By Carmen Saffioti
Published: April 25th, 2018
When the #TimesUp movement gained momentum, it was a somber yet inspiring time. Women and men were coming forward with stories of rape and assault, naming their perpetrators. While it was a moment of sadness, the bravery and power of the victims stepping into public view let other perpetrators know that their time was up. A testament to the power of this movement appeared when celebrities such as Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and Kevin Spacey effectively lost their careers. Author J.K. Stein knows the trauma victims feel all too well, as she was a victim too.
She puts her experience into words in her memoir: The Director. This book is a chilling portrait of a psychopath and his manipulative ways to gaslight and abuse his victims. Stein never names her assailant; she only uses the title “The Director.” Stein recounts her experience living in New York as an aspiring actress and the subsequent events upon her first interaction with “The Director.” Beyond its dark parts, this memoir is about healing. Stein’s eating disorder and body image is mangled due to her traumatic experience. She finds her voice and empowerment in order to come to terms with what has happened to her.
Stein’s accounts are so real that they may read as quite grotesque for some readers. In one of her accounts, she describes how “The Director” had pressured her participate in sexual fantasies. Although these parts were emotionally difficult to read, I was stunned by Stein’s openness to her readers. The raw quality of the writing really comes through in the journal entries, which Stein wrote during her experiences.
“I’m a little scared. I really don’t know who I am anymore. I can’t eat anything and if I do, it comes right back up. I know this isn’t good, but I don’t know what to do.” Stein’s complete honesty is refreshing. It allows readers to put themselves in her shoes, and perhaps realize instances of abuse in their own life.
One of the main topics within the memoir was consent. Although Stein often gave into her abuser, it does not mean she gave him consent. “The Director” held prestige and power over Stein; this relationship dynamic does not allow for consent. Stein’s perpetrator constantly flaunts his control over her, and the actions that she takes to appease him does not reflect her willing consent. This is important to make clear considering changing attitudes towards rape and sexual assault.
In an example of the ambiguous nature of consent, Stein writes that she “sold her body,” not for sex, but for “promises of money.” His power over her as a director influenced her decisions heavily, and ultimately left her broken after five years of this relationship. There has been criticism of this wider, more complicated view of consent, that if it is accurate then almost every woman has experienced sexual assault. But I, and many others, would argue that that is exactly the point. Stein’s memoir is important because it describes a case of abuse that may not normally fit into the stereotypical idea of abuse.
J.K. Stein’s The Director: A Memoir is certainly worth the read for anyone curious about rape culture in modern America and the complicated nature of consent. The emotions that riddled every page kept me occupied with this book, even though some of its content was disturbing. Its realness will allow readers to experience this trauma and subsequent healing with Stein.