|Danielle Berrin and Ari Shavit|
When Billy Bush and Donald Trump descended on that Access Hollywood set with their lascivious vulgarities eleven years ago (as shown in the Trump Tape), Billy Bush was 33 years old--fish hook firmly lodged. Trump was 59, an age when for most of us sexuality begins to mellow. Not for Trump: he remained in the firm grip of his libido. The fish hook jerked him around so hard he lacked control of his hands, his brain, or his mouth. At age 70 not much seems to have changed.
Some say Donald Trump and Billy Bush manifest the tip-of-the-iceberg of a "rape culture," where women are objectified and their bodies belong to men. "It's engrained in all of us," says Kelly Oxford, a Canadian writer. After the Trump Tape came out, Oxford asked women to share their stories about men on her Twitter feed. Trump had hit a nerve: soon Oxford was getting 50 stories per minute. According to Danielle Berrin, a young writer about the Jewish social scene in Los Angeles, the New York Times estimated that 27 million responded or viewed Oxford's site in response to this call for testimonial solidarity.
These numbers proved irresistible. Writing in the Jewish Journal, Berrin took aim at Ari Shavit, a prominent Israeli writer, journalist, and commentator on Israel's Channel 10. [Berrin did not "name" Shavit, but her reference was so unmistakable that Shavit was forced to admit it was him in short order]
Here is Berrin's story. In 2014 she and Shavit met in a Los Angeles hotel for an interview, over drinks, at 10:00 p.m. Shavit was on tour promoting his successful book, My Promised Land. The book was a New York times bestseller; it was named one of the best books of 2014 by the New York Times Review of Books and The Economist. A chapter of the book was excerpted in the New Yorker and David Remnick (editor in chief of the New Yorker) promoted it heavily for Shavit. Shavit was interviewed by Charlie Rose, his book was warmly reviewed by Leon Wieseltier in the the New York Times, and Shavit's star was high in the firmament.
Berrin was enthralled with Shavit and his book: "[Here was] someone I deeply respected," she said. "I’d read his book voraciously and underlined passages; I’d even read every review, and recommended the book to friends." She felt it was an important interview — one she was lucky to get. So she understandably felt disappointed when Shavit was more interested to engage her romantically than to sit for another interview. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, they say. And what greater scorn than not being taken seriously as a writer/interviewer and being invited to enter into an amorous relationship instead?
But Berrin sat on her fury for two years. She did not write an article about "My interview with Ari Shavit" the day or week after the event, two years ago. Perhaps she did not wish to burn bridges with Shavit; perhaps she did not wish to make potential future interview subjects wary. It's understandable. But in the wake of the Trump Tape the calculation changed. Berrin now decided to burn Shavit for clicks. Today a Google search for both of their names comes up with 113,000 stories in 0.87 seconds. That's a lot of clicks.
Here's what drove those clicks. He had a "lecherous look on his face" reported Berrin. "After I answered one of his questions in a way that moved him, he lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him." He has an "arrangement with his wife," she reported him saying. "Let's go up to my room, just for a minute." Shavit was barking up the wrong tree. "I remember how ridiculous his pickup line sounded," said Berrin, "even as it filled me with dread. Even as he continued to pull and paw at me."
Pretty strong stuff. But here's the thing. Unless we were there it's awfully hard to judge what happens between a man and a women in private, who's being flirtatious and who's being an oaf. Undoubtedly Berrin felt spurned in her interview. Shavit has admitted he tried to engage Berrin romantically. Those two undisputed facts don't tell us enough. "Lecherous?" "Lurched like a barnyard animal?" I'd defer judgment on these characterizations in a two year old story opportunistically trotted out to catch eyeballs; I'm deferring judgment on whether Shavit deserves to be ostracized, to lose his job, his reputation, and perhaps his livelihood. I'm deferring judgment on whether Berrin is an innocent victim of abusive male privilege.
Berrin's story has caused Shavit's star to come tumbling down. In the wake of her story Shavit has lost his job at Haaretz, lost his position at Channel 10, and he has been disinvited from speaking tours in the United States. Berrin has magnanimously accepted Shavit's apology.
Sex is not for wallflowers: it's a contact sport. When it comes to sex and romance people take risks, and they get hurt.... and it's not only women who get hurt. There is female privilege as well as male privilege. Danielle Berrin wields power with her seductive Hollywood looks, her "fuck me shoes"--as a powerful female friend calls high heels. Using such powers comes with risks, just like succumbing to that power with randy male bullshit moves comes with risks. Hell, you might lose your job.
Magic Johnson, word had it, has bedded 1,000 women. I'm betting Shavit doesn't hold a candle to that. Me, I'm 62 years old, my count is two. But I've flirted, I've taken risks, I've been jerked around. I've been lucky. No broken bones, no job lost. Marriage intact.
I look at Shavit and I think "there but for the grace of God...." It makes me slow to judge.