Last week Amber Tamblyn shared that James Woods made inappropriate advances towards she and a friend when she was only 16. He quickly branded her a liar, but Tamblyn held her ground and published an open letter to the actor on Teen Vogue's website, urging him to own his actions and use this as a learning experience.
The actress and author writes that, when she was the 21-year-old star of a TV series, a crew member exhibited behavior that made her feel unsafe, such as showing up at her apartment unannounced and entering her trailer when she wasn't in it. Nervously, Tamblyn approached the show's producer to tell him what was going on.
"My hands were freezing and I balled my wardrobe skirt up around my fists as I spoke," she recalls. "It was all caught in my throat — my embarrassment that it had gotten to this point. The producer listened. Then he said, 'Well, there are two sides to every story.'"
The unnamed producer's response is infuriating and upsetting, but it probably won't come as a surprise to most women.
"For women in America who come forward with stories of harassment, abuse and sexual assault, there are not two sides to every story, however noble that principle might seem. Women do not get to have a side. They get to have an interrogation," Tamblyn writes. "Too often, they are questioned mercilessly about whether their side is legitimate. Especially if that side happens to accuse a man of stature, then that woman has to consider the scrutiny and repercussions she’ll be subjected to by sharing her side."
We often hear that sexual assault allegations ruin men's careers, but all evidence points to the contrary. Case in point: On October 7, the infamous Access Hollywood tape was leaked. The behavior that Donald Trump bragged about fell under the Department of Justice's legal definition of sexual assault. A month later, millions of us watched in horror as he was elected president. Personally, I felt as though I'd been sent a loud and clear message: Sexual assault is not disqualifying, even when one is seeking the highest office in the land.
In her op-ed, Tamblyn points out that, according to Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 65 percent of sexual assaults went unreported between 2006 and 2010. "What’s the point, if you won’t be believed?" she writes.
Tamblyn also directly responds to Woods' claim that she lied about the encounter. "What would I get out of accusing this person of such an action, almost 20 years after the fact? Notoriety, power or respect?" she asks. "I am more than confident with my quota of all three. Even then, why would I choose the guy from Scary Movie 2 to help my stature when I’m already married to the other guy from Scary Movie 2?"
Woods' accusation that Tamblyn is lying "sent me back to that day in that producer’s office, and back to all the days I’ve spent in the offices of men; of feeling unsure, uneasy, questioned and disbelieved, no matter the conversation."
Like any other crime, people accused of sexual harassment and sexual violence are innocent until proven guilty. But women and men who come forward with allegations are liars until proven truthful, and we're looked upon with doubt in a manner that victims of other crimes are not.
To re-emphasize Tamblyn's point, it's no wonder so many people stay silent. But her op-ed ends on a positive, empowering note. Post-election, she and several "incredible women" formed a text chain that served as "a space to vent, to cry, to dream about starting a commune with Hillary Clinton and anthropomorphizing Tom Hardy into a dreamy horse we could ride into the sunset. We needed a space to give one another supportive, strong advice."
This community of support has proven invaluable and Tamblyn notes that she and her friends are hardly the only women who are slowly but surely finding our voices and refusing to be silenced. There is strength in numbers.
"The women I know, myself included, are done, though, playing the credentials game. We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change," she concludes.