Monday 23 September 2019

Weinstein's wife a victim of privilege envy

Anna Wintour is bringing Weinstein's wife Georgina Chapman in from the cold, writes Sarah Caden

AFTER WEINSTEIN: Georgina Chapman shouldn’t be held responsible for her husband’s actions
AFTER WEINSTEIN: Georgina Chapman shouldn’t be held responsible for her husband’s actions

Sarah Caden

In her interview for the June issue of American Vogue, which came out last week, Georgina Chapman reveals that she is still in contact with her estranged husband, Harvey Weinstein. They have two children, India (7) and Dashiell (5), and homes and assets, in common. So, while the interview deals a great amount in how this man has ruined Chapman's life, he remains in her life.

The Vogue interviewer, Jonathan Van Meter, asks Chapman about Weinstein's current state of mind. "Clearly when I was married to him I didn't know anything about his state of mind," Chapman replied, "so I'm probably not the best person to ask."

The first allegations of specific assaults, followed by allegations of intimidation by actresses and other women involved in the movie business, were apparently as much news to Chapman as they were to the rest of the world.

"I lost 10 pounds in five days. I couldn't keep food down," she says to Vogue of her reaction to the reports, adding that it took her two days to absorb what it all meant. She swiftly followed that realisation with a public announcement that she would divorce the disgraced producer.

"My head was spinning," she says, "and it was difficult because the first article was about a time long before I'd ever met him, so there was a minute where I couldn't make an informed decision. And then the stories expanded and I realised that this wasn't an isolated incident. And I knew that I needed to step away and take the kids out of here."

Chapman is co-owner of fashion company Marchesa. The Hollywood awards season and the Oscars in particular were Marchesa's finest hour. It was the most worn label in awards season, in the same way that Weinstein, once, was a dominating force in that domain.

Where once Marchesa, with its floaty, dreamy tulle creations filled the red carpet, there was now a sea of defiant black gowns. She and her business partner Keren Craig decided though it was inappropriate to participate, Chapman says, adding that it was a "time for mourning".

Without seeming to lay it on too heavily, the Vogue interview with Georgina Chapman is her MeToo moment. It is a skilful piece of publicity and public rehabilitation, for a woman who was taken by some to have been complicit in Weinstein's alleged behaviour, cast almost as a collaborator who benefited from his brash and bullying showbiz power and turned a blind eye because it suited her.

Despite the fact that she separated from him almost immediately all allegations broke, there was the sense that Georgina Chapman and Marchesa were irrevocably damaged and, worse, guilty by association. It was sort of accepted that Weinstein's behaviour was beyond Chapman's control, but she was cast as guilty by association.

And that this was unfair is very much the message from American Vogue this week. And when one says American Vogue, one really means Anna Wintour.

The first sign that Georgina Chapman might be surfacing since October's storm of allegations, followed by MeToo and a supposed sea change in attitudes, came at last week's annual Met Gala in New York, run by American Vogue.

What is worn on the Met Gala red carpet matters, and this year's religious theme saw a slew of rig-outs concerned more with controversy and sensation than actual style - think Rihanna's nod to the Pope and Katy Perry's angel wings.

Scarlett Johansson, however, wore Marchesa.

It was significant that it was Johansson who wore the label. Johansson, who was a key speaker at January's Women's March in LA, at which she called out her fellow actor James Franco for his alleged sexual predations, is not an actor who might be considered a pushover.

In the recent past, it has been alleged that pressure to wear Marchesa was brought to bear on actresses associated with Weinstein-produced movies. Actress Jessica Chastain has publicly said that she was bullied into wearing Marchesa on the red carpet, so it was important that when Marchesa came back, it was on an actress not only of note, but one beyond political reproach.

Sure, Johansson got some criticism for wearing Marchesa and seeming to introduce Chapman back into the fold, but she gave good quotes about supporting women in business.

Then, two days later, Anna Wintour wrote in her editor's letter of the Vogue June edition about the ostracising of Chapman since October.

"I am firmly convinced that Georgina had no idea about her husband's behaviour," Wintour wrote, "blaming her for any of it, as too many have in our gladiatorial digital age, is wrong. I believe that one should not hold a person responsible for the actions of his or her partner."

Chapman may have believed her marriage was good and her life was "wonderful", as she says to Vogue, but just because her husband is now alleged to be far from wonderful, this doesn't mean she was either an idiot or implicated.

Instead, it just means she didn't know. And she's paying a price for not knowing, even if she's capable, as the Vogue interview portrays, of continuing to live a very privileged and pretty life. According to Georgina Chapman, she didn't see what is alleged to have gone on because she wasn't keeping close tabs on her husband, she wasn't possessive or obsessive about knowing where he was or what he was doing. It sounds like an admirable quality.

For her kids, though, Georgina Chapman says she "sobs". They love their father, she tells Vogue, she dreads the implications of the scandal for them, long-term. But the suffering is all relative, might say the alleged victims of Weinstein's reported bullying and assaults. Rich kids being treated as pariahs sees the mini violins coming out.

So they are members of a rarified club, says Huma Abedin, a recent close friend of Georgina Chapman. Abedin, a former Hillary Clinton staffer, is the ex-wife of Matthew Weiner, the ex-congressman whose sexting habits went public and led to his resignation and their divorce. Abedin knows what it means to be publicly mortified, she also knows what it means to be innocent until the explosion.

In the June Vogue, Abedin talks about Chapman and the lack of sympathy for women like them both.

"This particular club, ironically, it's not such a small one," Abedin says. "Women who have had to endure it in such a public way, women like Georgina and me. People don't feel sorry for us; you don't get that empathy. People think you're beautiful, you're thin, you're rich, you're photographed on the red carpet, and you get stuck in this category."

Whether her dress outing on a red carpet and a slick interview in Vogue can elicit sympathy for Chapman is one question. Whether there's any way to summon empathy for her is another matter. Abedin is correct in observing that it's a stretch to feel sorry for someone like Georgina Chapman, still so seemingly blessed in almost every way. She remains successful, rich and well connected. It's hard to regard her as hard done by with all that behind her. But none of it means she knew what her husband is said to have been up to, which suggests that punishment for her privilege is what's happening with Georgina Chapman, rather than anything at all fair.

Sunday Independent

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