The week@work – A tipping point @work?

There was only one major story that stood out this week@work: sexual harassment allegations against one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. It incorporated all the elements of stories reported earlier this year, in Silicon Valley and at Fox News. Will 2017 be the end of “the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment” ?

Time will tell. The common thread to all – the responses: “It’s about time.” “Nobody is surprised.” It doesn’t matter where you work. Women know the story. Women professionals relate to the description of the work environment: an unsafe place. A workplace absent of values and respect.

On the front pages of major newspapers, it’s Hollywood. In the neighborhood, it’s the local fast-food restaurant.

Alexandria Symonds provided a window into the ‘story behind the story’ of The New York Times journalists who covered “three major investigative reports about sexual misconduct across the media, tech and film industries” this year.

“It starts with a whisper. A prominent man has used his wealth and power to harass or abuse a woman — or worse — and then to intimidate her, or to buy her silence.

As several reporters at The New York Times have learned this year, it rarely ends with a single woman, a single whisper.”

On October 5, The New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey reported ‘Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.’

“Dozens of Mr. Weinstein’s former and current employees, from assistants to top executives, said they knew of inappropriate conduct while they worked for him. Only a handful said they ever confronted him.

Mr. Weinstein enforced a code of silence; employees of the Weinstein Company have contracts saying they will not criticize it or its leaders in a way that could harm its “business reputation” or “any employee’s personal reputation,” a recent document shows. And most of the women accepting payouts agreed to confidentiality clauses prohibiting them from speaking about the deals or the events that led to them.”

On October 10, journalist Ronan Farrow described the results of his ten month investigation, ‘From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories’.

“For more than twenty years, Weinstein, who is now sixty-five, has also been trailed by rumors of sexual harassment and assault. His behavior has been an open secret to many in Hollywood and beyond, but previous attempts by many publications, including The New Yorker, to investigate and publish the story over the years fell short of the demands of journalistic evidence. Too few people were willing to speak, much less allow a reporter to use their names, and Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, payoffs, and legal threats to suppress their accounts.

In the course of a ten-month investigation, I was told by thirteen women that, between the nineteen-nineties and 2015, Weinstein sexually harassed or assaulted them. Their allegations corroborate and overlap with the Times’ revelations, and also include far more serious claims.”

In a podcast conversation on Thursday, The New Yorker executive editor, Dorothy Wickenden and staff writer, Jia Tolentino discussed ‘The End of the Weinstein Era’ and the effect the revelations might have on modern workplace culture.

“Over the last year women have started coming forward because there is an obvious, absolute need to. There is support in the media. It’s all of a sudden seeming both infinitely more possible and more necessary to come forward.”

Ms. Symonds also detected an inkling of change in the outcomes of the three NY Times investigations.

“…the investigations are beginning to have powerful real-life consequences. Mr. Weinstein was fired by the Weinstein Company three days after The Times’s first report was published. Mr. O’Reilly was ousted by Fox News on April 19. And the venture capitalist Dave McClure stepped down from his company, 500 Startups, several days after Ms. Benner’s report.

The journalists agreed that there has also been an accompanying shift in the culture around disclosure. “I think that what you saw almost immediately was a growing safe space for more women to come forward and tell their stories,” Ms. Twohey said.”

This past week also marked the one year anniversary of the release of the infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes. The risk of not speaking up has become a risk beyond our individual workplace.

 

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy

Are you one of the many who fumbles their way through a conversation of the classics, with vague memories of the Cliff Notes version, having never read the original? You’re not alone, and the ‘Saturday Read’ this week is the first step to fill in the blanks with ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy.

“Do you feel pressured to read certain books?” Journalist Alison Flood posed this question after a poll conducted by market research firm, ‘YouGov’, found that “Britons are weighed down with regret over novels they haven’t found ‘time and patience’ for”, garnering a series of Twitter comments concluding, you should try it, you might like it.

“…maybe it’s a classic because it’s good, not because it’s hard. I did precisely that with War and Peace; giving it a crack because I felt I should, and then being startled to discover that it was actually fun. Not a trial at all.”

Only 4% of Britons surveyed had read War and Peace, but that began to change with the broadcast this month of the Harvey Weinstein produced, BBC Television production of the novel as a four part, eight hour mini series.

“Judging by our recent sales … an awful lot of people have finally crossed this classic off their must-read list. Four different editions of the book have hit our bestseller list, shifting an almost equal number of copies each,” said Waterstones buyer Joseph Knobbs.

At publisher Wordsworth Editions, managing director Helen Trayler said that sales of War and Peace had grown steadily after the first episode of the new TV adaptation, with its edition in the top 20 of the Bookseller’s small publisher charts ever since the show launched.”

In December, 1,300 people joined together for a live, four day, marathon reading of the novel on Russian TV.

“Tolstoy’s great-great-granddaughter Fekla Tolstaya coordinated the participants, who are each reading a two to three-minute passage of the novel’s more than half a million words from schools, museums, libraries and other locations around the world.

Readers include Polish film director and Oscar winner Andrzej Wajda, Bolshoi Ballet director Vladimir Urin and Russian politician Valentina Matvienko. Cosmonaut Sergei Volkov contributed a reading from the International Space Station, and French readers were coordinated to read the book’s French sections”

 

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Yes, the book is written in French and English in the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation.

Clara Bell, reviewing the novel in 1886 for the New York Times criticized both the novel and Count Tolstoy’s domestic environment.

“In fact, War and Peace may be called an illustrated historical essay rather than a novel, there being no semblance of a plot, and the characters serving to develop the public events rather than being developed by them. This inversion of the usual rule, together with the subtle but unmistakeable savor of fatalism which pervades the whole work, disturbs the reader with the same sense of vague discomfort that must have chilled many of Count Tolstoi’s foreign admirers when they found their hero living in a shabby, comfortless, untidy house a little way out of Moscow, where carpets and clean tablecloths appeared to be equally rare.”

So we avoid reading ‘War and Peace’ because it’s described as daunting, boring, long, confusing and required. What if we took the advice of journalist Flood and read it for enjoyment? I did and it is long, but amazing and you will find the seeds of many subsequent classics, and ‘not so classic’ in the story.

It turns out Count Tolstoy had a lot to say about contemporary issues; the individual, happiness and occupation-work. One example, the thoughts of character Pierre Bezukov after he is released from prison at the end of the war.

“The absence of suffering, the satisfaction of one’s needs, and the resulting freedom to choose one’s occupation, that is, one’s way of life, now seemed to Pierre the highest and most unquestionable human happiness.

“…the satisfaction of his needs…now that he was deprived of them all, seemed perfect happiness to Pierre, and the choice of an occupation, that is, of a life, now, when that choice was so limited, seemed to him such an easy matter that he forgot that a superfluidity of life’s comforts destroys all the happiness of the satisfaction of one’s needs, and that a greater freedom to choose one’s occupation, the freedom which in this life was granted him by education, wealth, social position – precisely that freedom made the choice of an occupation insolubly difficult and destroyed the very need and possibility of an occupation.”

This is why we read ‘War and Peace’. It’s why Russian TV devoted four days to a live reading. And why one of Hollywood’s leaders decided to executive produce a screenplay of his favorite novel.

If you are still a bit of a skeptic, Philip Hensher of The Guardian offers ‘War and Peace: the 10 things you need to know (if you haven’t actually read it)’

” 7. Anyone who tells you that you can skip the “War” parts and only read the “Peace” parts is an idiot. The bits that interest you personally and the bits that you find of only abstract curiosity are going to change when you read the book at 20, and again at 50. The book is the product of a very big mind, who lost interest in almost everything War and Peace was about before he died. It is a living organism that is never quite the same as you remembered when you go back to it.”