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OPINION: The Complicit Exodus of Julie Chen



Julie Chen Les Moonves The Talk CBS Sexual assault

In the wake of sexual assault allegations surrounding husband and now-former CBS CEO Les Moonves, Julie Chen has voiced her support of his claims to innocence, having left one of her two CBS TV hosting gigs at The Talk while remaining onboard its reality game show, Big Brother. Columnist Rachel Abbott weighs in.

Content Warnings:

Sexual assault, rape, violence against women.

In the wake of sexual assault allegations against her husband (former CBS CEO, Les Moonves), TV host and personality Julie Chen announced that she will be stepping down from her position at CBS daytime talk show The Talk. Along with that announcement came the news that she will, however, retain her position as host of the reality game show Big Brother. Chen made a public note about her position on the issue. Stating the following: 

“I have known my husband, Leslie Moonves, since the mid-90s, and I have been married to him for almost 14 years,” Chen said in a July 27 statement. “Leslie is a good man and loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader. He has always been a kind, decent and moral human being. I fully support my husband and stand behind him and his statement.”

Chen continued on to announce via Twitter that she would be taking a brief hiatus from The Talk a few days ahead of its ninth season premiere to spend time with her family, but made splashes in the media by signing off from Big Brother for the first time in her eighteen year tenure as host not as just Julie Chen, but as Julie Chen-Moonves.

At the height of the #MeToo movement earlier this year, twelve women stepped forward and accused Les Moonves of sexual assault and harassment. Moonves was formerly a Chairman and CEO at CBS, as well as an executive at Showtime and the publishing house Simon & Schuster. His victims stand by their allegations of Moonves, which include an array of acts of sexual violence ranging from forced kissing to rape, all of which spanned over a series of decades from the eighties to the late aughts. He reportedly threatened to end women’s careers if they didn’t acquiesce to his advances; and more of these allegations against him can be read in Time Magazine and the New Yorker.

I have no doubt in my mind that Les Moonves is a predator and rapist. After all, a key component of the #MeToo movement is to believe women when they share their experiences, and I believe the twelve women who have spoken out against Moonves. They’ve demonstrated great bravery in speaking out against one of television’s most influential and profitable leaders. Moonves fiercely denied the allegations, saying that he may have made advances but never crossed a line of consent. He has since stepped down from his positions at CBS but remains employed in a limited capacity while they train his predecessor.

His wife, Julie Chen, lingers somewhere between neutral and supportive of her husband. As stated above, as host of Big Brother, she recently began greeting and signing off as Julie Chen-Moonves, a subtle but significant addition to her professional name. Watchers have taken this as a signal that she’s standing by her husband in light of his rape accusations. Logic follows that if she’s standing by her husband, she’s denying the validity of the accusations made against him. However, her exodus from The Talk, of which she was a founding employee since its inception 9 years ago, indicates that the accusations are taking a toll on their family and personal lives.  


“Right now I need to spend more time at home, with my husband and our young son, so I’ve decided to leave The Talk,” she said in her farewell statement.

On a personal level, I find this entire situation difficult to grasp. My knee-jerk reaction is to be angry with Julie Chen. How can she so blatantly disregard the accusations of twelve women against her husband? Moreover, why would she want to? I can’t imagine aligning myself with a man accused of such monstrous and reprehensible behavior. I wouldn’t want that kind of human to be my husband. The logic to follow is worse, that being the thought that perhaps she knew all along. Perhaps she’d heard stories of him fondling his employees and chose to look the other way. But even that seems too evil. It’s easier for me to imagine that she didn’t know and learned of this news at the same time as the rest of us. Given the timeframe of the accusations, not only was he assaulting women in the workplace, but he was assaulting women in the workplace while married to Julie Chen. Sexually abusive, cheating, manipulative of the careers of a dozen young women—these signals should send Chen running — not walking — in the direction opposite her life partner.

And yet.

And yet, we also must be cognizant of the fact that we do not have access to the Moonves-Chen household. We don’t have access to whatever surely painful conversations have occurred over the past few months. At the very least, we can guess that Chen is distressed by the news about her husband — whether that be because of the realization that her husband is, in fact, a sexual assailant, or due to the overwhelming coverage the press has given this issue. Given that Moonves has assaulted at least a dozen women in his life, Julie Chen could very likely be experiencing assault and manipulation herself. Leaving now, as Moonves grapples with his damaged career and reputation, could spell disaster for Chen and her son. It does not matter how wealthy, established, or accomplished Chen seems to us; serial abusers have highly developed tactics of manipulation that can bring even the most powerful woman to her knees. Indeed, many abusers get off on targeting powerful women in particular.

That’s not to say that Julie Chen is necessarily suffering from domestic abuse herself; we don’t know her life and cannot fairly draw conclusions based on the actions of her husband. And while the actions of her husband are not a reflection of Chen’s character, we must remember that she is sharing a household and a child with a rich, influential man with a track record of abusive and violent behaviors. Whether she had acknowledged it to herself or not, she is in a dangerous position.

I want to ask Julie Chen to be better. I want her to state that she believes the women who have accused her husband, that she’s ended her relationship with the man she thought she knew, that she and her son will be creating a beautiful life for themselves away from that evil man. I want her to remove all traces of this abusive monster’s influence in her life. I want her to apologize to the survivors of her husband’s abuse, as well as for not believing them sooner. I want least want her to stop using her husband’s fucking name on national TV. Maybe I want too much.

On the other hand, I must remind myself that wanting these things from Julie Chen is akin to making her atone for her husband’s crimes, which as mentioned a moment ago, we cannot do. Chen herself hasn’t done anything wrong, apart from being too publicly passive. Is it fair to ask that she apologize and uproot her entire life? It should be him of whom we ask for atonement, him that we ask to throw his life into uncertainty, not her. As someone who was recently making $70 million a year, he can certainly afford to put himself into intensive therapy and community service.

Julie Chen’s situation is complicated and precarious. Above all, I wish for her safety in the coming months as she and her husband deal with the allegations against him. However, I also wish for her to take a stand on the side of the abused — on the right side of history (or, in this case, herstory). I want her to live a life free from abuse and free from complicity. I hope she can find that.

Rachel Abbott is a columnist for About Magazine. By day she works at Half Price Books, and by night, she writes. She is interested in the LGBTQ+ women’s experiences, intersectional feminism, and WLW media. Her fiction writing has appeared in Prairie Margins, The Stockholm Review, Z Publishing’s Texas Emerging Writers Anthology, and more. She studied creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. Now she lives in the heart of Houston with her partner and their two rescued dogs.

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Election Day and People Like Brett Kavanaugh



About Feminism Feminism Feminist Equality Women

About Feminism, No. 2

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court may have happened weeks ago, but it is still relevant today — especially so on Election Day. Let’s talk about what that means, why we should be upset about it, and what we can do by getting out today and voting.

One night in 1982, Brett Kavanaugh and his friend, Mark Judge, locked Dr. Blasey Ford into a bedroom at a party and attempted to rape her. Regardless of what victim-deniers would like for you to believe, there is no question as to whether or not this happened. This is not a false accusation, no matter how many people (read: old, white men) try to say make you believe. They’ll tell you it’s too late, it’s been too many years. Do not listen to them.

In the United States, sexual assault survivors have two options:

  1. Go to the doctor directly after the occurrence. You can go to the police. But, chances are, your rape kit is going to be thrown out and the police aren’t going to take you seriously. Rape kits are thrown out for two reasons. The evidence is either sent to the crime lab where it is not tested, or it was just never sent to the crime lab. This could be because these tests are not requested in court, and thus they are just tossed aside. Sometimes, this is also because there are simply too many rape kits, and the staff gets behind, which is also a very terrifying thought. So on top of being physically and mentally wounded, you’re now being mocked by people in power who you, for some reason, believed would take you seriously.
  2. You bottle it up. You push the memories down so far in your head because you don’t want to believe it and you don’t want to have to deal with it — because you know what happens when people come forward. You know how this country treats sexual assault cases. You don’t want to have to deal with that. So you don’t tell anyone. Some thirty years later, your assailant is nominated to the Supreme Court. A job where he would be able to rule on future sexual assault cases. Understandably, this pisses you off. Why wouldn’t it? So you come forward. For the next month your story is picked and pulled completely apart. You have to recount memories you never wanted to think about again. And after all of this, after this entire struggle, your assailant is instead confirmed to the Supreme Court, and you, having your life dissected and destroyed, wish you never said anything to begin with.

Which choice is better? In all honesty, both of these are horrible options. The way that our country treats sexual assault victims is terrible. We are silenced and ignored. And even with significant evidence, our cases can be thrown out the window for countless reasons. The people of our country have questioned frequently why it matters now. Why did Dr. Blasey Ford come forward now? Why do people step forward so late in life when the event happened so long ago? The answer is so easy to grasp and I’m honestly shocked that more people don’t understand.

Think about it: if you had been sexually assaulted, and then you saw that your assailant was about to be appointed into some position of great power — power that could potentially equip him with the flexibility to do this to countless others — wouldn’t you step forward and say something? Or maybe one other person was brave enough to step forward; wouldn’t that encourage you to come out and say something as well? To support them and legitimize their story and your own? We see this so often: one person will admit their truth, and many will follow. It’s hard. It’s hard to talk about the events that plague our pasts. But when one person comes forward, when one person shows that it’s okay to talk about these things, it has an avalanche effect. Sexual assault survivors feel alone and isolated long after their attacks. We hide in our shells because we think no one else knows what this feels like. We fall into depression because we are silenced, and we don’t think it’s even okay to open our mouths and talk about these topics because of the way our patriarchal judicial system has historically handled them and because of the way assailants have for so long been able to silence women. But the more people who step forward, the more people who are brave enough to face the system, to come out and say something, the more people will be willing to come forward sooner.

When the country treats Dr. Blasey Ford the way they did through and have since this entire ordeal, the chances that other people are going to step forward only decreases. What Dr. Blasey Ford went through, none of us want to have to deal with. Because these trials, these hearings, they pick apart details and doubt the things we know to be true. They make the survivor recount and remember one of the most terrible moments of their life— if not the most terrible. Why would anyone want to do that? Especially after seeing how Dr. Blasey Ford was treated.

So, back to Brett Kavanaugh. Sorry, Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh (gag me). As a country, we have placed a sexual assailant into a position of high power. The Supreme Court has ruled over many sexual assault cases, and will rule on many more in the future, unfortunately. With Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court — someone who yelled at Dr. Blasey Ford and dismissed her valid claims — a sexual assailant will take part in the final say on huge sexual assault cases that could come out in the future. During his hearing, the senators listened to Dr. Blasey Ford tell her story. They knew that she was telling the truth. They had to have known. They just didn’t care. Knowing what Kavanaugh had done, they confirmed him anyway.

This is not only a problem of just Brett Kavanaugh, but of the people who confirmed him in to the Supreme Court. And we all know (hopefully) that voting is important. There are thirty-three senate seats up for vote today, November 6th. If there’s a change you want to make, if you are unhappy with Kavanaugh’s confirmation, you need to get out and vote today. Because, yes, Kavanaugh is a terrible human being who never should have been nominated to the Supreme Court in the first place. But our Senators, people we elected, are the ones responsible for confirming him. And, if we want to change something, removing those people is the place to start.

In November of this year, thirty three senate seats are up for vote. Ted Cruz is one of those seats. He has been a strong supporter of Kavanaugh through all of this and has even gone as far to say, “By any measure, Judge Kavanaugh is one of the most respected federal judges in the country.” Is this really the kind of person you want representing your state? Someone who supports a sexual assailant?

I have been told not to get angry. I have been told to make my Facebook profile picture black in silent respect of all the women who have had to deal with sexual assault. And to that I say, “No fucking way.” I will get angry, and I will remain angry until something is done about the way this country views sexual assault. I will write and I will vote and I will convince my friends to vote. If you don’t get out there and vote for what you think is right, you don’t care about your fellow people in your country.

Being from Maine, I’m familiar with Susan Collins. I’ve actually met her a countless number of times. Back when I didn’t know much about politics and I didn’t know what ‘Republican’ even meant, I looked up to her. Maybe this was because I was happy to see a woman senator in my own state. It is only now that I realize she is not one to look up to. Now, she is not alone solely responsible for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. She was one of the important votes that could have swung it to the other side. But she chose to vote yes. And in doing this, she devastated not only the women in Maine, but throughout the entire country. That little girl that looked up to her all those years ago is gone. Now there is only me, a woman who is nothing but disappointed. I will forever be disappointed in any woman who refuses to stand up for her gender. So, to Susan Collins, I must say that I can’t believe you did this. And to all the other women who voted yes for Kavanaugh, how could you? And to the men, I say the same. You have daughters and wives and friends, and we are more than just someone’s wife or someone’s daughter — we are someone. How could you do this to us?

In nominating Brett Kavanaugh and in confirming Brett Kavanaugh the Supreme Court has said to this entire country that women don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if that wasn’t what their intention was. In confirming a sexual assailant to the Supreme Court, they have effectively let all women know that we do not matter.

At least now we know for sure what kind of people lead us; and at least now — today — we can get inside a voting booth and take a stand to get these people the fuck out of office.

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