She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
I don't normally talk about books that aren't YA on here. Actually, I'm not sure if I've ever reviewed a book that wasn't fiction. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I've started to read more widely across categories. A lot of that has been nonfiction books. I'm not sure how many of these kinds of books I'm going to talk about on here because I know most of you read this blog to hear me talk about YA books, but this book is super important, and I realized I had a lot to say.
She Said is the story of MeToo told by Jodi and Megan, two journalist from the New York Times that lead and first broke the Weinstein sexual harassment story. While we all know how that unfolded and have watched the subsequent news stories that have come out of it, you can't really understand its impact, the intricacies of producing it, and the internal obstacles until you read the complete story. The chronicles of private investigators, Weinstein's attempts to silence past victims, and the outlandish threats made to the newspaper feel like they belong more in a movie than in real life. A lot of the book is greatly removed from the horrific details of the many women who were victimized. The narrative here is much more focused on bringing to life what goes into producing a story of that magnitude. You learn about the core group of women who allowed the story to come together as more than just their encounters with Weinstein. It's amazing how many different times the story almost didn't happen. It's engaging to the point that even though I already knew the outcome from real life, I was still on the edge of my seat wondering about how Jodi and Megan were going to pull it off.
While a lot of the book centers on bringing the first story to the world and sort of the dawn of what became the MeToo movement, the later part on the book talks about the echoes that the story had through society. As each of the original women in the story wanted the assurance of others help soften the blow, when these major reckonings happened to high up producers and business people, socially, the same safety in numbers was felt. People stepped forward on places like Twitter to share their experiences. Jodi and Megan discuss how the movement caused major ripples through cities and workplaces as people re-evaluated what was "okay". While there was some pushback and people painting themselves as victims of time moving forward, the movement was largely embraced. It accomplished a lot on a social front. It started to release even small amounts of the shame and secrecy around being a survivor. With so many people sharing their stories for the first times, it became impossible to ignore that the issue was far reaching and not isolated. For many, the movement made them feel seen and helped them realize that what happened to them wasn't their fault. It was empowering, and, for a moment, it felt like the world was changing.
Then the book takes a really smart turn. Jodi and Megan contrast the reckoning response to the Weinstein article with Christine Blasey Ford coming forward during Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing. I hadn't really thought of the two moments in connection with each other. I mean, the threads are obvious, but what happened with Blasey Ford's story makes so much more sense when contrasted with the Weinstein article. While the stories against Weinstein felt somewhat removed with people who were huge cultural figures like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd at their center, in a clear workplace line that had been crossed in every offense, Kavanaugh's case was both partisan and personal. Blasey Ford's story wasn't documented and independently verifiable like the women's in the Weinstein case. It also took place back in high school, drunk at a party. The story has echoes of the much more polarizing Brock Turner case from a few years ago. It scared people.
Opinions on who to believe became vicious and biting. This incident wasn't shrouded in hotel rooms and movies and money. It also wasn't tried on public opinion. Blasey Ford's allegations put into stark and maddening view just how little had changed. The fact that she even had the chance to come forward and got the overwhelming support she did proved that society was taking steps forward, towards being better, but, having to take on the government and its outdated structures was an entirely different battle. Seeing the professor get torn apart and run over in the Senate hearing proved the most public exposure of why none of the women in these stories had gone to the police with their accounts about any of the men getting taken down through journalism now. When you have everything to lose and a system stacked against you, why put yourself through more pain for justice that is not only uncertain but improbable? Because most sexual assaults follow take the shape of Ford's than the time table trackable accounts of former Weinstein employees. It brought out those who wanted to push #himtoo. It came in a climate that was starting to push back for fear of change and progress, for people who longed for the world where they lived in an exclusive lawless club. It's how we got to the point where Kavanaugh was up for consideration in the first place.
What hit me most in the detailed account of how Ford decided to come forward was that she always expected he'd get confirmed. Like most of the women who came forward with their stories, she did it because she felt like she owed the world the information and the chance to maybe take a step towards change. She didn't want to keep living with the secret and wondering if she should've done something. She was and is incredibly brave.
Outside of the content and the detailed behind the scenes look at these stories coming to life, this book is just extremely well crafted. They tell the stories from their point of view but with an important journalistic objectivity. Each story is stronger when painted and held against the context of each other. We see how far we've come, and the extent that the reach has at this point. And, to beautifully conclude the story, the final chapter recounts all the sources coming together in Paltrow's California house for a joint interview. All of their stories were entirely different, as were their backgrounds, but there was an understanding in the room that they could share. Hearing them discuss what's happened with the social reaction, their personal aftermaths, and what they see for the future is a satisfying conclusion to an emotional, informative, and fascinating book. I'd say it's a must read.
Links of Interest:
More than Maybe Review: Here
Reading, Writing, and Me Book Awards: Here