Five Women
March 4, 2018 4:00 PM   Subscribe

"Five Women" from Chana Joffe-Walt and 'This American Life.' Vivian, Deanna, Onnesha, Kristen and Tana tell their stories – how their lives intersected with disgraced former editor of Alternet, Don Hazen, and how their earlier experiences shaped their perspective. This is an amazing story, riveting and terrible, and I'm so grateful to these women for opening up the way that they did, including Hazen's current wife, Vivian.

It's a somewhat cross-generational take on the current movement to daylight male entitlement and bad behavior in the workplace as well as a very deep look at what happens to women in these imbalanced, coercive relationships. I felt especially moved by Onnesha's story because I had parallel experiences in my own life growing up and my reaction was quite similar.

This is somewhat hard to listen to in how raw it is and how much it asks of your empathy. These women are incredibly smart, sensitive and introspective in a stark, clear-eyed way. I actually had to listen to it in parts and then I went back to the beginning to start again. It reinforces to me that charismatic individuals with power and a little plausible deniability can cover a lot of ground and we need to pay attention to women's stories so much more.
posted by amanda (33 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Bailey Steinworth: This week’s @ThisAmerLife addresses the question, “why did all these women put up with one man’s bullshit?” and suggests the answer, “because they’d learned that putting up with men’s bullshit is just part of their job as women.”
posted by little onion at 4:10 PM on March 4 [15 favorites]

Chana Joffe-Walt also reported "Trends with Benefits" for TAL and Planet Money in 2013.
posted by mwhybark at 4:22 PM on March 4

I wish there were a full transcript. The transcript seems to end after the first portion, and this is very interesting!
posted by limeonaire at 4:31 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]

I felt like screaming while listening to this. there were aspects of every woman's story that floored me with recognition from my own life. These women were very brave to be so so honest.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:20 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]

He flipped out. He stood up. He just started screaming at me, "How can you say that? How can you say that I'm pressuring you? I'm the most feminist man you know and you know it and that's fucked up!"

I immediately thought of MetaFilter when I heard this part as it just epitomizes the feminist dude trope I've seen called out here a few times.
posted by bunbury at 6:50 PM on March 4 [28 favorites]

A fantastic episode.

On my version of the podcast, there is an ad by rocket mortgage where they suggest that internet power will give you the same confidence in obtaining a mortgage as you have in your work and personal life, apparently referring to job sites and internet dating. My heart warmed thinking that somewhere someone has a nice enough life to think that comparing their service to a job search and first dates is a selling point.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:10 PM on March 4 [11 favorites]

“because they’d learned that putting up with men’s bullshit is just part of their job as women.”

Hah, it's not just a job, sometimes it's "if you want to stay employed, or alive." Or just putting up with bullshit in general.

I'm still flabbergasted Vivian has stayed with him. Geez, why?
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:19 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]

I’m usually good with TAL being a oner, it’s more than enough. But I want at least ten more episodes on this.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:32 PM on March 4

I'm still flabbergasted Vivian has stayed with him. Geez, why?

I know, right? Her calm therapist-speak rationalization just made it weirder. Further proof that book learning doesn't make you smart.
posted by msalt at 11:43 PM on March 4

One of the most dismaying yet unsurprising parts of the story for me was when Tana (?) told her parents about what she'd been dealing with, their response was basically "You're a 19-year-old woman! Of course you're going to get sexually harassed!"
posted by smithsmith at 12:44 AM on March 5 [5 favorites]

Having worked with this crowd as a journalist in the 2000s, I am surprised that Don Hazen got in trouble, but, based on my experiences, am not surprised that the place was even more rife with grossness and sexism than I suspected. Let's hope they continue to clean up their act.
posted by johngoren at 2:19 AM on March 5

I'm with limeonaire. I don't listen to podcasts, and I'd love to be able to read this in full. Dang.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:12 AM on March 5

I see the point about podcasts but the show features the women speaking about their own experiences along with the narrator. And it adds something to hear their voices tell their own stories. You can listen to it online streaming and via podcast.

I would like more of this from TAL too.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:41 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]

Here’s the transcript which seems to end after Deanna. Maybe they’ll get the rest posted soon.

I can’t make myself care about whether or not Vivian leaves him. She is the voice, for me, of an older generation’s commitment to marriage. Which, let’s be honest, is a commitment that women put up with a lot of bullshit for the promise of security. The values around marriage commitment historically seem to play out in the male half being a monster while the woman keeps the family together. In order to leave her man, a woman needs to reverse her values of commitment and socialization to nurture and then reckon with her generally lower power, resources and status.

I think Don has been adept at compartmentalizing his life and likely gaslighting his wife. She was also dazzled by him in that he seems pretty gregarious and charismatic as well as having an apparent bedrock of values and a moral worldview. I just can’t care if she leaves him. If she listens to this show, she might. She seems to think he was having affairs but for some of these women, they were just taking sexual abuse and manipulation. There was no mutual affection there which is something I’d find more forgivable than reckoning with my husband’s total disregard and contempt for women.

Hazen apparently got lots of donations and grants (hundreds of thousands) by showcasing how many women were on his staff.
posted by amanda at 6:51 AM on March 5 [6 favorites]

I listened to the first part of this this morning, and found myself reminded of some things I'd been thinking about, about how younger women get involved in workplace affairs with much older men in positions of power. And there's a dynamic that Deanna was talking about some: that for a professionally impressive, confident woman, that's not exactly a relationship asset when you're trying to have relationships with equals -- it's often something that needs to be managed around (all that stuff about how her older family members were telling her that she was going to need to educate men on how to be in relationships with her).

But it's very seductive having someone who finds you attractive not in spite of the fact that you're impressive, but because of it. And young women who don't get that reaction much from men their own age, are really vulnerable to getting it from older men, who are safely in a position where they can treat a younger woman as if she were impressive without finding it threatening, because the structural power differential is so great that there's no prospect of real competition. That class of sexual flattery, based on knowledgeable respect for your professional work, is something that young women get overwhelmingly only from older men, and it's a very powerful force.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:35 AM on March 5 [25 favorites]

Lauren Kelley was interviewed but didn't make it to the final cut. She has a thread on twitter discussing some thoughts here
posted by Cozybee at 10:02 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]

I keep thinking about the continuum from Mike Pence's "never be alone with a woman who isn't my wife" and "you have to put up with sexual harassment in exchange for employment."

And, once you get to a certain age, opt out of the workforce because your rewards may be diminishing but your capabilities are soaring.
posted by amanda at 10:34 AM on March 5

I was struck by how Joffe-Walt kept calling out the story--the story the women "told" themselves, about him and about themselves. The story seems present as soon as the relationship begins, with almost no actual facts involved.

From the transcript: "Deanna's story about Don, that he was a good guy, a grown-up, self-actualized man who was taken by her, was also a story about herself. She was powerful, interesting, could change his mind on important issues."

In the end, Vivian is struggling with this as well--what story can she tell herself to make this okay for her?
posted by Riverine at 12:36 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Maybe I missed it, but was there ever an explanation for why Deanna was cutting up his food for him?

Thanks so much for posting this, amanda. I've been experiencing my own recognition-moments, and false-equivalence-moments too, as I've been processing it. Managing (soothing) a man's anger. "Making somebody be part of your boner" is obviously ugh & my then my mind went to feeling like shit about my own crushes that I've inflicted on people.... but then I realized that "inflicted" is hyper-dramatic and unnecessarily self-flagellating, and also, I told myself as I got a grip on my self-blame default, "This asshole didn't just have crushes. He crossed way over the line, verbally and behaviourally, so many times, with so many women, not to mention his abuse of power. You're false-equivalencing yourself."

The rationalization that these women did, Vivian and Deanna and Tara, reminds me of the Catherine Deneuve thread and insights from Dysk and schadenfrau and ArbitraryAndCapricious and Rosie M. Banks and Miss Celania and GenjiandProust and Frowner and Catseye ... only in this case, the rationalizations seem slightly less generational divide and more "I like him / he did good things for my career / this is the water we breathe so you might as well get used to it" (well that last one seems to be perennial with every generation) with a subtext of "I don't want to re-evaluate experiences that I've already categorized as not-traumatic, or at least, I don't want to think about it."

I don't mean to cut a clear Us vs Them line either. I witness rationalizations in others and I witness them in myself. Comments from Mefites like y'all help me be aware of them.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:46 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]

This podcast reminded me of Hidden Brain's episode on playwright Israel Horowitz and the different reactions to his abuse by different women at different times. And to think this is only the tip of the iceberg on sexual harassment and abuse.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:31 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]

This kind of thing is so pernicious for young women because it's like they're either putting up with crap because they don't want to miss opportunities, not putting up with crap and thinking or knowing they're missing opportunities and then suspecting that people think they're getting opportunities because they're putting up with crap, etc. It really messes with the credibility of young women a really decisive time for them, when they don't have a body of work and experience behind them and opportunities are rare and particularly valuable.
posted by vunder at 4:56 PM on March 5 [11 favorites]

That Horowitz story. Holy crap.
posted by amanda at 7:30 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]

Ray Lamont at the Salem News has additional details on the Israel Horovitz story: Allegations Against Horovitz "Hidden For Years" .
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:41 AM on March 6

From the Salem News article, this enraging bit in italics (mine):
Mark O'Maley, a lighting designer who worked on Horovitz's world premiere piece "Man In Snow" during Gloucester Stage's 2016 season, says Horovitz's tendencies have been "well-known throughout the Boston theater community for decades," and that women working at Gloucester Stage have long "circled the wagons" to ensure none of them would be alone with the playwright.

"It's incredibly frustrating that, in a day when allegations can be used as a weapon, some very real allegations can be hidden for years," says O'Maley, a Gloucester native and 1991 Hamilton-Wenham High School graduate who's worked in theater, including Gloucester Stage, since high school.
I mean, with friends like these....
posted by amanda at 8:32 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]

Finally got to finish this today. Oh man, this was some good radio/podcast.

One thing that struck me was the gradations of generational feminism presented here. I found that really fascinating. We don't actually know how old any of these women are, and generational theory always paints with too broad a brush, but you can draw a line from Vivian, who is angry and hurt but standing by her man, to Deanna who sees Don as a man who won't tie her down, to Tana who's initially the "cool girl," to Kristen, who has been calling this shit out since she was a teenager and is not going to take it, and also knows instinctively it's not her fault. Kristen made me really hope for the future.

This story also shows HOW IMPORTANT the things that parents and culture tell young people are. Like Tana hearing the message that sexual harassment is no big deal and then telling that to Kristen. Or Deanna seeing Don as a viable partner because the relationship was "easier" than family members had told her relationships would be for her. I think one of the things that gave me hope about Kristen (and I realize it's not fair to put all this burden on young women) was how self-possessed she was all the way back to the 7th grade, when she dumped her boyfriend for signing that note and wouldn't let the guidance counselor tell her how to feel. I see that a lot in feminists under 25 and it's just so great to see.
posted by lunasol at 1:02 PM on March 6 [15 favorites]

I finished listening to this today and it was really powerful. I appreciated that the show, or at least the journalist, didn't seem to put any judgment on any of the women's choices, just tried to contextualize them.
posted by lazuli at 6:47 PM on March 6

"She is the voice, for me, of an older generation’s commitment to marriage. Which, let’s be honest, is a commitment that women put up with a lot of bullshit for the promise of security. The values around marriage commitment historically seem to play out in the male half being a monster while the woman keeps the family together."

Thank you for clarifying what marriage is, and the values around it are, for us all!

With your insight and clarifications I'm off to divorce my partner of 25 years. What a waste of time, learning, child rearing, and growth, for both of us.
posted by CheapB at 1:04 AM on March 7

I had to drive two black women, one late teens one late twenties from a religious conference in Black Mountain to the airport in Charlotte and we were going to be together for two hours and I wasn't sure how that was going to go so I asked them if they'd ever listened to TAL. No? Can we try it?

Whoa! This had their complete attention. Then we talked about it for an hour afterwards. It was intense and really interesting for all of us.

When we got to the airport they wanted to pray with me and I was ok with that. With them. And I got hugs and the nicest comment ever on my Lyft profile.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:40 AM on March 7 [5 favorites]

Here's an anecdote offering a very limited glimpse into the philosophy that runs AlterNet...since my earlier comment came off as failing to speak out about what tiny bit I knew about this organization's toxicity up top.

One starry night in San Francisco in the 2000s...

So back in the day, when I used to do journalism, I was one of many young people who viewed AlterNet as a way to publish some stuff that could change the world. They were willing to publish stuff that was off the beaten path, even if their editorial standards were a little bit ragged.

I got to know one of the guys who is still a publisher of AlterNet. He was a bohemian rich kid who was kind enough to print my typo-laden articles about abusive teenage boot camps and stuff like that (typos and everything) and was encouraging of my work and stuff so we used to hang out, listen to Leonard Cohen records, etc.

One night we went to see a Harry Potter movie in IMAX. He confided to me as we walked past the lights of the city that he wasn't such a big fan of AlterNet's feminist content (produced by some of these writers that Hazen hired and harassed.)

Indeed, he swung more towards the views of his idol Mark Ames, the guy from The Exile whose name you might remember from recent pieces about Ames and Matt Taibbi degrading Russian women. This dude heavily modeled himself after Ames, doing the same (hard, I think?) drugs, espousing the same French authors, and embracing Ames's attitudes ...

So this guy's dream, he confided in me after we got off BART, was to found an American arm of The Exile. The chief advantage of this, he said, was that Exile U.S.A. would remain blissfully free of what he considered to be a major issue for him at AlterNet, which was its feminist bent. Picture it -- someday a U.S. publication could bring us the same "satirical" essays about harassing female staff.

Anyhow it was a long time ago, but the creepy feeling it gave me has lingered. For all I know this guy has experienced a major personal awakening and redeemed himself. A lot of us have outgrown thinking '90s-style toxic masculinity was cool--I mean I used to think Axl Rose was cool. But on the other hand I wonder how much this AlterNet board member did or did not protect his women writers from Hazen.

As of December 7, 2016, AlterNet were still enthusiastically printing Mark Ames pieces and printing ExiledOnline content fairly frequently and uncritically...and hilariously I don't think they ever even reported the recent Exile sexism controversy.

I never spent that much time inside the office but it gave off an unwholesome vibe. Full disclosure that I didn't have great experiences doing journalism for these guys. So I know this may sound petty, but this Hazen thing is so upsetting and my conscience said to get it out there.
posted by johngoren at 5:54 AM on March 7 [4 favorites]

I felt like screaming while listening to this. there were aspects of every woman's story that floored me with recognition from my own life. These women were very brave to be so so honest.

I was riding my bike while listening to this (only one earphone in so I can still hear traffic) and actually did scream multiple times throughout the whole hour. I couldn't stop yelling "I can't take this bullshit anymore!" Hearing the women's experiences and seeing how often they paralleled mine drove home how common and ingrained these behaviors and beliefs are. One of the saddest moments for me was when one of the women, after experiencing a scary and potentially violent outburst from Don, vowed to change her behavior so that it would not happen again. So often it doesn't seem like there is even the possibility of confronting the issue and negotiating changes from the other (or both) side(s).
posted by BeHereNow at 11:23 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

I had to drive two black women, one late teens one late twenties from a religious conference in Black Mountain to the airport in Charlotte and we were going to be together for two hours and I wasn't sure how that was going to go so I asked them if they'd ever listened to TAL. No? Can we try it?

This is not a call out. I'm curious as to how the particular race of these women is relevant to the podcast episode or the issues it brings up.

I do understand how listening to it could've been a problem for religiously conservative women since it does get sexually explicit.
posted by fuse theorem at 10:40 AM on March 9

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