The Silence is Deafening

by Melissa Silverstein on September 30, 2009

in Sexism

It seems that I am now officially obsessed with the Roman Polanski insanity.  As I’ve gone further down this rabbit hole I find my compatriots on the internet to be with me in force but others who I expected to hear from are just silent.

The silence is deafening.  Where are my feminist leaders on this issue?  Leaders are supposed to lead.  They are supposed to be out in front on issues, especially one as big as this.   I guess this could be another funeral marker for mainstream organizational feminism which for some reasons has been mostly silent. The only person I could find yesterday was Katie Buckland (and I heard Susan Estrich on NPR) who runs the CA Women’s Law Center who said this to the LA Times.

Most troubling to me is that people just don’t understand the impact a crime like this has on a 13-year-old girl, and the fact that he has made some fabulous films is utterly irrelevant…It sends a message that the rich and powerful can get away with crimes that no one else can get away with.

Other feminists and organizations are starting to get on the band wagon, but in my humble opinion they are really late.

The Women’s Media Center folks released a statement: “The rape of a child is at the heart of the case. That is not disputed, and should not be represented as subjective.”

Robin Morgan said this: “Simple. Child abuse is child abuse. Rape is rape. One justice for all. And Woody Allen defending Polanski would be hilarious if it weren’t so sick.”

Gloria Steinem is sadly out of the country and I really believe she would be kicking ass on this, but hers is not the only voice we need.

NOW is working on a statement and their president is talking to the media.  Whoopee.

But no one in Hollywood, — especially the women — is talking, so here am I little niche blogger going on the record big time about this.  You know what’s scary to me?  That conservatives are agreeing with me.  Do you know how much it pains me to say that?  Why the fuck aren’t the progressive people standing up to this, and more importantly why the fuck are progressive people standing behind him?

The growing petition list makes me want to wretch.  I’m thinking the issue touches close to home for many a director who has probably employed the “casting couch” and may have committed an action similar to Polanski’s sometime in his career.  Plus, I’m sure there is pressure being applied to people to get on board and support the artist.  (wink, wink)  The good news to me is that I can’t find a single American actress or director (I am not counting Debra Winger’s rant at the Zurich Film Festival) on the list.  But there are European actresses and American male directors on the list.

I know that Hollywood is a scary place to speak out about things, especially about women.  This fear has allowed a culture of misogyny to take root and to spread its tentacles all over.  The thing about the Polanski case and why it is resonating across the country and the world is that lots of people don’t like the double standard that Hollywood is showing here.  Hollywood is liberal when it feels like it like with the environment, but not when it comes to women.  It’s safe to drive a hybrid but not safe to hire a female director.

In my gut, I believe that the women of Hollywood are appalled by what is happening.  The fact that they are silent is a reminder of how little clout they have.  I know there are feminists in the business and I believe deep down that if they would do something they could.  But that is the exact reason why they should speak out because one day someone they know, or someone’s daughter will be in a situation that is harmful and no one is there for her.

We can use this moment for something bigger than just throwing in jail a 76 year old man who was a coward all those years ago.  We can actually start a conversation about how women are treated in Hollywood and in the world. Girls are trafficked, and are raped, and are denied schooling all because they have two x chromosomes.

Here’s the deal.  The world is watching Hollywood and what they are seeing is not pretty.  Maybe when this becomes about money and not art then someone will stand up and say something.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria September 30, 2009 at 4:03 PM

I’m also floored by the deafening silence and somewhat obsessed with this case. I know what happened to me in LA. But the truth is we don’t know how many of these famous actresses and women executives were pressured into sex with a powerful man to get into the business. Nobody talks about it. Perhaps this story hits too close to home, or perhaps they’re afraid if they say anything…they will never work again. Which goes to show you how little power women actually have in Hollywood.

I reread parts of Roman Polanki’s autobiography last night. He used to wait in a car for his teenage dates outside the Swiss finishing schools in Gstaad. It doesn’t sound like it was one underage girl or even two, if you include Kinski. From his own autobiography it’s more like hundreds. I think he was shocked by the original arrest because he had openly preyed on young girls for so long with impunity.

The film luminaries who signed this petition really “jumped the shark”, not understanding that the general public…is NOT down with child rape. They’ve shown themselves to be completely out of touch. And as much as I hate to admit it, the conservatives are right on this one. If this was Darfur or a crisis somewhere, there would be some big female celebrity getting publicity.

To the American male directors who signed this petition, I can’t even begin to describe how disappointed I am. I looked up to you as someone I want to emulate and this tells me you think women are nothing.

Sarah September 30, 2009 at 5:21 PM

No offense, but many feminist leaders tend to be out of touch, and are not always up front on certain issues. I think the only other feminist group I’ve seen speak out is Bitch Magazine, and only on their blog (not to say it won’t show up in print, but they are a quarterly magazine).

Allison September 30, 2009 at 8:16 PM

I have read articles on and the NOW website criticizing the Polanski apologists. Other than that, progressives and Hollywood liberals seem to be keeping mum. Pathetic. Progressives and feminists need to come out in full force and condemn Polanski.

Aside from Kirstie Alley, Sheri Sheppard, and Jewel, no entertainers have spoke out against Polanski. Meanwhile, over a hundred producers, directors, and actors have signed that stupid petition. Sickening.

C.K. September 30, 2009 at 8:43 PM

You’re right – the silence is deafening and sickening. I couldn’t believe what I heard from Whoopi Goldberg the other day on The View. Does it only count as ‘rape-rape’ if the victim has broken bones or the rapist isn’t famous? It turns my stomach to think of what all the people on this petition are supporting.

sally September 30, 2009 at 9:37 PM

If you signed a petition for him, you are a collaborator. On, they show the fabulous house his legal counsel is trying to get him in on house arrest.

In my mind, hey, if you want to speak to his character since the incident or what not, that is your right. But to become activist that he is an artist and such a stylish, rich artist man should not have the indignity of jail and SUBMISSION to a judge is appalling. I think it’s the SUBMISSION part that’s rich. The right to resist is exactly what he took away from the girl.

What the hell?

First of all, justice for heinous crimes are not about what the victim desires. If that were the case, a whole lot of criminals would be ripped to shreds. I mean for rape and murder and other heinous crimes, we don’t go…hey, the chick or family of the dead is over it so…whatevers. No, there is the danger of repetition. To protect society some crimes are not about whether the victim wants to press charges.

Second, this isn’t some seductive teenager where people were confused about her age. She was drugged. She said no. And Roman didn’t submit to her wishes then and thinks he’s too fabulous to submit to justice now. I mean, to allow someone to judge you and make you submit to punishment…I mean, what an unfair situation… that’s like getting fucked in the ass or something.

A man that is the man crush of every douche movie director man who wants to live the way he does in his seventies in FABULOUS style. The right kind of people. Like Ms. Phillip’s “Papa” – laws are not for us artist people with power. Is it their resistence to give up their crush? How the herd has to defend their man crush or admit they were wrong. A young girl would be lucky to be shanked in the ass by such a man and what is she anyway? I guess that any of the signers would love to go to someone’s house, be drugged, and say no, and still be shanked in the ass even at their age. Funny, I think that revulsion of that scene is why Roman resists an LA prison.

Kate Harding October 1, 2009 at 12:07 AM

You know what’s scary to me? That conservatives are agreeing with me. Do you know how much it pains me to say that?

TELL ME ABOUT IT. I said something in an interview tonight like, “I think Hollywood is kind of an insular world, and maybe in that world, it seems like the normal and acceptable thing is to support Polanski. But in the real world, we don’t support child rapists.” I was rather proud of that soundbite, until I told a friend about it and she said, “You know O’Reilly’s going to quote you, right?” (I did at least get in something like, “I think our culture often gives the benefit of the doubt to wealthy, powerful men, and not nearly often enough to female victims.” Ha! Quote that, righties who suddenly love me!)

I don’t need to tell you I’m just as obsessed and just as sickened. And just when I think my jaw can’t drop any lower, another name goes on the list. Unbelievable.

bruce nahin October 1, 2009 at 12:12 AM

Check out THE NEW AGENDA website- in my view they are the voice of non partisan feminism

Lynden Barber October 1, 2009 at 12:13 AM

I’m a film journalist and former artistic director (male) of the Sydney Film Festival and I agree with you – see my opinion piece in the Australian online journal headlined: Yes, He’s Talented AND He’s A Rapist.

bruce nahin October 1, 2009 at 12:14 AM
Karen October 1, 2009 at 12:47 AM

Your title says it best: “The Silence is Deafening” – Thanks for posting your thoughts and the links.

Elrond October 1, 2009 at 12:57 AM

I notice that the majority of polanski’s staunchest supporters seem to be Jewish. It is as if how could you approach such a talented and gifted man over a simple gentile girl?

Helen Hill October 1, 2009 at 2:06 AM

I am amazed at the “supportive” statements for Polanski.

He raped a 13 year old.
He raped a child.
He committed a felony.
He would be and should be labeled a SEX OFFENDER for LIFE!

And I also understand Hollywood where you are only as good as your last film, and where women are still dependent on a good old boys’ club of culture and immaturity.

If you bitch in Hollywood, as a woman, you’re out. If you want a career, you have to put up with a lot of crap you wouldn’t normally condone for anyone; especially for your own children!

I had a “sex change back” years ago (born hermaphrodite, raised a boy, developed like any girl) and have had a front row seat to the machinations that men do, and the hoops that women jump through.

I think what bothers me most are not so much what men are doing to women (and that bothers me a LOT!), but what women are doing to women by condoning, rationalizing, and being apologists for violations of a child, of a young girl, and in my view, of all women.

How can any woman sit there and say, “It’s okay, he’s a great artist.”???? It’s inhumane. It doesn’t take a feminist to see this as a gross violation. But it should take a feminist to shout, scream, and hollar until women believe they are themselves worth saving… and until men learn as a result of our “bitching” that this type of violence toward women will exact consequences, very bad consequences.

I am lucky to be a woman. I just wish more women felt that way.

Helen Hill MFT

Laure October 1, 2009 at 2:10 AM

This Polanski thing is absolutely sickening… a mother of a daughter , this rips into my heart. As a former liberal Democrat, I now am fortified in my choice to follow the conservatives….Whoopee Goldberg should be ashamed of herself-she has a daughter and a grand-daughter and she is throwing our gender under the bus. For Godsake, women are nurturers and caretakers of children…..we are here to protect them and make them feel secure in this world

Amy Siskind October 1, 2009 at 8:08 AM

Sign our JAIL POLANSKI petition at The New Agenda.

megapotamus October 1, 2009 at 8:22 AM

The writer and commenters here must be youngsters. Do you not remember that the notorious rapes and lesser assaults of Bill Clinton were roundly defended in Hollywood and on the Left across the board? You are dismayed to have so-called “conservatives” in your tent? Gee, the issue must not really be that big a deal then to take a backseat to such prosaic tribalism.
Estrich is truly a disgusting figure to have on your side and that is on the merits. She was an enthusiastic defender of Bill Clinton. She mocked, reviled and denied the testimony of Juanita Broaderick. She was also a weeping, begging victim but Estrich was happily using her own alleged victim status as a cudgel to silence and attack her as well as Kathleen Willey (who Clinton assaulted in the Oval Office the day she was widowed) and the perpetually slandered Paula Jones (who Clinton exposed his genitals to on a coffee break).
So you must not be too particular about who supports your positions. If this fraudulent, hypocritical gunslinger is one of your paragons, what’s a few Rushbots here and there?
I know it was all a long time ago but is anyone interested in getting justice or even an apology for Clinton’s numberless victims? Seems to me he also drugged and raped a teenager or two back when he was AG of AK.

Eileen October 1, 2009 at 9:09 AM

Could we not create a false equivalency between an allegation of rape two decades later and a rape that was admitted to by the perpetrator and immediately prosecuted? They are separate issues and it is no surprise that people approached them differently, whether I agree or not.

megapotamus October 1, 2009 at 10:33 AM

Sorry Eileen, no such stipulation is possible. Polanski did admit his crime, unlike Bill Clinton, though he did it as part of a plea deal on which he skipped. Sounds pretty Clintonian. The simple fact is that the big difference between Polanksi and Clinton is that Clinton continued his crimes publicly. Kathleen Willey, Gracen Ward and of course Jones demonstrate that his thirsts were unslaked by Broaderick. Those who complain that they are deafened lately by the Polanski silence are quite late to the game. We have never recovered from the deafening of the Clinton Silence of yesteryear which, evidently, continues unabated. Is it too late to hear from so-called feminists that Bill Clinton is a sexual predator who should be abhorred? Anyone? Buehler?

Therese Shechter October 1, 2009 at 11:08 AM

Well said, Melissa. Let’s all spread the word.

megapotamus October 1, 2009 at 11:33 AM


Tito Edwards October 1, 2009 at 11:34 AM

Thank you for being bold and speaking up about the silence in Hollywood.

I’ve noticed that both liberal and conservative Americans are in an uproar about how Hollywood would defend the indefensible.

So this isn’t a left or right issue, this is about values that we all share and rape is rape, no matter how Whoopie Goldberg tries to say otherwise.

megapotamus October 1, 2009 at 12:20 PM


Jean October 1, 2009 at 1:38 PM

Megapotamus, this a film website, look to your right. We mostly discuss women’s films and the experience of women in the film industry. Polanski is a topic because he’s a film director. Hollywood is actually not very liberal in reality, you’d know that if you lived and worked here. It’s Capitalism with a big C, all about making money, much the same as Goldman Sachs. By the way, I grew in a staunch Republican neighborhood, men started making passes at me when I was 12. This is not a Left/Right issue.

sara lee October 1, 2009 at 1:47 PM

I say let’s start our own petition against Polanski. I say let’s start a twitter trending topic and make it known that many many individuals of various political backgrounds, who happen to not be in the hollywood elite are ACTUALLY AGAINST polanski. I only see many celebs taking his side, but outside of that little hollywood bubble the public masses differ. Lets make our own change.

megapotamus October 1, 2009 at 1:56 PM

So Clinton’s cool then. Gotcha.

megapotamus October 1, 2009 at 2:09 PM

Apologies, I should have taken you more seriously. For anyone without ears for the Polanski Defense, I offer my own. The topic of the post is the “Deafening Silence” and its foundation. Nearly all commentors are expressing shock if not surprise, no? Yes. But why should that be? There is some psychologically based treatment and that is part of it; speculation as to the early traumas of Debra Winger etc… all within bounds. But if you are truly amazed by some turn of events it might profit you to look at recent history and no one can deny 1) the Polanski Defense is philosophically identical to the Clinton Defense and 2) the Clinton Defense was and still is uncontrovertial in many, maybe most precincts but especially in the entertainment field. And if we wonder why oh why Polanski to get any sort of answer we cannot forbid a look at Clinton. That is if answers are truly desired. And I agree, it is not Left/Right. It is about the crime, period. But what examination of the facts can possibly damn Polanski and not Clinton; can absolve Clinton and not Polanski? It is no difficult question. Exept for a very strict legalist interpretation the answer is a null set. Sorry.

Jean October 1, 2009 at 2:22 PM

Megapotamus, This is not a political blog and there are many. It’s a space where women share their thoughts and experiences in film industry. What are your thoughts on the 2009 Stuntwomen Awards Luncheon? The low numbers of women directors?

Does the general public know that women are discriminated against in the film industry? Since we’re dealing in stereotypes, if you’re a Republican you must have big bucks. Can you finance my film?? Cause we don’t get many visitors with money here, being poor artists and all. Most of all why are you picking on a bunch of women who can’t get jobs because we work in an industry that won’t hire women. Do you know anyone who can do something about that. Like maybe a free lawyer. I’m so overwhelmed by my debts from college and my last film, I don’t have the energy to focus on things outside the business. But a loan from a rich republican might allow me to quit my day job and focus on this whole Clinton thing.

recursiveparadox October 1, 2009 at 2:24 PM

I’m quite frankly amazed here that anyone is surprised. This kind of thing happens all. The. Time. Politics, Hollywood, TV, even activist groups will have famous white men in them who get away with rape and assault and abuse. This is endemic. Polanski is just one case where it got visible.


I don’t know enough about the Clinton situation to be able to give an informed opinion on it. I was only a kid around then. I’d like resources on it if you could but I don’t know whether that would fit this site’s spam guidelines or not. So you could swing by my blog, grab up my blog specific email or comment some resources about Clinton (on my post about Polanski) and how he relates.

Although I have to say, I would not be surprised if Clinton was just as bad. Not surprised at all.

Debbie Zipp October 1, 2009 at 2:27 PM

I wanted you to know that I respect and admire your courage in telling the truth about the Roman Polanski case. No matter how much we love and admire his talent and are sympathetic to his pain of being a holocaust survivor and loosing his wife and child so horrifically there is no excuse for what he did. He of all people should have know the agony he would inflict on this child by committing such a mind boggling crime. He needed to be stopped in his tracks at that time.

I know you feel you are alone but you are not. Joy Behar on “The View” has been very vocal about justice finally being served. If he wasn’t such a talented and celebrated artist in the film community and was an average slub down the street who had a tough childhood continuing the path of abuse there would be no support for that rapist. It seems money and power is above the law once again.

Thank you for being objective, seeing, stating and standing for what is right when the Hollywood elite and Women’s Groups are so overwhelmingly blinded by the power of his artistic stature. Justice is not blind and justice should be served no matter how late.

Debbie Zipp

Elena Perez October 1, 2009 at 6:08 PM

Just FYI, California National Organization for Women has been posting on this all week, by multiple writers with slightly different perspectives, and each writer has been very clear about how indefensible it is to support Polanski. I could not believe Peg Yorkin’s defense of dropping the case though.

Valerie Meachum October 1, 2009 at 6:21 PM

The list of those speaking isn’t long, nor is it larded with as many huge names. But it exists, and it is growing.

Someone above mentioned working for a trending topid on Twitter. The one I’m aware of right now is #artdoesnotexcuserape, referencing the Care2 counter-petition by the same name.

Keep speaking. We’ll keep joining you. The silence will be filled.

megapotamus October 1, 2009 at 7:17 PM

Jean, actuall I was laid off from my job as a field researcher for a big law firm in March and in any case I would be unlikely to put my modest holdings into the high risk field of film, sorry. I wish I could spare you the burdens of seeking and holding a job in whatever field but that is beyond my resources. That said, I’m not sure how a defense or studied ignorance of Bill Clinton’s serial attacks on whatever woman happened to be at hand when the lights are dim take any more or less effort than genuine concern for the victims of said crimes might cost you. Looks like you have some Daddy Issues. Let me be, probably not the first to tell you; the Snow White myth need some updating. No one is coming to rescue you romantically or economically and that is no one’s fault, not even yours. So be like Susan Estrich if you like and indict Polanski while you defend Clinton, or do otherwise.

recurssiveparadox, the internets know the names Broaderick, Willey and Kyle-Browning. Jones might be more difficult to search but appending Paula will weed things out for you. I hope the interest is genuine for I fear you folks here are laboring under a most bitter misapprehension. The outrage over Polanski, I don’t doubt is real, but only ignorance of Clinton’s many, many crimes against women can leave Roman Polanski alone in the dock.

Let me reiterate, this is no defense of Polanski, rather an indictment of Polanski critics who ignore the Clinton in the living room.

megapotamus October 1, 2009 at 7:28 PM

Joy Behar is absolutely in at least as bad a position as Estrich. Behar is on record absolving Clinton of every crime utterly WITHOUT, it must be said, any serious examination of the testimony of Juanita Broderick, Willey or any other aggrieved party. Please don’t fall for these faux moralists, friends. If it was Howard Dean and all this was coming out, they would be Deanistas. Count on it.

Anemone October 1, 2009 at 9:50 PM

I find the silence wrt the status of women in the film industry to be pretty scary myself. Women talk about getting jobs, but they don’t seem to want to talk about the culture at all.

Thank you for speaking out.

Helen Hill October 1, 2009 at 9:52 PM

Okay, I have to say something to Mr. Mega. And it is a Mr. isn’t it?

What in the hell are you posting here for? To rankle and tweak those women who post here? Do you get some buzz or joy or satisfaction from imagining that we are hypocrites over an event for which many of these women were still children? Do you not know that President Clinton was impeached (for lying under oath) about sex?

But more importantly, I see some underlying themes reminiscent of misogyny in your postings. You have attempted to define women as inconsistent based on who they like, regarding rape. Well, that’s not what is happening here. You are attempting, in my view, to say that rape is not rape depending on one’s point of view.

To that I say, “Bullshit.”

This is an indefensible position whether held by a man or a woman. Rape is a severe violation of the worst order. How many rapes do men encounter in their daily lives? How is it that well over 90% of all rapes are men preying upon women? HOw can you or anyone else justify that by making the specious statement that it depends on who you support?! That, quite frankly, is a statement a misogynist would make. Perhaps it could be a man angry at women because he lost his job while a woman kept hers. That is what I could imagine, Mr. Mega.

You want to bitch, fine. As I noted above, I was forced (quite literally) to live as a male, but one thing that never happened to me in “male mode” was an attempted rape. Not for 25 years. But in the first year of my REAL gender and life, in a safe suburban community, three skinheads jumped me on my nightly walk and tried to rape me.

Why is this okay with you? Why is it that you try to justify rape by saying women are inconsistent about it? Rape is a horrible act. You CANNOT justify regardless of anyone else’s positions on the matter.

It’s wrong. It’s always wrong. And it doesn’t matter what you or I think about Bill Clinton, Larry Craig, the Garrido perp, or dozens of others who may or may not have gotten away from being prosecuted.

It’s a moral imperative. You can’t justify it by saying “Look over here.” You’re scum when you do that. Because what one might really be saying is “Rape is okay.”

Are you implying that rape is okay? I would be interested in your background and your history of your relationships and dating experiences. What say ye?

Helen Hill MFT

Maxine October 5, 2009 at 2:05 AM

Love reading this, thanks for sticking your neck out. I’ve been tracking it too and there’s tons of good outspoken feminist shout about this. Katha Pollitt for one,
and also this on Salon
I’ve seen a bunch more but didn’t bookmark them. Everyone i know is outraged. Huffington Post WTF? I just turned 59 and it’s like deja vu all over again with so much of the left blowing this off.


Tammy October 5, 2009 at 2:46 PM

Mr. Mega is a right wing operative paid to post. You can tell because he stays “on message”.

Elle Schneider October 5, 2009 at 7:03 PM

Even as someone willing to debate age of consent and factor in societal differences in 1977, the act was non-consensual, which is what the majority of media outlets (and Whoopi Goldberg) seem to be missing.

I wrote a similar diatribe around the time Kate Harding wrote her much better version … unfortunately I’m not (yet?) ingrained enough into the entertainment industry to have an opinion worth much, and I really, really hate to get into women vs. hollywood debates because of issues not related to the discussion at hand.

So I’m not one who’s going to be super outspoken, but it does strike me as odd that few big-name women with real sway have spoken about the case for what it is.

Chuck W October 5, 2009 at 7:48 PM

I dont understand why you are even attempting to wave a flag on this issue. The reason everyone is being silent is because it is a dead issue. He raped a child. He confessed. He fled. He was apprehended and will now face sentencing.

If you had been screaming for thirty one years, then this would make sense. But it’s dead on arrival. Anyone can have an opinion, and to be frank… they are all worthless. This is a matter for the criminal justice system which is a travesty and a half. But no matter who says what on either side of this issue- its all moot.

Why isnt every feminist losing their shit over Letterman?

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