“Don’t embarrass me in the hotel,” Harvey Weinstein commanded model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez in a recording published on Tuesday by the New Yorker. Released with a story detailing part of a long history of rape and sexual assault allegations leveled against the producer, the recording was initially part of a New York City Police Department sting engineered days after Weinstein allegedly sexually assaulted Gutierrez. The police fitted Gutierrez with a wire which she wore to meet Weinstein at his hotel. The resulting conversation is a disturbingly familiar exchange; Weinstein attempts to verbally coerce Gutierrez out of a more public space and into the privacy of his hotel room.
“If you embarrass me in this hotel where I’m staying at...,” Weinstein threatens, “I’m not embarrassing you. It’s just that... I don’t feel comfortable,” Gutierrez replies in a pleading tone. Weinstein continues to threaten and cajole, “Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes,” he tells her. Throughout the back and forth, he admits to assaulting her and admits that he does such things with regularity. And yet, throughout the course of the recording, Weinstein characterizes Gutierrez as irrational and unstable; it is her refusal to submit that is embarrassing, her behavior that is judged inappropriate for the public spaces at the Grand Tribeca Hotel. “Please, you’re making a big scene,” Weinstein finally says to her.
“You’re making a scene,” is a phrase that nearly every woman is familiar with. It’s invoked to command a kind of moral authority over women’s behavior, quickly coding it as irrational and veering towards crazy. To “make a scene” is a series of ever-changing images, flexible enough to be used to describe a range of behaviors. To “make a scene,” can be to act melodramatically or to overreact; to publicly express uncomfortable feelings or to be simply too visible, to draw too much attention to yourself, rendering your behavior wrong or even indecent. It can be to cry, to be angry, to be petulant or simply disagreeable. The phrase “to make a scene” purposefully conjures up the theater, it implies that “making a scene” is inauthentic and unnecessary; it suggests too, that such behavior is always unseemly and embarrassing.
The expression of emotion is essentially gendered, particularly in public. Unbridled feeling is marked as feminine, its expression either treated as the stuff of lowbrow sentimentality or medically suspect. It is irrational, embarrassing and even crazy. Masculinity, despite interventions, is defined by its innate stoicism and rationality. History has repeated those opposing images, persistently granting moral and intellectual authority to the rational, with such regularity that they hardly seem citational any longer. Instead, those antique images are regularly updated in order to continue to shape reality, repeated for both our entertainment and our derision. Crazy ex-girlfriends and hysterical women still haunt because they are powerful—a compelling reminder that, left to their own devices, women will devolve into pure emotion. “You’re making a scene,” is a phrase that points to no particular behavior, no exact emotion, but instead signifies only the gender of the behavior. It is a quick corrective that, strengthed by the weight of history, shames the receipient, reminding them of an innate power dynamic and the ownernship of rational behavior.
“You’re making a scene,” is a phrase that grants power to the person who wields it; to say it out loud is to subsequently possess the moral judgment inherent in the phrase. When Weinstein derisively tells Guterriez that she’s “making a big scene,” he seizes his authority as a social arbiter of sorts, allowed to determine what constitutes the scene itself. He holds in his hands the so-called objective perspective—innately clear-headed and unsullied by feeling, he can rationally see the irrationality of Guterriez’s behavior and offer a subsequent and appropriately detached corrective. Think, for a moment, of witnessing such an exchange: a man and a woman arguing in public, the argument ending abruptly when he utters the phrase, “You’re making a scene.” It doesn’t require much imagination to conjure up the exchange because it is so familiar that it almost seems natural.
If the phrase serves to quickly end a woman’s expression of emotion, then it also serves to define that behavior as performatively unnatural. Almost any allegation can be thus dismissed as yet another crazy, irrational woman making yet another unnecessary scene. Rose McGowan, one of the few of Weinstein’s victims to speak publicly about her abuse, was called “batshit insane,” and her habit of speaking openly about the casual sexism in Hollywood, treated as a questionable spectacle from an unwell woman. McGowan did not act like a victim should. She was angry and messy rather than polite and meek about her allegations. We prefer victims to be “brave,” to articulate their abuse without the messy feelings of anger or regret inflecting the narrative. Anger is for the men who have been accused who, even after mounting evidence of their abusive behavior, still only have to say “these charges are not true,” to provide evidence of their rationality. A victim’s anger is a messy spectacle—a big scene—but the anger of the accused is an objective response to so-called false allegations. McGowan made a scene even as other victims, through threats and media manipulation, were rendered silent, prevented from making a scene.
The behavior correctives contained in the “you’re making a scene” are more than simple speech, more than a simple demand to alter behavior. They are easily internalized, othering women from their sense of self, leaving a kind of a shame that is so old and so reproduced that it no longer has an exact origin. In both the New York Times’s and the New Yorker’s coverage, many of Weinstein’s victims spoke about their own sense of responsibility for their reactions. “The thing with being a victim is I felt responsible,” Asia Argento told the New Yorker. “Because, if I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away. But I didn’t. And so I felt responsible.”
There is some great irony that now, after more than two dozen women accused Weinstein of abuses ranging from sexual harassment, assault and rape, the producer appealed to the narrative of mental illness and redemption, subverting criminal responsibility. On Tuesday night, TMZ reported that Weinstein would enter a rehabilitation facility for sex addiction. No matter that neither the American Psychiatric Association nor the World Health Organization recognize sex addiction as a disorder, Weinstein again positioned himself as a victim of irrational women by claiming the questionable mantle of mental illness. After years of tacitly pathologizing his victims, after decades of coding them crazy and unstable and “making a scene,” Weinstein believes that he can be publicly rehabilitated with “heavy therapy and counseling.” That might, sadly, be true and the women left to seek justice will have to make a scene.