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Colorado College professor harassed by Weinstein: 'We all have to wake up.'

October 14, 2017 Updated: October 16, 2017 at 10:33 am
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Colorado College professor Tomi-Ann Roberts is among a growing number of women, in Hollywood and beyond, who have come forward with claims of unwanted sexual advances and encounters with producer Harvey Weinstein. Courtesy photo.

Harvey Weinstein isn't the only reason Colorado College professor Tomi-Ann Roberts wound up pursuing the life and career path she did, but he is certainly - now - the most infamous.

"There wasn't a straight unbroken line from Harvey Weinstein's apartment to my Ph.D. in psychology and my scholarly and advocacy work.... But there sure was a broken, sometimes crooked one," Roberts said, in response to emailed questions from The Gazette. "I had many encounters with men in graduate school and my early career who would undermine my competence with seemingly benign comments on my physical appearance. This is a sort of 'death by a thousand cuts.'"

There was nothing benign about the overtures Weinstein allegedly made to Roberts back in 1984, however.

She was a 20-year-old aspiring actress, waiting tables in New York City during summer break from Smith College. Weinstein was one of her customers, and he seemed to develop a professional interest. He encouraged her to audition for a movie he was making, plied her with scripts, and ultimately invited her to meet with him, privately, to talk about the film.

As Roberts recounted to the New York Times, when she arrived at the designated location, Weinstein was naked in the bathtub. He urged her to take off her clothes, too, arguing that she should be comfortable disrobing in front of him because an acting role might call for nudity.

Roberts apologized and left. It would be more than 30 years before that disturbing encounter, along with a growing number of sexual harassment and assault claims against Weinstein by other women, received the attention Roberts always knew it deserved.

The now-jobless and maritally estranged mogul seemed too big to fail.

"In each of these cases we see that it takes a long time before many women report (or, in some cases, women reported at the time but got nowhere)," Roberts said. "And so perhaps we can now finally stop asking as the first question, 'Why didn't you come forward with this sooner?' Because there was no one to come forward TO ... or there would be retaliation."

The Oct. 5 Times expose detailing the allegations - the worst, worst-kept secret in Hollywood - triggered something of a meltdown of the Tinseltown machine, as well as a supernova response from screen standard bearers. Since the news broke, stars have flared on social media, weighing in with support for the women who've come forward, condemnation for the accused and, in some cases, to share their own "casting couch" experiences.

Among them is actress Rose McGowan, who - as was revealed in the Times piece - received $100,000 from Weinstein in 1997 in a legal settlement resulting from McGowan's claims that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in a hotel room in 1997.

McGowan's sister, Daisy, an artist and faculty member at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, shared her support in a post on Facebook.

"(S)o fiercely proud of Rose McGowan - effecting massive change with one brave voice supporting many more to RISE and challenge the sick status quo," wrote Daisy McGowan, completing the thought with #rosearmy.

Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, now Weinstein: Roberts hopes the most recent straw leads to a break in assumptions about progress, and an awakening at large.

"I believe we are reaching critical mass here. As soon as powerful women begin to speak up, it allows other less powerful women to see that they can join the chorus and be BELIEVED," said Roberts.

As a result of the negative experiences she had with men, such as Weinstein, in the professional arena, Roberts said she decided the best revenge would be "in a life well-lived through researching, writing, and advocating around these issues."

After graduating from Smith in 1985 and earning her Ph.D. from Stanford University, Roberts joined the faculty at Colorado College in 1993 and, since 1998, has been a professor of psychology, author and researcher focusing on the psychological consequences of sexual objectification and sexualization of girls and women.

She'd like to think modern culture is moving in the right direction, but the proliferation of social media could stunt that growth.

Today, there are "innumerable ways for girls to be bullied based on their physical appearance, and for them to self-sexualize as a way to earn popularity," Roberts said.

"Self-sexualization" is the internalization of a sexually-objectified view of oneself. Hollywood and social media aren't the only enablers.

"We are all participants in a culture that gives boys and men the socially sanctioned right to objectify girls' and women's bodies," she said. "This is a human dignity issue. Schools, workplaces, families, yes, we all have to wake up."

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