On a packed subway car a few weeks ago, I listened to actress Katherine Kendall on "The Daily" podcast describe her horrifying ordeal with Harvey Weinstein. The host, New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro, asked Kendall if her feelings about the incident had changed after she came forward. In a steady voice, Kendall answered that she was finally able to release the shame she'd held on to for so long. She felt as though she was "holding hands with all of the other women who had come forward."
I reeled as I gripped the subway pole. Hot tears spilled onto my cheeks "I want that," I thought. I wanted someone to hold my hand; I wanted to hold someone else's hand.
I had carried my own shame for 13 years. I'd told few people about my incident with James Toback because, for the most part, I still blamed myself. That wasn't something I wanted to admit. But when women started to come forward about Weinstein, I realized here was an opportunity to be listened to without being blamed.gi
It is a surreal thing to hardly speak of something for 13 years — until you tell it to the whole world on the Internet. I was unprepared for the consequences.
And yet, something in our country's collective psyche has shifted. Women are being heard and believed. I felt I could reach other women if I spoke about my experience with Toback. That was reason enough to come forward — I hoped to prevent other women from falling prey to him in the same way. My fantasy was that he would be held accountable for what he had done to me — and what, I estimated were hundreds of other women.
And so I wrote a post for Medium detailing what had happened to me in 2003. I had told few people what about it, so I was terrified to publish such a personal story. I was scared no one would read it — and scared people would.
People read it. Women, mostly, searching the Internet for others sharing their allegations of sexual harassment and assault at Toback's hand. The remarkable thing is how similar all the accounts are. Toback, despite publicly denying any impropriety, seems to have had a playbook and rarely deviated from it.
It would start innocuously. He'd approach you on the street, in the park, or maybe at a deli. For me, it was a copy center. He'd ask if you were an aspiring actress, then tell you he felt a connection to you.
If you were like me at age 23 — and it turns out more than 300 women allege they were — this type of seeming kismetic encounter tapped right into the stuff of dreams. I wanted so badly to be noticed and taken seriously by someone of importance that it felt as if I had willed that moment into being. It felt plausible because I had imagined some iteration of so many times.
Next, Toback would pull out his credentials, so you knew he was the real deal. He was a movie director with a Motion Picture Academy membership card on hand. A follow-up meeting would be arranged — perhaps in a restaurant or a secluded corner of Central Park. He would say you are perfect for the lead in his next film.
This is when you start to wonder if he was feeding you lies. But the part of you that wanted to believe you are worthy of being discovered would drown out the quiet fear and apprehension starting to percolate.
Then another meeting would be scheduled — often framed as an audition. The setting would be in a hotel room or, sometimes, his apartment. Your brain is trying to signal desperately that this is probably a bad idea. But you go anyway.
This meeting quickly went from the professional to the personal. I was asked to disrobe and mocked when I protested. If I was uncomfortable, perhaps I wasn't truly serious about the craft? This is the hard part for people who have never been in a theater class to understand: A young acting student is told time and again to be open to all kinds of experiences, even the difficult ones. You are encouraged to be fearless and take risks. If you fall, good. It is learning how to pick yourself up that will make you better the next time.
It is not that our acting teachers wanted us to be violated. But, as actress Lupita Nyong'o wrote about Weinstein in The New York Times, "I was entering into a business where the intimate is often professional and so the lines are blurred."
When Toback told me to get undressed, I was humiliated. But he had created the pretense of a master class and I felt pressured to rise to the occasion.
When he began to rub himself against my leg, however, I could no longer bear it. I managed to get dressed and leave. Other women say they weren't as lucky. Other women say they were forced to stay.
After I came forward, women started to tell me their stories. There were emails, Facebook messages, tweets, calls and Instagram notifications. One woman called me in tears. She had read her own story in my words, and had never even told her husband what had happened. Old friends, old lovers, old acquaintances reached out to tell me they were proud of me.
I felt strong — until I started to crumble. I wanted to be there for all of them. Then I started to panic that I couldn't sustain the expectation of the person I had suddenly become. Strangers called me stupid online, blaming me for what had happened. I started to feel less like myself and more like a set of rag doll parts, barely held together at the seams.
Right now, however, an army of woman has issued a collective battle cry. We are working overtime to dress each other's painful wounds with words of support and encouragement. Some women are just finding their voice: For them, it's a whisper that each day grows a little more audible. For others, it is a shout or scream that has so long been silenced it can't be contained a moment longer.
When you set your voice free, it gets carried out into the world like a rocket floating in air. It lands in the hearts of others, penetrating their fear and strengthening their resolve. It is a visceral thing — people nourish themselves on your truth until they are strong enough to speak their own.
I released my shame and the weight of its escape cracked me open into a hundred little pieces that I'm now picking up and putting back into place. When I opened myself up, power came coursing through my veins and filled me with the strength of a warrior.
I have since been knocked down, like a sand castle struck by a wave. But I have found a way to stand up.
Because I am standing next to all the other women holding my hand; I am holding their hand.
Sari Kamin grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio and attended Skidmore College before earning a Master's Degree in Food Studies from NYU. She is the host of "Food Without Borders" on Heritage Radio Network, a weekly podcast about food, politics, and identity.