Mom Talk: I Worked For Harvey Weinstein

Written by

Sandeep Rehal

9:00 am

Photo Via Vanity Fair

We’re back with another round of “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life, to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Sandeep Rehal talks how her experience working for Harvey Weinstein has shaped the way she teaches her son about emotion, empathy, and respect towards everyone. -JKM

Years ago after college, I moved to New York City from the white-picket-fence suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. I landed my first real job at The Weinstein Company. Title? Personal Assistant to Harvey Weinstein, the Harvey Weinstein. I was told by everyone that this was the opportunity of a lifetime; a couple of years as his assistant and I could be promoted to a junior executive, or go get my dream job in fashion. I knew this wasn’t going to be a nine-to-five gig, and I was okay with being glued to my Blackberry, traveling to L.A. and London on a moment’s notice, taking dictations on Christmas Eve, sitting bedside with his mother at the hospital, attending the housekeeper’s funeral with his daughter, and dressing him from head to toe for the Met Gala. These tasks weren’t orthodox or ideal, but I was up for a challenge. What I wasn’t up for was the humiliation, shame, fear, and disgust I experienced almost daily.

To list just a few examples, he called me a “pussy” (sometimes worse) in front of company executives. He glanced down my shirt, and on more than one occasion, his eyes traveled from my heels to my thighs in slow motion. I couldn’t even keep count of the number of times he cornered me by pressing his belly against mine and threatening my job and any future opportunities I had there. My complaints to HR were counterproductive and not confidential. I figured out very early on that he was the company and the company was him. Period. But, the biggest shock was when I witnessed board members, media moguls, and big shot agents laugh and pat him on the back for his crude behavior.

I would stand there, feeling my cheeks turn from pale to pink to red to fire as he talked about how good I looked that day. “That’s a nice tight shirt,” he’d say slowly. Everyone in the conference room just looked the other way. When I was working at movie premieres and award shows, other assistants and random people in the industry often inquired, “Oh, you work for Harvey Weinstein? Ouch, how’s that?”

Fast forward to now. I’m married and with a baby. One morning in October 2017, I sat down to feed my son, turned on the television, and on what seemed like every channel were the headlines I thought I would never see. Titles like, “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades”. My phone was blowing up with texts and emails from friends, family, and old colleagues. For years, I had made my myself forget all the bad things that happened to me, and now with my former boss—the casting couch guru—outed at a scale I could only imagine, I should be able to sleep better. But, this isn’t the case. I wake up remembering names of girls he referred to as “friends”. I lay there looking at the ceiling fan, but all I can see are two leftover wine glasses and that dirty blue couch in the famous green room. I finally made the decision to contact a lawyer. And, with my hands shaking and voice quivering, I told her. I was sexual harassed by Harvey Weinstein. I walked into the HW Office with my head up and feet down everyday, and he did everything to strip me of my confidence, strength, integrity, authenticity, and happiness. He raped with his words and eyes. My conversation with her was shame and judgement free. This was the start of my healing process.

I had to personally tell my family about my experience before the release of another New York Times piece, “Weinstein’s Complicity Machine”, on December 5, 2017, in which I would be quoted. My conversation with my dad was the most interesting. It took a few turns. But, eventually we reached the topic of masculinity. He told me for the first time that growing up, as young as five, he was told that boys don’t come home crying, they fight. Boys don’t say they are scared. And, boys don’t show emotions, they are fearless and strong. He told me that once in school, he was standing in the hallway having a conversation with a girl and the other boys teased him for talking to her respectfully. They called him weak, while showing him what real men do: whistle, catcall, and ogle. However, these young boys and many of the same in present day aren’t born with learnt gender stereotypes. Learnt gender stereotypes are instilled in them by what they see, and perhaps what they are taught growing up in their own homes. It’s what society has showed them is the definition of being a man. I have a son, and as the mother to my beautiful Jai, I have made it my job to be aware. Given my personal experience and today’s milieu, it’s now more important than ever for me to raise my son to be kind, caring, and sensitive—to teach him how to respect women. I want to raise him without television commercials telling him he needs to be aggressive, roaring and playing with monster trucks. So, here are a few ways I am changing the way I raise my son and changing the language of masculinity in my home:

Phrases like “boys will be boys”, “you know how boys are”, and “don’t cry like a girl” are no longer welcome. I am teaching empathy by talking about feelings. Perhaps at only thirteen-months, my son is too young to actually converse with me, but I have Jai sit on the floor, and I speak to him with lots of hand gestures and expression in my face. He listens. He’s still a baby, so he’s supposed to cry, but I also encourage him to show such emotion. This technique has already proven to be a challenge for my husband, and I think it will continue to be as our son grows older. Typically, young boys are expected to stifle their tears. Personally, I believe that in doing this, a young boy’s chance to learn and understand his emotions has been taken away. My son is allowed to feel sad and angry, and we talk about why. Fortunately, what isn’t difficult for my husband is the nurturing side. We love group hugs, and Jai and his dad cuddle on the sofa all the time.

Just last week, Jai and I were waiting in line at FedEx. He is confidently walking now, so he wants to do just that and explore. I watched him as he stared and smiled at the people in the store. Then, the door opened and a teenage boy walked in with his mother. He was loud and making funny noises. He was autistic. My son ran towards me crying, wanting to be picked up. Right then, I made a conscious decision not to take him into my arms. Instead, I kneeled down and told Jai to wave. “It’s okay, sweetheart. Say ‘hi’,” I said, and I showed him. Instead of up in my arms scared, Jai continued to play. With a little hesitation, yes. But, the important lesson here is that he is learning to be comfortable around someone different than him.

The moms in my mommy group will often ask me, “So, what do you want him to play? Basketball? Football, perhaps?” And, I can’t help but think that there are so many things wrong with this question. Because he’s a boy, he’s expected to play sports? Why do the activities he partakes in and the interests he has have to be gender-based? My son loves music. If I’m singing, while sprucing up the house, he automatically starts humming the tune. So, maybe he wants to learn the piano or take dance lessons. I have learned to ignore and say “no” to family members telling me I need to dress him in sports jerseys and baseball caps.

This journey with my son will continue, and so will the lessons. The next one on my mind has been letting him know that saying and actually listening to the word “no” is encouraged—even to Mommy when she’s demanding a kiss. It’s his body. In the end, I don’t own him, I can only guide him. And, I hope my next one is a girl, so that while teaching him to be more sensitive, I can teach her to be stronger. Emphasis on the -er, because girls are already pretty strong.

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