The national #metoo movement has inspired many, including J.K. Stein, to challenge the stigmas surrounding sexual assault and to share their personal stories. These unedited journals and their subsequent analyses offer readers a glimpse into the painful realities of sexual abuse and the ways in which giving consent is more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.” Stein’s memoir invites readers to step inside the mind of a young woman trying to find herself in the face of power, manipulation, and self-hatred.
About the Book
J, a recent-college grad, met The Director almost a decade ago when he approached her at a coffee shop on the Upper West Side. He complimented her beauty and told her that she was what he needed in order to realize his next film. Their exchange of phone numbers that afternoon marked the beginning of a five-year long abusive relationship.
At its heart, this book offers analyses of abjection, the grotesque, consent, what it means to override one's feelings when the stakes are high, the ways in which selling one's body, even when never paid, might be read as a form of prostitution, the impact of these actions on self-image, the ways in which the author’s choices were motivated by her distorted body image and long-standing eating disorder, and finally what it means to have an opinion but no voice. Today the author has found her voice.
My decision to publish this memoir materialized not long after word of Harvey Weinstein’s decade-long history of sexual harassment allegations and a subsequent #metoo frenzy took a hold of social media. As so many of us did, I copied and pasted the Facebook phrase: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” along with the hashtags #metoo #thedirector #theexboyfriend #thestranger. I think it is safe to say that the magnitude of this problem has been deeply felt. My hashtags were vague, but they expressed the extent to which I was willing to be vulnerable on a public platform such as Facebook. However, as days went by and more and more of my “friends” began posting longer confessions, I realized that this problem was more pervasive than I had ever imagined. Reading others’ stories made it near-to-impossible to ignore my past encounters with sexual assault and difficult to not feel a set of mixed emotions: sadness, rage, and empowerment were just a few that flooded me.
One day my partner and I were taking a long car ride home and up came the topic of Harvey Weinstein. He was horrified by how many women had been affected, but didn’t believe—or didn’t want to believe—that all of these women could be telling the truth. I immediately got defensive and found myself opening up about my personal experiences with a certain high- profile director. These were secrets I hadn’t shared with anyone, including the man I was about to marry. As I began to share my stories, a look of disgust overcame him. I didn’t know whether to interpret this body language as extreme disapproval or shock, but a follow-up conversation allowed me to see that his reaction was coming from a place of disbelief, not judgment. You see, to my partner—a man with the utmost level of respect for women’s bodies—the offenses these men were committing was incomprehensible. It wasn’t that he thought that the women coming forward were liars; it was that he could not fathom anyone engaging in acts so vile. The judgment I was experiencing was coming purely from me. It was time to address this, and time to address the countless others who were probably in a similar predicament.
I began re-visiting the four journals I kept during my time with The Director. I had kept copious notes of every meeting, every phone call, every encounter, I ever had with him. At the time, I convinced myself that the sole purpose of these journals was so that one day I could write a book: these meetings were too extraordinary not to record. Now that nine years have passed since my first entry, I see that there was another reason I kept these journals: I needed to process a set of colossal emotions. Because I kept almost all parts of my relationship with The Director a secret, these journals became a series of confessions, a way to try and process feelings which felt bigger than me. What you are about to read are my actual journal entries; raw and unedited. I have changed the names of friends and acquaintances in order to protect their identities, but everything else remains intact.
I have five intentions for writing this book: first, I owe it to myself. Part of the reason I continued to “see” The Director was because I thought my experiences were too strange and cinematic not to record. If I didn’t write this book, I believe I would have forever lived in regret that my experiences were “for nothing.” Second, the writing of this book has been incredibly therapeutic. Even if these pages never showed their face to the public, the process of writing them has been pivotal to my growth and ability to let go of the shame I have carried around for almost a decade. Third, I feel empowered by the hundreds of women who have come forward and shared their stories. It feels like a great sisterhood and I would be remiss not to join the club. Fourth, despite all of the attention this whole movement has received, there are certain issues which have not yet been addressed. While I do not blame the victim, I do recognize the parts I played in each one of my interactions with The Director. This memoir is an attempt to bring forth the painful truths about sexual abuse, while also examining the ways in which I did and did not give consent. Consent is more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no,” and it is imperative that this become part of the #metoo dialogue. Finally, I write this book for you. I now know that I am not the only person who has experienced sexual assault of this nature and therefore I can’t be the only person who has lived in shame of these acts. Writing this book allowed me to finally make peace with the woman I was and the choices I made. I have finally arrived at a place of compassion that I hope to impart on anyone struggling to accept certain choices. While I don’t expect anyone to have had the exact same experiences as I, I am positive that we have all made decisions we have regretted, done things of which we are ashamed, been ambivalent, been manipulated, been afraid. While this is my story, you might at times feel like it is yours too.