently, in these).
I'll never forget the bravado, the grim over-the-top bragging about what you had done to women. I remember, for instance, my roommate, a rare working-class kid at Yale in those years who had absorbed the ethos of the place, returning from spring break and shouting -- I was in our room on maybe the third floor and could still hear him from the courtyard of our quad -- that he had done it, lost his virginity, including other grim details of his conquest. The bragging never seemed to end. I was, in those years, unbearably shy when it came to sex, or perhaps to my own lack of experience and pure ignorance about it, and repelled by the version of it that seemed to be the essence of that world of boys being oh-so-male. My only recourse -- the only one I could at least imagine then -- was to fall into an expressionless silence when the braggadocio began until I could figure out an excuse to leave the room. This, however, proved to be another kind of disaster, since it was more than once mistaken for experience, which meant, for instance, that my roommate would later pull me aside and confess that the "conquest" he had just spent the last day bragging about had actually been a total horror show.
I knew a little of his history before he blew his brains out 40-odd years later and he had, by then, turned into a Roy Moore-style predator, which I always blamed on the world we had both emerged from at Yale. I've never forgotten its style of masculinity or, in a way, recovered from it -- from the feeling, that is, that I wasn't a man but just some sort of sorry failure.
While I did, in the end, go on to graduate school, I evidently didn't go to the one that any number of the men of my generation and after seem to have attended -- you know, the one that, as TomDispatch regular Ann Jones explains today, taught you how "manly" and perfectly appropriate it was to enter a bathroom while a woman was in the next room and reappear naked to make grotesque sexual demands.
All I know is that now it's somewhat easier, thanks to the bursting dam of news about the grotesque (and grotesquely repetitive) experiences that women have had with male predators, to see what that world of supposed maleness was all about and why it felt so shameful to me, even if I then thought that the fault, the lack, was all mine. We are now, it seems, in a different moment. However, let's remember that, as Jones suggests today, sometimes such moments -- take, for instance, that of the first black president of the United States -- aren't followed by a kind of enlightenment but by the angriest of backlashes. Tom
The Fempire Strikes Back
By Ann Jones- Advertisement -
First, for the record, let me tell you my story about another of those perversely creepy Hollywood predators, a sort of cut-rate Harvey Weinstein: the screenwriter and film director James Toback. As I read now of women he preyed upon year after year, I feel the rage that's bubbled in the back of my brain for decades reaching the boiling point. I should be elated that Toback has been exposed again as the loathsome predator he's been for half a century. But I'm stuck on the fact of elapsed time, all these decades that male predators roamed at large, efficiently sidelining and silencing women.
Toback could have been picked up by New York's Finest when he hit on me in or around 1972. But I didn't call the cops, knowing it would come to nothing. Nor did I tell our mutual employer, the City College of the City University of New York. I had no doubt about which one of us our male bosses would believe. I had already been labeled an agitator for campaigning to add a program in women's studies to the curriculum. Besides, to any normal person, the story of what happened would sound too inconsequential to seem anything but ridiculous: not a crime but a farce.
I didn't know Toback. I must have seen him at infrequent faculty meetings, but we taught in different writing programs. There was no reason for our paths to cross. Ever. So I have no memory of him until the day I flung open the door of my Chinatown loft in response to a knock, expecting to greet my downstairs neighbor, and in walked Toback. My antennae went up. How had he managed to get past the locked street door? I remember talking fast, trying to get him out of my place without provoking a confrontation. He agreed to leave with me -- to go out for tea or lunch or some little excursion I proposed -- but first he insisted on using my bathroom, from which he soon emerged naked. I remember the way he listed the many things he had in mind for me to do for him. Among them, one demand persists in memory, perhaps because it was at once so specific and so bizarre: that I suck and pinch his nipples.
I beat him to the door, furious at being driven from my own loft. I think I threatened to come back with the cops. Something scared him anyway. From a shop on the street, I watched as he left my building on the run, waddling away at top speed.
Reader, if you think that nothing really happened, then you are mistaken. This incident took place almost 50 years ago and though I hadn't thought of it in ages -- not until his name popped up in the media -- the memory remains remarkably raw. I still want to see him marched naked through the streets of Manhattan and Los Angeles to the jeers and uproarious laughter of women.
At the time, Toback was no more than 25 years old, while I was nearly 10 years older, a thoroughgoing feminist, and luckily faster on my feet than him. But recent reports say that, in the 1980s and later, Toback routinely focused his attacks on very young women, some of them teenagers, using promises of film stardom (sound familiar?) to lure them into encounters that left them sodden with shame. He is now in his seventies and, although women have reported his predation several times in major magazines, he was still on the prowl last month and had never before been called to account for his actions.- Advertisement -
What could be more despicable than this: that for more than four decades, while he and his kind were allowed to practice undeterred, he only got better at his game of assaulting women.
A Catalogue of Violations
Not long after my run-in with Toback, a university professor from whom I was taking a writing course came calling to discuss my "extraordinary work" and emerged from that same Chinatown bathroom in a similar state of nakedness. (Do they follow some instruction manual I've never seen?) By then I was writing and photographing as a freelancer for the travel section of the New York Times, an unpaid task that entitled me to receive midnight phone calls from the drunken travel editor detailing the things I might do for him to insure a "real job" with the Times. That's when I became a freelancer elsewhere, always ready to cut and run. I've been a loner ever since.