I have just finished listening to Paris Hilton’s memoirs. I know what you are thinking, but just go ahead and read it. I do not want to spoil it, trust me, even if you did not expect it, it is very good. A friend recently recommended the book and I thought I would give it a try. I also watched the “This Is Paris” documentary in 2020 and it started to change my opinion of the so-called “It-Girl” of the early 2000s. No matter what our view on Paris Hilton may be, she makes an interesting point in her book:
One of her ex-boyfriends released a sex-tape without her consent (he had also talked her into filming it, but let’s leave this piece of information out for now). We all remember the headlines about the infamous “One Night in Paris”-video. It was everywhere – and the interesting thing about it was that everybody talked about HER. “Paris released it to get famous”, “She is messed up”, “She is a sl*t, a wh*re” – until today, more than 20 years later, and despite all her achievements, she is still being linked to that video.
When I think back to the early 2000s, Paris Hilton and her friends were all over the media – I remember the fashion magazines and their coverage of her Juicy Couture sweatpants and Von Dutch caps. It was normal to read headlines about Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears depicting them as “messed up” celebrities. It was normal to make fun of them. Looking back, what I find troubling is that nobody ever questioned that video. All the blame was put on her, the victim, not the guy who talked her into it and who came to a lot of money (and a few minutes of fame) by releasing it. The media canon was clear: of course, she was in on it. Why is she complaining? A woman who does stuff like that is clearly in on it and deserves our judgement.
Hilton claims this video not only damaged her relationship to her family but also destroyed her career. It all sounds similar to what happened to Pamela Anderson whose career was also harmed because of a similar media-rage after a stranger released about Anderson and her husband. The crazy thing is that while everyone shamed the female victims, calling them names in discussions and headlines. Why did nobody blame the person who released it? He was “applauded”, he made money. And so many media outlets jumped onto the public humiliation. Did nobody find it disgusting that in Paris Hilton’s case, this video showed a teenage girl in a compromising situation? The man was the “hero” while the woman was the “sl*t” who deserved public shaming.
I listened to this chapter during a run last week. While I was running down a long boulevard with beautiful trees, I reflected on my past dating life. As I have written in many Postcards, I was single for long stretches of my twenties and even though I was unlucky (or silly) with some of my dating choices, I was lucky that nothing bad ever happened to me – because it can happen fast. But what do I mean with “bad”? Probably the extreme – abuse or even rape. But there were many, many situations where I did not respond the way a man expected me to (for example, I did not give him the attention he thought he deserved) or where I did not want to do what he wanted me to.
Let me give you a few examples: I once was at a party at a friend’s house. I had just started my job in civil service working with victims of human trafficking. It was a lot to process on a daily basis and I just wanted to have a fun night with friends. A guy started chatting to me, we had some drinks and at first, he seemed nice and really interested in what I do professionally. Just to also give you the right picture: when I go out and have fun, I make jokes, I tease people and very often men misinterpreted this as flirting with them. I realized that the guy made some moves, but I was not interested and I tried to get out of the conversation. Suddenly, he started getting loud, he started yelling in front of all the party guests: “Who the f*ck do you think you are? You paint yourself as this good person, but actually you are just a selfish sl*t.” I was paralysed. Did he just say that?! The party went silent. I was embarrassed, my eyes started tearing up (I tried to fight them, but because I had a few drinks, I could not hold them back.) I looked around if anyone would say something, nobody did. He just called me a sl*t because I was not interested in him. Does that makes sense!? I ran out of the party, a few minutes later my friend caught up to me. She had told the guy off – she was the only one of a party of about 30 guests… For days, I could not process it. Did I do something wrong?
Unfortunately, I started to see patterns – a few months later, I went to a club in London with friends. There was also a work colleague of my friend with us who, the more drunk he got, the sleazier his moves become. When he tried to “hug” me, I made an elegant twirl and tried to dance away. He ran after me and shouted “you think you are good-looking, but you are actually an ugly b*tch”. And this was not the only time, I got to hear things like that – it happened many times. The worst was a guy in a bar in Shanghai who used similar expressions just because me and my friend talked to his friend while he got a drink. Every time, nobody spoke up. I said nothing. I felt ashamed. We just left. And I know that I am not the only woman – many of my girlfriends were in similar situations. We just brushed it off – another crazy guy. But is it not crazy that women have to listen to this? Very often, when I told the story – to men AND women, I got asked: “what did you do, maybe you mislead them?”. I think it is similar to being asked what you wore when you complain that a man groped you.
In addition to these experiences in clubs, I also had multiple work situations where men got insulting when I did not do what they expected (or when I got out of a “business meeting” which clearly was not seen as a business meeting by them). Texts, voice messages, emails or confrontations in front of business partners or co-workers calling me similar names as mentioned above (the “nicest” one was always “princess” or “my dear”). I really wonder if they thought they would teach me a lesson.
I felt bad when I learned about Paris Hilton’s story. I was also among the people who made fun of her. At the same time, I am writing this today and thinking about my own experiences; that I did not defend myself and speak up or that nobody spoke up for me. I cannot blame anyone individually for their reaction. I guess it was different times and the overall way women were viewed and how they were depicted in the media or how we were expected to behave was also very different. I remember what we were told as young girls or what we even told each other much later as young women: If he teases you, he likes you. I guess in a lot of ways, I tried to tell myself that maybe that was the grown-up version of teasing. But teasing does not equal verbal abuse.I know that today, I would not take sh*t like that anymore. Naturally, I am older and I think I know how I can handle it.
I am not writing this to receive pity. I am writing about this because I never really spoke about it and I know that somebody needs to read about it. When it happened, it took me time to process. I did not want to discuss it, because it brought embarrassing moments back to me – because I thought maybe it was indeed my fault (even though I knew it was not). Because we did not really talk about it, we did not see that the problem was not us, but these guys who had an ego-problem. I am writing about this because if it happened to you, I want you to know that it is not YOU, it is them. Nobody has the right to pressure you or yell at you or call you names just because you want to do what YOU want to do and not what that other person expects you to do.