Ever since the news of the Weinstein scandal and all the subsequent airing of Hollywood’s dirty laundry, I’ve known I’d have to contribute my piece as well about my own experience with dealing with and overcoming sexism in Hollywood. Everything about the news the past few weeks is integral to my own experience, and is a large part of my book. It’s stuff I’ve been thinking about and writing about for over two years now, so you’d think I’d know exactly what I’d want to say or write, but it’s been weeks now and I’m still struggling to find the words. It’s a complicated subject for me because of the beliefs I had about myself as a young woman and how they played out in my life, and it also feels like too big a subject to crystalize into one short article. Nevertheless, here are some of my thoughts and experiences.
As a woman who exists in this world, of course, me too. Of course I’ve been subject to sexual harassment and incidents that would fall under the heading of assault. It’s horrendous that this is the reality that every girl and woman faces in her life in this world. But what’s more difficult to talk about, what’s spoken of less, is the way in which women and girls are manipulated into believing that they are supposed to not only tolerate this kind of behavior, but that they are supposed to use it to their advantage.
Patriarchal culture is not just something that’s perpetrated against women, it’s also often something we are tricked into perpetrating against ourselves, because it’s what we’re taught, it’s what we’re familiar with. Because we’re rewarded for engaging and upholding it with cultural approval from both men, and yes, from women.
We still live in a society that seduces women into perpetrating their own objectification, and Hollywood and the fashion industry have been the propaganda machine that keeps pushing women’s second class citizenship. (I’ve written about this a bit before here). All young girls turn their eyes to Hollywood and they see the attention beautiful female celebrities receive and believe that that’s what they should be pinning their self worth on.
From a young age I have defined myself as a feminist, and yet I could not get away from the insidious belief that my primary worth and power lay in my sexuality. My dreams of acting never got me anywhere close to Weinstein, thank god. But there were a handful of men with varying degrees of power who did come into my orbit, and the longer I was in Los Angeles, the more I came to believe that the only way to get a step up in my career was to give into what they wanted from me.
SEXISM IN HOLLYWOOD
There are so many beautiful and talented people striving for success in Los Angeles, that most of the time your success ultimately comes down to who you know. And as an aspiring young actress in Hollywood, it is made clear from the get go that who you know is largely related to who you sleep with, or at least who wants to sleep with you. Not every woman is going to give into this very real pressure in Hollywood, but every one of them will at some point, many points, in their career have to manage the expectation of it. This fact couldn’t possibly be more clearly illustrated than it has by the absolute deluge of women coming forwards with their own stories of abuse in Hollywood.
When I was caught up in this same world, I both found and put myself in situations where I was misused, where I consented out of fear or insecurity and was left feeling sick afterwards. I was caught up in an ugly cycle, and the only way I was going to escape was by breaking free and empowering myself. To know my own worth and demand better. This was the personal work and transformation that I needed to do so that I would no longer be vulnerable to believing that my sexuality was my value or my only power.
WE MUST HEAL OURSELVES FIRST
The culture needs to change, men need to acknowledge their culpability either as perpetrators or enablers and do better as feminist allies, but that’s their work. I know women are so used to emotional labor that we feel like if we try hard enough we can make men change, but that just isn’t the case. The only people we have any control over is ourselves.
Changing and empowering ourselves isn’t going to fix everything. There will always be monsters who will not be changed. Being empowered isn’t some magic shield that will stop sexual harassment and assault in its tracks. But for as long as women use their looks and sexuality as the main measuring stick of their self worth, patriarchy isn’t going anywhere. As long as we allow young girls to grow up believing that being beautiful is what’s most important, and that male approval and validation is the best currency, nothing will change.
Society needs to change, men need to wake up, but it starts with healing ourselves first. And to see all these women coming forwards and sharing their stories, no longer being shamed into silence and taking back their voices, I know this healing is beginning.
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Carina Covella is a writer and currently working on her forthcoming memoir, Love Dogs, detailing her six month transformational journey from Hollywood through India. Carina graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University cum laude with a degree in Art History. She also attended the Sorbonne in Paris and studied opera at the Manhattan School of Music through the university exchange programs. Until recently she lived in Mill Valley, California with her wonderful Welsh boyfriend Anthony in a house nestled in the trees, but now they’re off on a two year adventure around the world. When she’s not writing or traveling, she loves to cook for her friends and family.