08 Mar What to do with #MeToo
Just when the #MeToo movement was losing steam, the Oscars turned up the heat last Sunday night. The entire ceremony was steeped in movements and politically correct behavior, but the most heroic event of the evening came near the end when Frances McDormand accepted her Oscar statue and called for all of the female nominees to stand. Hesitant until Meryl stood, they all rose up out of their seats and looked around at each other. We too looked around only to find a desperately small number of women on their feet. How embarrassing and sad it was. That’s when it really sunk in what this movement is all about.
We know how it goes… an event happens, a great swell rises, there are cries for change, and then people tucker out and move on to the next thing, start another movement with another hashtag; #IAmANastyWoman #MeToo #WhyIStayed #TimesUp #EqualRights #TogetherWeMarchOn #InclusionRider. That is the nature of movements, it’s hard to not only keep the momentum, but to create fundamental and lasting change.
If there is anything we know for sure, there is risk involved in telling your story, and fighting for something. Especially if you are a victim to any kind of abuse, assault, or rape. Unfortunately, at some point continuing to be a victim of any sort becomes a repellant. What a double edge sword right? I mean rape and sexual assault make you a victim, but how you respond after that is also on trial. If you come off as too much of a victim, people check out and your whole experience is under question, if you get fired up and mobilize you are considered a nuisance or threat. Taking responsibility for my experiences helped me to address why I found myself in compromising situations time and time again. What we do with what happens to us determines the kind of character we build and whether we remain victims or become empowered through our experiences and transform in response to them. That kind of personal transformation has the potential to affect our environment in an inextinguishable way. That just might be the bigger conversation of #MeToo.
My first #MeToo experience I was living in Chicago, Illinois. I was a freshman at UIC with a scholarship in fine art. I was bored with being told what to paint so I switched my major to Theatre but I was still having a hard time making it to classes. I’d landed a job setting up dressing rooms for bands. I was working for JAM productions and it was through the caterer, a man named Tony, that I was given the position of dressing room coordinator. At eighteen years of age I couldn’t really get any higher than that. My job was to read over the musician’s riders and source everything on the list. This was an eye opening opportunity for a girl from Decatur. The first dressing room I set up was Bob Dylan. He liked candles and incense, low lights. No problem. Andrew Dice Clay wanted a carton of Marlboro Lights and The Pixies wanted hummus on their rider. I didn’t even know what hummus was! When Paul McCartney came to town it was a two week vegan affair. Everything was done with the upmost care. He wanted every cd The Band ever released in his dressing room with a stereo to play it on. Other than what was on the rider, my sole intention was to find a way for my father to come to one of the shows and meet Paul. He was a massive Beatles fan but Paul was especially his favorite. I finally worked up the courage to call my boss the morning of the show and ask him for tickets and backstage passes for my father. He said no problem, as long as I could come over to his house before work to give him a back rub. WHAT?! “I’m not giving you a back rub!” “Okay then, I can’t help you out.” Click. This really pissed me off so I went to the venue and told everyone Tony asked me for a backrub for backstage passes (This is likely how I avoided any adults trying to mess with me when I was a kid). Finally I cried to one of Paul’s roadies and he said he would put my father on the list. I called my Dad and told him to head on up to Chicago. He showed up an hour early and there were no tickets or passes at the door. I was feeding the crew and band and at the same time running around begging anyone I could to help get my Dad into the show, finally telling Tony. He made me suffer well into the first set of Paul on stage. When he gave me the passes, it was too late, my Dad had already left and headed back home. It took me some time to get over this, but it enlightened me to the ways of the world and of men.
When I arrived in LA the only person I knew was a girl named Amanda who let me stay with her for a month at her apartment in West Hollywood until I found a place. She was working for Heidi Fleiss at the time and was always trying to pull me into her seedy scene. I repeatedly rejected offers to go to Charlie Sheen’s house dressed as a cheerleader. “I’m an actress”, I would say. Apparently, this didn’t matter Charlie saw lots of actresses. Amanda was always telling me, “Girl you are gonna have to pay your dues sometime!” “Fuck that! I’m not paying ANY dues!” While I strongly rejected the declaration, something in the back of my mind played that on loop because I knew there was a shred of truth to it. I began asking myself what dues was I going to have to pay?
Not long after this I got my SAG card working on a movie with Oliver Stone, called Heaven and Earth. I had a bit part, no lines but my scene was with Debbie Reynolds and an unknown actor. Oliver’s sidekick on set was a man named Richard, who ended up playing the tall bald Shaman in The Doors film. Richard would not leave me alone and kept going on about a project he had and there might be a part for me in it. I reluctantly gave him my phone number, and the calls started coming. Finally, even though my gut told me it was not going to go well, I agreed to dinner at his house. The reasoning of course was that I needed to make a cause for my career. What if this was a real opportunity? (which would be the reasoning behind so many future situations to come). I drove to his place in Santa Monica late one evening. I do not remember eating. I’m not even sure there was food. What I do remember is the talk of the film immediately progressed into a negotiation to sleep with me. My excuses were not having any affect and at some point he was literally chasing me around the room, trying to get my clothes off. I somehow got out of there but beat myself up for days that I didn’t listen to my instincts. The worst part about the whole thing was that a few years later, I was hanging out with Mick Jagger and he took me to a party at Richard Perry the music producer’s house. We walked in the door to a serious happening and who is standing in the foyer but Oliver Stone and his Shaman sidekick. Oliver was always very friendly and respectful to me, but to my dismay, Richard said loud enough for everyone to hear, “I know you! Didn’t I fuck you?” I was mortified. “No I didn’t fuck you!” I said. “I met you on Heaven and Earth.” “No, I’m pretty sure I fucked you.”
I remember in the late 90s when a dear friend of mine was hanging out with Harvey Weinstein. He offered to fly her to Paris to attend the Cannes Film Festival. I was incredibly envious, thinking for sure she would secure herself a good part in one of his films or some kind of comeuppance. I’d hung out with pretty much everyone in Hollywood at this point but at the time he was making and breaking careers every day, so it was definitely a moment. I got an overseas call that she was coming home early, the trip wasn’t going so well. She came back from Paris devastated. She painted a now familiar picture and scenario of Harvey inviting her to his hotel room for drinks, coming out of the shower in a robe, chasing her around the room begging to perform oral sex on her… you know the story. She was somehow able to escape but was later turned away at the film premiere and ousted from her hotel room. I felt so bad for her but the bass ackwards part about the whole thing for me was that at the time, I was silently disappointed in my friend. I was sure if she had actually just slept with Harvey in that hotel room she would have come out on top. No pun intended. I actually told myself, if I had I been in the same position, I would have slept with him and gotten something out of it. Rumor had it a certain famous actress had done just that over another famous actress who wouldn’t and she won an Oscar for that role. At least I had some point of measurement for what I was willing to do and what I wasn’t.
In hindsight the sad part about it was my thinking. Where did this come from? The existing system was an obvious reason behind even considering that kind of sacrifice to get ahead, but what was my responsibility?
My sexuality was the only power I had going out into the world. The moment I discovered this I was a Junior in highschool and fed up with my mother. My father had moved into a big beautiful house with her two sons, from two former marriages, and they each had their own room. I was relegated to the janky pull-out couch in the empty basement. I didn’t care, I was gonna be living with my dad!! It was the late 80s and neon was in. It was summertime and I was invited to a party on the west side of my hometown, where all the cool old homes and wealthy kids lived. I put on a tiny little neon green spandex number, no bra, and some white cut-off shorts. I was tan, my long blonde hair flowing as I ran out the door. My Dad yelled, “Where are you going?” “To a party!” “You look like a tramp!” I carried on my merry way in my Volkswagen Rabbit headed down the country roads into town. When I got to the main square and turned left on the old brick street I heard a siren. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a cop behind me flashing his lights. I pulled over and he approached my window and asked for my driver’s license. Just as I handed it to him, I noticed he looked right at my boobies. A light bulb went off in my head. I leaned in and pressing my arms together to make more cleavage, “You don’t have to give me a ticket officer do you? I promise I will stop longer at the stop signs.” That was it, I was off and running.
Because of this I had many more experiences going after a career and dating, the latter being the worst. I was continually getting myself into situations where I was giving it up so quickly and easily to men that were completely unavailable. I was desperate to be validated by love, I would always go in hopeful, and come out devastated when it didn’t work out. At the advice of my life coach, I went on a sabbatical from looking for love, and chasing down opportunities. This was incredibly hard for me because my entire survival system was built on the hustle. Ironically, the hustle hadn’t really given much back. It wasn’t until I took my life into my own hands and decided to tell my story that I began to experience the depths of my creativity and empowerment for the first time. In 2010 I wrote a one-woman show about my life, Can’t You Hear Me Knockin? and produced and performed it in Los Angeles, New York, and Ediburgh, Scotland. While I did perform the show in a bra and panties, it was evident a total catharsis was taking place, and it was the vehicle that would ultimately take me on the road to salvation. I opened the show on the eve of my 40th birthday. I met my husband just a few years later, and was married last May at the age of 45. I wouldn’t trade that time of personal transformation for anything. I moved out of survival and into creativity and expansion.
Hopefully we don’t have to keep creating new hashtags to realize the progress we so desperately need. The cause for real change is alive and well in the minutiae of life, in the day-to-day of all we do as women to become better, more beautiful, more intelligent, and more realized. Everything we do to help ourselves and other women is crucial to our evolution, and the rest of the world. It takes a lot of courage to continue to speak up and fight for our freedom, justice and equality. The act of doing so is liberating for all of us, but it’s self-empowerment through inner transformation that is most infectious, and will make for long and lasting change.
Kerri is a writer/actress/producer splitting her time between Los Angeles and Northern California. She is happily married and mother to an 8 year-old stepson and 13 year-old Poodle/Chihuahua named Stevie.