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Monday, December 16, 2002
posted by Jen at 12/16/2002 12:51:00 PM

Today's topic: Harvey Weinstein -- Oppressed Man of Size or Just Big Bully?

Last week's New Yorker ran a lengthy profile of the co-founder of Miramax (which of course I can't find online). The piece included quotes from fans (Gwyneth Paltrow), enemies (practically everyone else in Hollywood), and ambivalent-sounding employees ("It's the instant gratification with him. That's why he's fat," offered Meryl Poster, Miramax's co-president of production. "He doesn't say no to food or cigarettes.")

On Monday morning, Liz Smithleapt to Weinstein's defense , claiming that he's a passionate guy who's just been misunderstood, and that he's been bashed in tony circles because he's large. "(L)et me say first off that if Harvey Weinstein resembled someone like the slim, trim and handsome Bob Iger of ABC, nobody would be running around feeling perfectly free to blast him," Smith writes. "Harvey is sometimes loud, aggressive and just plain plump. In a society overwhelmed with anorexic longings, Harvey's size alone makes it easy to give him a hard time."

(Smith goes on to undercut her power-to-the-people stance with the unintentionally amusing disclaimer that she's not beholden to Harvey because "he has never yet given me a gift I couldn't happily pass on to the maid.")

But it's an interesting question. Did Ken Auletta's piece criticize Weinstein for his girth instead of his behavior? Is a public figure's physical appearance always fair game? And would anyone even be talking about any of this if Harvey were Harriet?

First, the Auletta piece. Weinstein's described as six feet tall and two hundred and fifty pounds, which hardly makes him a candidate for circus work (in the full-page picture he looks like your standard-issue James Gandolfini-esque burly guy). But he's also described as, quite literally, throwing his weight around with, for example, the studio behind Oscar competitor "A Beautiful Mind." "To the petite (Stacey) Snider, he was a fearsome sight -- his eyes dark and glowering, his fleshy face unshaved, his belly jutting forward half a foot or so ahead of his body. He jabbed a finger at Snider's face and screamed, 'You're going to go down for this!'"

And that's about the only size-related description we get. To be sure, Weinstein's described as a bully -- an angry man who yells and swears and loses his temper and makes outsized threats and demands rewrites and reshoots and re-edits, a chain-smoking, Diet-Coke-swilling vulgarian who threatens reporters and once terrified a producer by throwing a marble ashtray at their common wall ("I though we were hit by an earthquake," she recalled.)

So did Weinstein get bashed? If you're a Weinstein fan, you'd probably say yes. Did he get bashed for his size? I don't think so. And I'm generally pretty sensitive to this stuff. I think the reporter described Weinstein's body, and his use of it, to illustrate dramatically just how scary he can be. And I think that in doing so, whether he intended this or not, Ken Auletta struck a blow for gender equality.

Think about it -- how many profiles of female executives, artists, movers and shakers have you read where physical descriptions were an integral part of the story?

When Jamie Tarses was in power at ABC, you could barely read an article about her that didn't make mention of her ringlets ("in over her hair," Maureen Dowd sneered when Tarses got the boot).

Hillary Clinton, politician. Tina Brown, editor. Sherry Lansing, studio head. Dip into a profile, and chances are you'll find a description of hair, of clothing, of ankles and hips in poor Hillary's case. And it's still not the same with men. Read their profiles and you'll learn all you'd ever want to know about their education, their resumes, their histories....but you'll get nary a mention of man's build or his bald spot.

Seems that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Either journalists have to ignore the way everyone looks, or they have to treat male and female subjects with the same degree of scrutiny.

More about this soon, but now, I've got to go do some fiction.
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