On Thursday afternoon, multiple outlets reported that the disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was expected to turn himself in on criminal charges related to sexual assault. As this news broke, I was preparing to call the actress and photographer Katherine Kendall, one of the first women to publicly recount Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, and with whom I had scheduled a quick follow-up call for another story. “Have you heard the news?” I asked Kendall when she picked up. She hadn’t, and so I told her, in disbelief myself, that it had just been reported that Weinstein was expected to turn himself in. There was a long pause. “What?” she finally said. “Oh my God. Is this real?”
She sent a quick text to “the girls,” a group of several other people who have spoken out about Weinstein with whom she stays in contact. She logged on to Twitter and searched for the story; when she found it, the line went quiet once again. When she recovered her voice, it was quavering, and she sounded close to tears. “I’m in shock,” Kendall said to me. “I can’t believe it. I have goose bumps all over my arms. This is amazing. It’s insane.”
In October, Kendall (who is best known for her role as Lisa in Swingers) told her Weinstein story on the popular New York Times podcast The Daily. In a 1993 meeting at Weinstein’s apartment, when she was an aspiring actress, Kendall said Weinstein exposed himself to her and tried to force her to show him her breasts, and when she resisted and demanded he call a cab so she could leave, Weinstein, much to her horror, got in the cab with her. She exited the taxi in front of a Lower West Side bar, went in, and told the bartender, “Please, just talk to me like you know me.” Weinstein sat in the cab for 20 minutes watching her through the bar window before the cab finally drove away.
Like so many who have spoken out about Weinstein, Kendall did not go public with her story until years after it happened, because she feared repercussions from Weinstein and did not expect people to believe her. Also like many who have spoken out about Weinstein, she did not press charges and the statute of limitations concerning the incident has long since passed. But the catharsis I heard in her voice as she processed this news was overwhelming. As with Bill Cosby’s recent conviction, even if Weinstein is legally charged with only a fraction of the assaults he is said to have committed, the fact there are legal consequences to his actions might provide some of the other women with some level of closure. “This has been an abuse of power, and it needs to be addressed,” Kendall said. “It can’t be swept under the rug. It can’t be something where people think, ‘Men will be men,’ or, ‘Well, that’s just human nature.’ We’re evolved. We have the skill set to change that part of humanity.”
What follows is my conversation with Kendall in the moments after she learned the news about Weinstein’s impending arrest. It has been edited for length and clarity.
How validating is this news for you?
It’s huge. It’s huge. I have so much gratitude for the men and women who have been working so hard to help this come to justice. They have been working nonstop. [Her voice breaks.] Obviously thank you to all the women that came forward and told their truths.
There’s a way in which we minimize our experiences sometimes, when they happen, because we have to just to get through it. There’s that old-fashioned way of thinking, “Well, that’s just men. Men just do that sometimes. It’s our job to be warriors and be strong.” But it’s like … imagine if you grew up in a household where, just as an example, where your parents hit you and called you names. And you just thought it was normal. It hurt, but you learned to live with the dull pain, and then one day someone finally tells you that it’s not normal. It’s so shocking. You knew that something was wrong, but you didn’t know that something was wrong, the whole time. You know you have this thing that really hurt you and screwed you up, but there was always a part of me, and still sometimes a part of me that’s like, “Well, I mean, was it that bad? I got away. I handled myself. I this, I that, I’m cool, I’m tough, I’m strong.” But the truth is that I never should have had to be terrified like that in that situation.
It is fundamentally a terrifying thing when someone exposes himself to you, or acts inappropriate in a sexual way. It’s much scarier than you think it’s going to be, even as an adult woman. Even when you think you’ve been around the block: You live in New York City, and you wait tables, and you’ve seen it all—you still should never have to see that. It breaks through all social barriers and just gets to the little girl in all of us that’s just like, “What the fuck is going on? This is not what I signed up for. This is not a consensual situation.”
It’s really meaningful that this is something that people are taking so seriously. It started off as a small, specific thing, just talking about Harvey. Just what I thought was one man and his abuse toward women in one small industry. And it’s opened up and it’s such a universal situation.
What changes have you observed within Hollywood in the past six months?
People in Hollywood that I know—young actors, older actors, everybody that I know—has been pretty supportive. I’ve had actors come up to me and say, “I’ve changed the way I act on sets.” And they weren’t even gross. They were just unconscious and maybe not being as thoughtful as possible. So people are looking at their behavior. And not scared, like, “Oh my God, I might be a perpetrator.” But maybe like, “I didn’t know how much I could hurt someone with a small statement. Maybe I’m going to do that differently in the future.”
Do you think the #MeToo movement has created ripple effects outside of Hollywood?
I just went to my 30th high school reunion, and there were girls that were harassed by teachers back in the day. We all know that happened. It’s terrible. But how much pain people have kept inside for so long, in a world where women were so powerless. And so few people saw it—I mean, besides other women. This is so much bigger than Hollywood. It’s in schools, all the places of work, it’s everywhere. All over this country, all over this world.
I’ve traveled a little bit around the country and seen some of the effects on people. I did a speech in Missouri, and it was still a hot topic there. They wanted to talk about it, they wanted to know. People were curious. People were still very open to wanting to know what to do next. People are having sexual assault and harassment workshops and things that never happened before. My stepmother told me that her office—she works for a hospital—had their first sexual harassment workshop in about 20 years the other day.
Many of Weinstein’s alleged assaults, including the one he committed against you, are past the statute of limitations. Were you skeptical that he’d ever face charges?
I am surprised, yeah. I know that at the time when it happened to me, I definitely felt like the person who was going to get hurt the most, by coming forward, was me. Not him. Because the power imbalance was not in my favor. And [because of] the way that society looked at women, the way we treated people back then. The way all of us were complicit in saying, “Well, you know, she dressed a certain way,” or whatever. It just wasn’t done. You didn’t have a leg to stand on.
We just couldn’t … we’ve been so powerless in the ways to change it, because the law does not … you can’t prove these things that easily. So it’s really hard to convict people, even of rape, sadly. Which is why the cycle continues, because consequences just haven’t been there.
But it’s really happening. I can’t believe this is happening. It’s so funny, because there are some people I know that kind of think it’s done, that the movement is done. Like it was just a phase. But this confirms the hugeness of it to me, once again.
How has going public changed the way you think about your story?
I used to be so much more forgiving, like, People just didn’t know, how could they know? They weren’t in the room. Only those of us who were in the rooms really knew. But the more I know, the more I know that women told people all the time. So people did know. Agents knew. But they didn’t care.
Especially when these guys have such a pattern. There’s always such a pattern with them. With Harvey, the robe and the massage, and always flashing people and being naked in front of them? To not know that that scared the fuck out of people is crazy! Because he can see it on people’s faces. Girls left crying, girls left tense, girls left furious. He knows that. But he’s in the world of actors, for crying out loud, where you read people! You can’t just say, everything I did was consensual. Please. He knows.
There’s a part of me that thinks sometimes, “Did he know? Was he just so dumb he didn’t know?” He’s a people-reader. That’s what he does for a living! Some girls were crying as he did things to them. They were crying right in his face! The fuck he didn’t know.
How hopeful do you feel about the future? Do you think these changes will last?
My little brother—I have a half brother who’s 16, and he’s learning about this stuff in school. I hope that that continues. At first I thought, “Oh, the conversation might be too risqué for my little brother.” I’ve always thought of him as so young. I don’t want to bring up the subject of sex around him yet. But you know what? They know, and that’s the age to talk about all this.
The other night we were watching the Frontline episode I was on, and right as it started and my face came up, he reached over and took my hand. It was the sweetest moment in the world! He gets it. He gets more than I think he does. Is it because he has a great mother and a great father, or is it because in general he’s being taught how to talk to women and how to listen to women? And see women, see them for what they really are and not just objects. I don’t know. But I am really hopeful.