KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
In 1984, Tomi-Ann Roberts was a 20-year-old student at Smith College, and she was spending the summer in New York City. She met Harvey Weinstein when he ate at the restaurant where she was waiting tables. It was there that he suggested she audition for one of his earliest films. She took him up on the offer. She reviewed scripts, planned to audition. And when Weinstein invited her to his apartment, she went thinking other people involved with the movie would be there, too.
Instead, she found Harvey Weinstein alone in the bathtub. And in a story that is starting to sound very familiar, Roberts says Weinstein asked her to remove her shirt. He said topless scenes might be required for the role she was auditioning for. She declined apologetically and left.
And today, more than 30 years later, she is a professor of psychology focusing on, among other things, the psychological consequences of the sexual objectification of women. Earlier today, we talked about what has struck her after hearing so many stories this week like her own.
TOMI-ANN ROBERTS: We've now heard stories of fellow employees at the Weinstein Company knowing when it was their time to exit because it was Mr. Weinstein's turn to have an individual private meeting. You know, it's just so - it's so upsetting to think about how obviously this individual man couldn't have accomplished this kind of move without a cast of supporting actors and then victims who themselves were in a position to feel absolutely paralyzed by a choice of whether or not to go along with something that may or may not get me what I want or to preserve my dignity and get out of there.
MCEVERS: I mean, the way Harvey Weinstein treated women has been called this open secret in Hollywood. It was even joked about on stage at the Oscars at one point. There were occasional articles. Yet, you know, none of it seemed to have any impact on his career up to now. Did you watch those things over the years?
ROBERTS: Oh, absolutely.
MCEVERS: And what did you think?
ROBERTS: When it happened to me, of course the Weinstein brothers were relatively unknown. But as the years would go by and I would find myself at an Oscars party, at a friend's house - everybody's toasting champagne, you know? And every once in a while, if I felt I was in safe enough company, I would sort of shyly whisper, the casting couch is real. I happen to know it.
ROBERTS: But I do remember when Seth MacFarlane made that joke. I thought, this is sick. First of all, the laughter sounded nervous to me. But really, a joke like that - he seems to be claiming now that he did it as a way of trying to out Harvey Weinstein. I don't buy that for a minute. That joke put those five actresses exactly in their place. It says to those five actresses, you used to have to pretend you were attracted to Harvey Weinstein. You don't anymore. And that also, you know - Harvey Weinstein 10, all those actresses zero once again.
MCEVERS: Yeah. How much of a direct result of what happened with Harvey Weinstein was your decision to study what you study in academia, to focus on the sexualization of women in your academic work?
ROBERTS: It certainly wasn't a coincidence. And I have to probably say that the line isn't a solid one but rather a dotted one. But it is definitely a dotted line because after that experience, I had many occasions in graduate school and in my early career when an older man who refused to comment on my words and instead, you know, says something about how pretty I looked when I was seeing them or a comment on what I'm wearing.
The socially sanctioned right of men to do that began to occur to me as, you know, part of a continuum. You know, there was my experience with Harvey Weinstein, and then there were these experiences. And I thought, this is what I want to study. I want to study what it's like to become a woman in a culture where this is the case.
MCEVERS: Wow. Gwyneth Paltrow has also come forward with her own story about an experience with Harvey Weinstein. And she said this. We are at a point in time when women need to send a clear message that this is over, this way of treating women is over. And you have, you know, a personal and a professional, like, view of this. Do you think...
ROBERTS: I do.
MCEVERS: You think we're close to over?
ROBERTS: Oh, gosh, I don't think we're anywhere close to over, unfortunately. But I am so delighted. When this kind of a star makes a statement like that, I'd like to hope it's a call to arms, as it were. And we see that as soon as these very powerful figures came forward, many, many others were able to join in because they finally thought there is now an audience who will want to hear what I'm saying.
MCEVERS: Tomi-Ann Roberts, thank you so much for talking to us today.
ROBERTS: Thank you, Kelly. It's been a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.