My twin daughters Kiki and Leila are reintroducing me to my birthplace. To them, the country I couldn’t leave fast enough at their exact age is everything they want; the Dutch scale feels manageable, people use bikes instead of cars, the weather isn’t extreme (no hurricanes or bomb cyclones), the architecture is either historic or cool, college is affordable, the older generations seem relatively levelheaded and the boys are cute.
I left the Netherlands because life felt too small, too oppressive and too incestuous. My stepfather had just left my mom for one of her best friends –a woman whose kids I’d been babysitting and whose ex-husband suggested that I leave Amsterdam to study fashion design in London.
Every adult I knew had been married to someone I knew and was screwing someone else I knew and it felt like most of my peers were somehow related to me. I wanted to move beyond the sex appeal of a teacher, a neighbor or the lover of my best friend’s mom. I had to see what the rest of the world was doing. I first moved to Paris, then Australia and then London, where I did study fashion and became a fashion designer. After ten years in London I moved to New York and I’ve spent the last nine years in Miami.
Last December, between Christmas and New Year, my mother turned ninety, so we went to Amsterdam for her big birthday bash. There, in the modernist bungalow of my mother’s friend Petra, where I’d spent many hours dreaming about a future beyond the Netherlands while reading her husband’s Playboy magazines, gathered my entire family as well as all my mother’s friends –the free-lovers of the seventies many of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Iona, Kiki and Leila couldn’t believe that I had real cousins and they had second cousins who were their age — an entire family they didn’t know existed.
In the days that followed, Kiki, Leila and I visited the fashion academies in Antwerp and Arnhem and the design academy in Eindhoven. When we returned to Miami in January, they applied (and were accepted) to Cooper Union, Pratt, Parsons and RISD, but Holland stayed on their mind. In March we returned and Kiki took the Eindhoven Design Academy’s entrance exam and Leila did the Arnhem, ARTEZ Fashion, interview and practical test.
When my daughters were very young we moved full time to our weekend home in Milford (Pennsylvania) because of the nearby Homestead School, an amazing Montessori school run from a family farm on eighty acres that’s powered by solar panels. They took classes in a teepee, a Quonset hut and a geodesic dome, performed plays on a stage in the woods, grew vegetables and made art in a converted barn. In 2009 we moved to Miami and stayed, mainly because of DASH, the Design and Architecture Senior High School, that has rightly gained a reputation for being the best design school in America.
Early April, Leila heard that she had been accepted by Artez Fashion, the alma mater of Iris van Herpen and Viktor and Rolf. Two weeks later Kiki got news from Eindhoven, the best and hardest to get into design school in Europe, that they would love to have her. What started as an unlikely dream was fast becoming reality, and in the months that followed they got Dutch passports and looked for places to live. I recently signed leases on two cute student rooms in Arnhem and Eindhoven. It felt like I was tentatively reattaching an umbilical cord of my own.
But isn’t it poetic that Kiki and Leila will continue their design education in the Netherlands? They don’t know the ghosts and ambitions that made me run away. They have their own individual paths and it seems only natural that their instincts complete a circle that is helping me to accept and even love my past, my choices and the place where I was born.
I won’t say triggered –the word of the day. Of the week, Of the month and yes, going back to Trump’s pussy-grabbing tape, of the year. Expressed first by the women’s march and most recently the #MeToo movement. The club that recruited me as an unexpected member as early as 1972 but, Groucho Marx style, I don’t want to belong to it.
As I drove to see Patti Smith downtown Miami, passing billboards of topless men and women who conveyed their own sexual encounters, I remembered a calendar I did in Amsterdam with a photographer called Lee Kraft. I worked with Lee quite often on newspaper fashion ads for stores like C&A and HEMA. Mundane well-paid modeling jobs. This one was different he said. It was topless for a tasteful Pirelli-style calendar. His client was a friend from America, some successful business man. (Lee was also American). I said thanks but no thanks. Lee said it’s two hundred guilders cash. I said no. He said three. I said no. He said four. I said no. He said five. He said it would be beautiful. He said no one would ever see it. He didn’t take no for an answer, he wore me down and I said yes.
I didn’t know the client would actually be there, I thought it was just good old Lee and me. Call me naive.
The American was a tall, thin man in a suit. He was kind of handsome, but also reminded me of a lizard. There was something scaly about his skin and his long fingers may as well have had suction cups. He didn’t exactly creep me out, but I didn’t trust him either.
I was going to be June he said, referring to the month on the calendar. He showed me the rough sketches of the calendar layout and stopped at a rudimentary, almost stick like figure with large nipples that were filled in with smudged gold make up. June was written across the top.
I looked at him.
So, I will have golden nipples? I asked and thought of James Bond and the girl who suffocates because Goldfinger paints her entire body gold. Thank god it’s just my nipples, I thought.
“Do you mind?” he said rather politely.
I shrugged my shoulders. Of course I minded. It was ridiculous. Surely he knew it was demeaning?
I applied the thick gold paste from the small jar Lee handed me. Then we went into the studio and Lee placed me on the backdrop paper.
“Raise your arms,” he said and I did. Ralph stood next to him and looked at me as if he were looking at his laundry going around in the dryer.
No, this is not going to be that kind of abuse story. I am not #MeToo calling out Ralph Nader here. The, by all accounts, a-sexual or possibly gay independent presidential candidate who screwed things up for Gore in 2000. The consumer rights hero of the seventies and eighties.
“What star sign are you?” He asked. He’d walked over to me as Lee was reloading his camera.
“Leo,” I answered proudly.
“Hmm,” he said. “A difficult sign … for a woman [like you].”
“Why?” I asked defiantly.
“Leos have a very high opinion of themselves. Their expectations for their lives are hard to live up to.”
He looked at me as if he could see through me.
“You’ll end up disappointed.”
I had just turned eighteen. I was modeling to pay for college in London. I was going to be a fashion designer. Something shriveled inside me. It was as if he knew (and I didn’t yet) that I would never amount to much. That I was and would always be as insignificant as I was next to him, there and then. He, dressed in an expensive suit, and me, naked in tiny panties and with painted golden nipples. Miss June 1976.
Ralph Nader had presented me with my first glass ceiling, several years before the term was coined. He was the first man to impress on me that there are limitations to what women should reasonably expect for themselves. I had no idea who he was in the cultural context of the United States. I wouldn’t know for another 15 years. But clearly he delivered his message with such manipulative authority that it impacted me.
I was and am ambitious. I did and do have high expectations for myself. I often fail, in my own eyes. And I often say, well what did you expect? I let myself down. I end up disappointed. Then I bounce back, like I did that day in Amsterdam, when his words became the challenge that was to be disproven. By me. For me. Over and over.
Optimistically, I always assumed the metaphor of glass ceiling meant that if you bash it hard enough, the glass will be broken. Last night I flashed for the first time (duh!) on the real meaning. That women can see through the barrier but can’t get to the other side. This glass is shatter proof. The men stand on the floor above us. We are looking up with our high expectations. They are looking down with the arrogant confidence that only bulletproof glass ensures.
Ralph Nader was speaking from the other side of the glass. I didn’t know it then, but he let me feel it. He wasn’t the last or only man to ever mind fuck me. But I was young and unsuspecting and he was smart and effective. Last night I flashed on him. His arrogance. His entitled manipulation, designed to put an eighteen-year-old model in her place. Who knows what I stirred in him, what led to his urge to disempower me. As I drove to the book fair, I thought about the divide between expectation and perception (trigger) and in that moment I hated the memory of his words more than the memory of any grope or unwelcome penis sighting.
A fictional vignette set on the night of Tuesday the 10th of October.
At the home of fashion designer Donna Karan, Gaby hands her mother a cell phone:
“It’s uncle Harvey,” she says.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” Donna says. She turns away. She has been crying.
“Tell him yourself,” Gaby says.
Donna takes the phone. She hesitates, wondering whether to press End or throw it across the room.
“Don’t Mom,” Gaby says, “it’s my phone.”
“Hey,” Donna says.
“Can you come over?” Harvey is on speakerphone.
“You’re kidding right? How about a thank you first?”
“Your stocks are up you know?”
“Jesus, they are?”
“Gun stocks went up last week, after the Vegas shooting. It’s a fucked up world darling.”
“I don’t give a shit about DKNY stocks.”
“Come over. Georgina left me. I learned it from a People Magazine news alert.”
Donna looks at her daughter for help. Gaby shakes her head – NO.
“There are reporters outside. I can’t do this right now.”
“I’ll send a car. Use the back door. I need you. I’m alone. God knows what I might do.”
Donna ends the call and hands the phone back to her daughter.
“Do it already,” Gaby says under her breath.
Harvey is in a hotel suite. The TV is on in the background. Pictures of Paltrow and Jolie flash across the screen. The sound is off. He is wearing a large white bathrobe wrapped around his huge frame. There is a knock on the door. He gets up, a white tie drops to the floor and the robe opens. He is naked underneath. Holding the two pieces of fabric together with one hand, he opens the door.
“Put some fucking clothes on,” Donna calls from the corridor. “Jesus Harv, what is WRONG with you.”
“Oh come on, I’m not gonna jump you.”
“That’s not the point, it’s just so fucking inappropriate right now.”
“Maybe it’s appropriate. I’m comfortable this way. Who fucking cares.”
“At least put this around you,” Donna enters the room, picks up the white strip of fabric and hands it to Harvey. She ends up putting it around him herself, adjusting the large robe as if he’s a model in one of her shows. He puffs on a large cigar, blowing the smoke sideways, away from her.
“There,” she says almost maternally. “Now I need a drink.”
They sit down across from each other. Donna picks up the remote, flicks through the channels and stops at National Geographic. She pulls her legs under her and rubs her face. Harvey too is rubbing his large head.
“Fucking idiot asshole,” she says and looks up at him. “I thought you’d stopped this shit when you married Georgina. What were you thinking?”
“It’s what we do.” Harvey shrugs. “Trump did it. Look at him – our President! He flaunts it and they love him!”
“The press doesn’t love him. New Yorkers don’t. Our friends don’t. Anyway since when is Trump your role model?”
“It’s the reason men achieve. In movies, fashion, business. The money. The fame.”
“Not for me! Imagine me groping and propositioning every male model that walked in for a casting?”
“Don’t say you haven’t thought about it?!”
Donna looks right at Harvey who has a semi-erotic smirk on his face. She shakes her head.
“I’m not here to talk dirty with you. And no I haven’t. It’s not how we think.”
“Women. We may look at a hot guy and joke about how he makes us feel, pretend we’d sleep with him, but I don’t know any woman who would force herself on a young, sexy guy the way you did with these poor girls.”
“Poor girls?! I made their careers! Gwynie, Angie! I gave them everything they dreamed off! I never hurt them! Some of them got a million bucks just for showing their tits and watching me – you know– for a few minutes!”
Donna looks disgusted.
“Stop! You’re a pervert. A creep. I had no idea it was this bad. None!”
“I’m not proud of it.”
“You just don’t think it’s a big deal?”
“Everyone did it. Or at least tried. What about dear old Sydney Kimmel? And Warren Beatty?”
“Beatty stopped years ago, and he was hot.”
“And I’m fat and ugly.”
“You abused your power.”
“Power is all I’ve got. No girl wants to fuck me!”
Donna studies him. He is too large for his chair, as he sits slouched with his legs spread, a big cigar between his thick lips. One chubby hand stroking the kind of beard that looks good on Clooney and Beckham but fails miserably as an attempt to hide his pock-scarred face.
“Oh boo-hoo,” she says, “you had Georgina. You got two lovely kids. You got it all! You’re a sick fool and now the whole world knows it. And NO – ONE is EVER going to feel sorry for you.”
“I don’t give a shit about pity. But really? You know that they all showed up looking sexy and seductive? They wanted me to want them. Right? But they do not want me! They want to be the next Marilyn – so every man in the world… and I could make that happen for them. All they dream of are teenage boys jerking off to their fucking pictures. And I have that power! But because I look like the fucking BEAST in Beauty, I am called a sexual predator when I ask for some jerking off in return. Ironic no?”
“You hate women.”
“Perhaps. They never liked me.”
“You really do.”
“It’s bewildering. Like you said last night.”
“I don’t even remember what I said. Exactly.”
“You said a stupid thing.”
“Thanks. I was trying to find a way to defend you, for Georgina and the kids. I love them.”
“You don’t love me. “
“No Harv, right now I don’t love you.”
“You never loved me, you never even liked me. You tolerate me because I’m Harvey Weinstein.”
“I can’t believe I said what they say I said.”
“You better own it.”
“It’s so not me. Everyone knows that.”
“No they don’t. Right now the insatiables are tearing you apart. It’s the perfect companion story to my debauchery. The fashion designer enabler! Like the madam! Everything you’ve ever done, for women, for kids, New Yorkers, Haitians. Forget it. It’s all been erased. You are the bitch that sold out women. Welcome to Hollywood baby.”
“Hollywood?” Donna looks puzzled.
“Georgina believes Hollywood pits women against each other. But it’s just how women are. You’re just as competitive as men, but your hierarchy is unclear. We fight it out honestly, man to man. There are no illusions; it’s all sport – the winner wins. You bitches just pretend to support each other, but really all you do is compete.”
“Bullshit! I am a woman’s woman! I went out of my way to hire only women. I paid them well. I loved working with my all women teams. We did great stuff together. That was what made Donna Karan the brand! When I sold the company I opened Urban Zen, gave money to Hillary, Planned Parenthood, I started women’s labor incentives in Haiti. Health Care programs for low income families here in the City, everything I did was for women and their families!”
“No one cares about that now! You sold your women out. You said they were asking for it — for sex with me!” Harvey laughs. “..and here we are — thinking we’re both champions for women…” He laughs harder.
Donna weeps. She drinks down her wine, gets up for a refill and starts pacing.
“You and I are NOT the same. I am angry! Furious at what you guys create in the name of the female sex. The way YOU portray us! And then we all need to live up to that warped idea of us! I was so fucking pissed at that DKNY dog-walking commercial with that Gone Girl actress.”
“Emily Ratakovski, is her name. Cute girl.”
“It was NOT MY WORK! That bra has MY NAME on it, and yet I have nothing to do with that branding. NOTHING! I don’t even know who ran that campaign.”
“I thought the ad was cute.” He takes a suggestive drag on his cigar and readjusts his robe.
“CUTE!? I no longer design the ‘cute’ shit that is out there with my name on it. I designed for real women twenty years ago! Working women! Not girls. Not grown women who want to look like sexy young girls. Not girls who want to prove that they have a positive body image of themselves by walking down the street undressed. Or post nude pictures – look at me, look at me, how I love my body — my body is better than yours.”
“Instagram is one fucking competitive shit-show of hot women trying to out-hot-body each other… but I can’t touch them!”
“No you can’t. Different thing. It’s complicated but it’s different.”
“Not to me. Not to men. Men think it’s all for them.”
“Well, get with it. That’s the depressing part. It’s for ourselves and each other. Not to get laid. I almost kill myself with daily yoga so I look fit, I’ve had nips and tucks and lifts and it all hurts and goes south anyway and I wish I could just stop. Believe that it doesn’t matter. But I can’t. I need to feel young to feel good. And feeling good is all about looking good. For me. In this bloody business. Fashion…. and also in your fucking films.”
“So move to your beloved Haiti.”
“I might. It’s great. For that reason, perhaps. Also. When I am with people who have so little, are so positive, so loving, I don’t even look in the mirror. I go days without thinking about myself. My age, my saggy arms, my wrinkles. And yet I feel sexier there than I ever do in New York.”
Harvey stares at her.
“Actually … Haiti is the only place I still feel sexy. Worthy. Real. Myself.”
“You sound like Georgina,” he sounds bored.
“You know what Donna? I’m tired. I’m totally fucked. I lost everything I’ve worked for my entire life, so I don’t really give a shit when or why you feel sexy. When any woman feels sexy.”
“All you care about is yourself.”
“That’s right — I’ve earned it.”
“ A lonely place Harvey, I can’t help you there.”
“ I never asked you to.”
“No, I did that all on my own. Three off-the-cuff, inebriated sentences, and MY reputation of 30 years is down the toilet. All for the least deserving man in the universe. And all I want to do is talk to Stephan. He’d know what to do. You didn’t deserve another marriage. But I loved him. I was faithful. I thought we’d be together forever. Then he dies! So now this one is on me and me only. And I have no idea what to do. How to be in this gotcha world – I try but it’s all too much and I miss him.”
Harvey yawns. “Goodnight Donna. Thanks for stopping by.”
“Goodnight Harvey fucking Weinstein.”
This is a piece of satire that reflects my sense of the culture that created these two “fallen icons”. I have met them both. I interviewed with Donna in 1999 and saw her socially in the Hamptons and Miami. She is a loving, open woman whom I truly believe has done a lot to support and help modern women. She lost her husband to cancer in 2001. He was her champion and partner. I don’t know why she said what she said this week, or how she meant it, but I have no problem cutting her some slack. Weinstein however…
I have my own Harvey Fucking Weinstein Story.
In 1989 a British actress friend insisted I go out with him. I don’t know if she was trying to ingratiate herself, I don’t know how he’d treated her. I do know that he introduced her to Woody Allen who subsequently used her in Husband and Wives. She told me he was a bit of a groper, but that she’d warned him to keep his hands off me. Ha!
It was to be a drinks and movie date and we met at the Bemelmans Bar. First thing he said to me was “I promised Lysette I’d keep my hands to myself.” Nevertheless I kept peeling him off me over cocktails and then he fell asleep within the first ten minutes of the movie. Relieved, I left him there, snoring loudly, and skipped out.
Lysette and I laughed about it and he never mentioned the date to her again.
Years later I was in an elevator with him, my husband and a glam crowd at a film award ceremony for Richard Gere. Liam Neeson had just smiled at me so I felt feisty. From my corner of the elevator I said loudly, for everyone to hear:
“Harvey! The only date that ever fell asleep on me!”
I find myself annoyed. Am I annoyed with Miami? After eight years of living here?
Much has happened in that time. We lived here during Obama’s his entire presidency. When we arrived there were many unspoken agreements that had shaped the local culture over the twenty preceding years, from the wild-west eighties until the crash of 2009. “As long as we are having fun” was one of them. Being serious was boring. I was called a Debbie Downer at a dinner party, when I talked about water in the streets as a result of climate change (that BTW, had made every guest late for the party). Don’t get me wrong, I like having fun, but my idea of fun is different from dressing in skimpy but expensive designer clothes, drinking outrageous cocktails, clamoring around celebs and music so intense that the only possible interaction is taking selfies with your “friends” (while hoping for one with that star).
Yes guilty, my initial blogs were all about those parties. As an outlet for my culture shock. And, after years of working in NYC and living in Milford, PA with small children, these parties were so alien, so different and took me so far outside myself, that it felt like something I needed, in the way that getting really drunk sometimes feels like a healthy dose of vitamin C. It wore off fast, the so-called glamorous lifestyle, one that I had always walked away from, in Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York. It just isn’t me. I like to drive myself hard and if I don’t accomplish stuff I set out to do, I get depressed. I do not dream of retiring, shopping and sitting by the pool for the rest of my life. I need to be heard and seen and not for gossip and what I wear. So when the party dust settled I got to work on being relevant in Miami, no matter what it took.
It took a lot… I gave it my best… I feel depleted… I can’t say I conquered and I’m kind of over trying (… plus I’m getting shit done in other parts of the world).
And yes, I realize it’s not all about me and I’m not alone. Three months into 2017 and this worn-out feeling is a national depression. Up and down the East and West Coast we aspired to be part of a wave of hope that Obama brought with him. One that I saw as a way to change and save Miami, with talks of rising sea-levels, an ocean full of plastic, recycling and up-cycling, the right for all kids to an inspired public education such as DASH, affordable housing instead of 20% occupancy in condos and private homes worth billions on Miami Beach, air-conditioned year-around.
But if it felt like I was swimming against the stream over the past eight years, I am now swimming into a Tsunami. Will the already lavish parties get even bigger and crazier as the 1% feels empowered, emboldened in their greed and need to flaunt it, with Miami Beach as the perfect stage for competitive one-percenting? Living less than a mile from Sunny Isles, with its six Trump Towers, and the highest concentration of Russian investments in recent years, Russia’s unabashed imperialism is palpable. And after the cuts to environmental protection, the NEA, healthcare, public transportation, education, housing and human and women’s rights, what will happen to the other group, the full-time residents and working class whose statistics show that Miami’s income disparity is one of the largest in the country?
Yet it is all about me. Also. About what I can give and do and how I will spend the next twenty years of my life optimizing who I am, what I have learned and how I can reflect this back on generations to come. In another year the twins will leave for college. I will be free from the school calendar, driving and feeding and other hands-on mothering. I look at them, and how they act and feel, and I remember being seventeen and practically jumping out of my own skin with impatience, anger even at being told what to do by teachers, parents, the system. The nervous restlessness that I now recognize for what it is in my girls – their booster engines filled with ambition for their future and need for autonomy, propelling them forward. As I see this in my daughters I recognize it in myself, four decades older than they are, but the impulse is the same, I am getting ready for another shift.
So I am annoyed at Miami. Or I am just annoyed. I am practically jumping out of my skin with irritation at the status quo, and like a very old teenager I’m going to use this urge to amp it up some and get more shit done…
I am different this month. And if I am different then millions of women are different this month. I am one of many and I am never alone. I am woman and I am different this month.
I am different because two weeks ago the Milford Readers and Writers festival happened. It happened in the town I love and I was one of the organizers. I am different because I listened to Gloria Steinem, up on the stage and in front of the logo I had designed. I am different because my long-in-the-works book, Stupid Model, was published and I sold fifty copies over three days. I am different because I was doing it with all with my friends. I am different because for those few days I felt centered and within myself.
I read a passage from my book to a room full of women and they laughed and applauded. They heard me and we connected. This changed me. Then it was over, my old and new friends went home, I tidied up the house and I too went home, leaving my home behind.
I am different now from who I was then. And I am different from who I was in September.
Together with millions of others I am restless. I am anxious. I am provoked. I am angry and I want the world to be different.
Is it true that change brings up everything unlike itself?
Together with an entire generation (or two) of women I have been forced to remember things that I had forgotten. Or had marginalized. Things that became threads woven into the fabric that made me into who I am today. Those small things that grab us and make us a little less proud. A little less confident. A little less…
I always fought when they happened. After being a scared, weepy child I stood up for myself when I walked away from my youth at age seventeen. To Paris where I fought the men who groped me on the Metro, followed me in the street clucking and whistling, took me to dinner stroking my thigh under the table while talking business with colleagues above the white linen, silver, china and crystal. I fought the photographers who demeaned me over and over and, on my last day, I physically attacked the ultimate misogynist, a famous couturier who had me thrown out of Paris.
from Stupid Model in Paris and Down Under
Perhaps I fought because my mother fought. Fought her own demons. From the German soldiers who had controlled her town and her family when she was a teenager, the ghost of my father who drove his car into a tree and left her alone with me, a two-year-old babe, to my stepfather who was controlling and abusive and after fifteen years absconded with one of her younger friends.
I fought because those were the days that we “fought back”. A clinched fist was our symbol. Don’t fuck with us. But who were we kidding? When you could not be anywhere alone without at least one man grabbing you wherever he liked, metaphorically and physically.
I fought my way to success. I was ambitious they said, like a dirty word, dirtier than pussy and grab. Subconsciously, I learned to use sexism in a game of exchange that couldn’t be won. Like fake promises it never delivered that moment of pure achievement, because in the shadows there was always a baritone boasting – you’d be nothing if it wasn’t for me, and I can undo you.
October 2016. Women. What the fuck?
Did we really think it would come easy?
Just as it seems within reach we have to conquer our past and slay our ultimate dragon and not just metaphorically. He’s real and he looms, lies, interrupts, gropes, intimidates, demeans and threatens. Bitch is only one letter away from Witch, the she-devil, burn her at the stake, whipped into a frenzy the fearful-of-change masses promise to end her, cheering…
Change brings up everything unlike itself.
(I wonder if my daughters look at my rage the same way I look at my husband when he loses his shit in the car at the guy who just cut him off.)
It may not seem like it to the next generation, and it may not feel like it to us right now, but we have come a long way. And when Hillary is president our daughters will soon take it for granted and move on. That’s what change does: it sets the stage for more change, and they have plenty to do.
And we will have some laurels to rest on. Hopefully we can finally forget what we are feeling now, in October 2016, the fear that he can undo us. But remembering and standing together and visualizing holding hands with all women everywhere, yes, also the ones who wear T-shirts that say He Can Grab This >, we will undo him and finally allow ourselves to feel that sense of pure achievement.