Disgrace

“What do you have to say to the women who will never forgive you?”

“That sounds like such a horrible burden that they’ve decided to keep carrying.”

Vice Investigates recently aired their fifth episode, Disgrace. It examines the aftermath of the #metoo movement for two of the accused, Charlie Hallowell and Jay Asher. I was particularly interested in watching it because, well, I was a part of the lawsuit brought against Charlie Hallowell and my story was part of the original San Francisco Chronicle article that broke the story.

I have a lot to say about this. First of all, it’s really awkward and trippy to have a traumatic moment relived on television. When I worked at Penrose, Charlie came up to me, put his arm around me and asked me, “When was the last time someone came inside you?” Holy shit, it’s always really awkward to know that everyone who read about that and is watching this episode has been given a quick glimpse into one of the most awful, humiliating moments of my bartending career. How often am I going to have to relive that? I’m glad we’re making progress with feminism, and if this is the price I have to pay, then okay, I’ll live with it, but, omigod. That was not why I turned on the TV tonight. So that was accompanied with a wave of panic and shame.

Secondly, god, the entire thing made me feel so fucking gross. Initially, I only wanted to watch it because Karina, my friend and co-defendant, gave an interview for the piece. I guess I hadn’t thought about how nauseous and repulsed and creeped out the entire thing would make me feel. It felt like someone was trying to reach in my head and manipulate me through my television set. Not in the ‘all television is propaganda’ kinda way, but in a hyperspecific way that was aimed at exactly me and about thirty other women who stood up to Charlie back then. The quote above was what really got me – as though Charlie were trying to trick me into forgiving him as a way to seek validation from me in the most desperate yet condescending way possible. What a fucking con job.

Thirdly, I love Tarana Burke’s perspective in the story. She said that it is up to the survivors and the community to decide how the men come back. Throughout the episode, we are shown Charlie’s struggles, the time he has put in at therapy, the suffering he has gone through, his financial situation. He talks about losing two of his restaurants and the financial burden of trying to keep his other two restaurants open. In an attempt to be objective, I understand that his depiction of his business situation can garner sympathy. However, we, the survivors, immediately asked that Charlie step down from his restaurants. That was what we wanted. That was what we saw as the first step to redemption for Charlie. He didn’t do that. Charlie decided to hang onto his businesses, which, sure, I get it, it’s probably hard to walk away from an empire that you have built from scratch. But Charlie admitted in the episode that his attempt to hang onto that empire has plunged him into massive debt. The irony here is not lost on me: if Charlie had actually listened to us and stepped back from his restaurants, he probably wouldn’t be in the dire financial situation he finds himself in today. But he decided to do it his way, to try to save the restaurants. I’m not sure if that’s working for him, but if he loses all of his restaurants, then the survivors will have gotten what they asked for initially, and he will have gone about it in the most self destructive manner possible.

Lastly, a manager at one of his restaurants engaged in restorative justice with Charlie and welcomed him back because she didn’t believe that cancelling Charlie was the change she wanted to see in the world. In response to that, I would just like to state that the local restaurant world is indeed changing. I’ve been working in the bar and restaurant industry for the past eight years, and recently there has been an uptick in ownership and visibility of women, immigrant, POC and queer owned establishments. As Charlie has faded away, new stars have come into focus, and this place has changed. Cancelling Charlie Hallowell was one piece in the puzzle of making this industry an equitable and safe place for everybody. If anybody thinks that cancelling Charlie was the only thing that we have done to make these changes, then they simply aren’t paying attention.

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