Amber Tamblyn's New Novel Challenges Assumptions About Sexual Assault : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders It's Tuesday: Actress Amber Tamblyn grew up in Los Angeles and is known for roles in Joan of Arcadia and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Now, she's out with a new novel called Any Man, about a female serial rapist who targets men. She talks to Sam about the novel, her relationship with husband David Cross, and her work with the MeToo and Time's Up movements. Email samsanders@npr.org and tweet @NPRItsBeenAMin with feels.
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Amber Tamblyn's New Novel Challenges Assumptions About Sexual Assault

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Amber Tamblyn's New Novel Challenges Assumptions About Sexual Assault

Amber Tamblyn's New Novel Challenges Assumptions About Sexual Assault

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(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Hey, y'all. I'm Sam Sanders. From NPR, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. It's Tuesday, which means I have a conversation for you. I am chatting with Amber Tamblyn, the actress and writer. You might know Amber from the TV show "Joan Of Arcadia" or from the "Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants" movies. But these days, she is best known as one of the founders of Hollywood's Time's Up movement. Time's Up is this group that was founded in response to the #MeToo movement, to support and advocate for victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, specifically for victims who might not have the resources or privilege to do so on their own.

So besides that work, Amber Tamblyn is also out with her first novel. It's called "Any Man." And it is a book that dovetails with her work in the #MeToo movement. A warning for our listeners - this book deals with sexual assault. And this entire conversation about her book deals also with that topic. So the book, called "Any Man," it's about a serial rapist who is a woman raping men. And the framing of this book - it totally flips the reader's perceptions of sexual assault on their head. It made me question a lot of the assumptions I make about victims of sexual assault. It made me question the way that we as a society talk about sexual assault and also how I'm helping or hurting our national conversation on the issue.

So besides that chat about the book and the themes there, you will also hear Amber talk about how the #MeToo movement has affected men close to her. One is Quentin Tarantino, the movie director. She's been working with him and kind of counseling him on his role in the #MeToo movement. The other man is her husband, comedian David Cross, who has had his own #MeToo moment recently. OK. This is a heavy conversation, but I really think it's worth it. Here's me at NPR West talking with Amber Tamblyn. She was in New York. Enjoy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: So you start acting when you're 11, which makes me believe - and I think I read - that you are from LA.

AMBER TAMBLYN: Yes.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Where in LA?

TAMBLYN: Born and raised.

SANDERS: OK. Whereabouts?

TAMBLYN: Venice.

SANDERS: Really?

TAMBLYN: Yeah, Venice and Santa Monica. I went to Santa Monica High School. And it's actually - I'm third-generation Angeleno. Both my parents were born and raised there and both my grandparents.

SANDERS: That never happens.

TAMBLYN: No. It never happens. I think I've met one other person.

SANDERS: Yeah. Do you live in West LA now? Where are you located?

TAMBLYN: No, I live in New York. I live in Brooklyn.

SANDERS: How nice.

TAMBLYN: Yeah, I left LA about 10 years ago and moved here. And I had a house in Venice that I owned for the last 10 years up until this last December when I sold it.

SANDERS: Wow.

TAMBLYN: So it was, like, the first time I've ever not had a permanent residence in LA. It feels really weird.

SANDERS: Do you miss it?

TAMBLYN: I don't because I go there all the time.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

TAMBLYN: I was just there last week. And my parents still live in the same apartment building where I was born and raised. And all my neighbors...

SANDERS: I hope it's rent controlled.

TAMBLYN: It is. Well, they own it.

SANDERS: OK. Good.

TAMBLYN: I don't want to tell you what they bought it for because it was rent controlled.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: Make you sob - it made me sob.

SANDERS: Yeah (laughter).

TAMBLYN: But, you know - so it still feels very much like a small town to me.

SANDERS: Yeah. I have read that your upbringing was bohemian.

TAMBLYN: Yes.

SANDERS: Your parents are creatives. You - who were your honorary godparents - Dennis Hopper and who else?

TAMBLYN: Dennis Hopper, Neil Young, Dean Stockwell, a lot of poets up in San Francisco - Jack Hirschman, Michael McClure, a lot of the men from the sort of the '60s movement, the Semina Culture movement and the Beat movement.

SANDERS: What was that like, to grow up as - I don't know - not pejoratively but, like, to grow up as a hippie?

TAMBLYN: Yeah, I don't know. I think it was very nurturing. I think it was also - you know, gave me a lot of issues later on in my life as far as boundaries.

SANDERS: How so?

TAMBLYN: Just in the sense of letting people take advantage of me or of not really knowing how to find my own self-worth in a world where I grew up around such big voices and personalities. But it was also very nurturing. I mean, there was always, like, a bonfire going with music being played and tons of alcohol and pot being smoked. And, you know, I was being bounced around on different knees - and poets reading around the campfire.

And there just was a lot of that. I grew up around it. And it's really informed, I think, who I am as an artist and is one of the reasons why I don't think I ever had an issue calling myself a poet even in the face of people going, this is a terrible plan to have poetry be your hobby and be an actress; please don't do that.

SANDERS: Why would they say it was terrible?

TAMBLYN: Well, I just - I grew up with people not respecting my writing or my work and also - always seeing me as an actress first, as seeing me as a sort of, like, fluffy, you know, pop TV personality actress who does "Sisterhood" and, you know, did "Joan Of Arcadia" about the girl who talks to God. When all those are all, like, wonderful TV shows and I'm very, very proud of them - and "General Hospital," you know?

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: I think that that made it very hard for me as an artist and as a writer to be taken seriously for a very, very long time.

SANDERS: Do you think you're taken seriously as a writer now?

TAMBLYN: Oh, I know I am.

SANDERS: Yeah. That's a good answer (laughter). I just finished reading your book yesterday.

TAMBLYN: Oh, OK.

SANDERS: I think my first question for you would be - how would you describe the book? Like, what style of writing is it? Because there's a lot going on. Like, some of it is poetry. Some of it is prose. Some of the chapters are just, like, this narration and monologue. There's one chapter of only tweets. Like, what is the name for this style of writing?

TAMBLYN: I don't know if there is a name. I'd still would say it falls under fiction.

SANDERS: For sure.

TAMBLYN: You know, I think that fiction is a very broad term, and many different things can fall under that umbrella. And for me, I think that the text as a whole is one large macro poem that I think touches on the many different ways in which we connect from the world and are also isolated from the world.

SANDERS: So we should tell our listeners, some who may not have read the book, what the central premise of it is. It's quite a simple premise. But as soon as you realize the book's about that, it just, like...

TAMBLYN: (Laughter).

SANDERS: It's a gut punch the entire time.

TAMBLYN: Yeah, I had an interviewer recently you say to me, so this book really hurt my feelings.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...As a reporter.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: So the book follows several male survivors who are all pretty violently attacked by a female serial rapist. And this happens over the course of two years. And you never really meet the woman who does the attacking. She goes by the name of Maude. And she sort of becomes almost a haunting in the book, a sort of apparition that haunts their memories and also sort of the larger zeitgeist brain of the entire country.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: So the book really looks - it has - to me, it has many conversations at once. It aims to de-gender the conversation around sexual assault and sexual violence while also, I think, resensitizing us as a culture to what the culture of rape culture actually is and what it means and how it manifests.

SANDERS: Yeah. And, I mean, it's so interesting. Like, when I started reading the book, I kind of was, like, in the back of my head saying, well, you shouldn't have to write in the voice of men getting raped to make people think about rape and sexual assault and take it seriously. We should all just get it. But I found myself as a man reaching some parts of the book and saying to myself, I've never thought about sexual assault in this way; I've never taken it this seriously. And I think a large part of why your book hit me that hard is because men were the victims.

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: And it's, like, I hate to admit that the conceit is right and is needed, but there are a lot of people out there that probably will never think about sexual assault as something real until they think it could happen to their male bodies.

TAMBLYN: Yeah. I really agree with you. And I think, you know, one of the great hopes for me with this book is that it does exactly that and it reframes, you know, the stereotypes of what victims and survivors of sexual assault go through, and why people wait 10 to 20 to 30 years to ever come out and say anything, and what it feels like to hear that you probably deserved it because of what you were wearing. And in this case, you know, the men are being questioned and saying, well, how is it possible to get raped?

SANDERS: For a man to be raped, yeah.

TAMBLYN: So there's - you know, there are these really humiliating hurdles that women and some men are put through who are survivors of sexual assault. And I wanted to not only show that but to really indict the media, the culture we live in, social media, in specific, and really hold it up as a lens and say, are you really helping? Are you really - are you part of the solution or are you part of the problem? Have you done your work just because you retweet something you agree with? Is that all it's worth? Is that all you have to give?

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, there are a lot of moments in the book where you're in the heads of these male victims, where the grief they're feeling, the confusion they're feeling, the anger and torment they're feeling - it was just made so visceral and so real and so clear. And I actually want to read a passage.

TAMBLYN: Well, great.

SANDERS: One of the characters is, you know, talking about how you kind of go on after this kind of sexual assault. And the graph reads (reading) how can you go on living when you're now being lived in, when you've been invaded? How can you tell a joke and enjoy laughter without hearing the one laugh that owns every route in you now? How can you accept air into your lungs from the very perennials whose life you've taken? How can you forgive the person, the woman who raped you who has no face to forgive, who has no intention to understand, who is nowhere forever and everywhere inside you for eternity? How can you forgive yourself? How can you enjoy the trees and not plead continuous [bleep] guilt to them? How can you end your own suffering without ending completely? How can you accept touch or walk through your life a lived wound, forever avoiding some terrible, inevitable wind?

That was so powerful.

TAMBLYN: Thank you.

SANDERS: Where was that coming from? I, like - there were moments where I said this is, like, coming from deep inside of you.

TAMBLYN: Yeah, I think that there's a lot for me as I think that there are for most women whether or not you have experienced some form of sexual violence. To me, you know, these questions that that character you just read, Pear O'Sullivan - you know, he is really somebody who is not particularly emotionally forthcoming, and he's having a hard time - he's had a hard time grappling with what happened to him, and it takes him years and years of therapy. And also, you know, he's a - like, a sort of failed comedian, so a lot of his way of being able to express himself is through jokes - inappropriate jokes - which to me, as a writer, is one of the most healthy ways that I know how to get through painful experiences - is to try and make myself laugh because life can be so cruel. And sometimes, there's no other way for you to feel any catharsis without that laughter. And so, in this moment, it's many years later, and he's sort of just really looking back at these questions of how he got to where he is and how you go on.

SANDERS: Yeah. Well, and what I found so resonant with that portion of the book is that he is just underscoring how overwhelming a sexual assault and the aftermath of it can be for, like, your entire body, for your entire life, for every part of your day. You can't compartmentalize it.

TAMBLYN: Yeah. And I think these men don't get to know her.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: That's the worst part.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: They don't get to know why she did it. They don't even know what she looks like. They can't even identify her. They are just completely haunted by her. And I think that that's the real experience of sexual assault survivors - man, woman - doesn't matter the gender, again, or the race. I think there's an experience of you are - you have been so othered from yourself. You are so removed, and you never really get to understand why a person would do that.

And, for me, the - a way to personify that and to sort of metaphorically show that with this book was by not letting the reader have her, not letting the reader have the opportunity to have an answer and to know why. And, in that way, the reader is forced to examine and look at what they are projecting onto the page when they themselves feel like someone deserved it or are feeling guilty or happy or no matter what their emotions are because there's not any one that they can point to and blame.

SANDERS: How unique is that experience of not having someone to blame? How unique is that for people that experience sexual assault in the real world? I mean, because a lot of people know the perpetrator.

TAMBLYN: Well, I think even the people who do know who did it don't know why to a certain extent because we have to remember that sexual violence - sexual assault is not about sex. It's about power. And power has so much to do with the id and the mind and what someone is trying to hold over someone else, and for the most part, meaning, you don't really get an answer. No one says to you, here's the reason why I did it, you know? You don't get that. And the other side of that is, again, because rape and sexual assault are so rarely prosecuted, so you don't even get that in a court of law.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...Let alone, if you know the person, would you ever get an answer from them? So there really is a sense of no closure with something like this.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, I in my mind understand why you wrote this book kind of with the roles reversed - men being sexually assaulted by a woman. But I'm sure there will be some people who see this book or hear about it and say, well, why didn't you write a book about what women experience from the minds of women? Why didn't you - like, this is a moment in which women's stories need to be heard, and even if it's fiction, even - why not let women be the ones that experience this in the book?

TAMBLYN: Because that's every day of my life. And that is every single day of every woman's life that I've ever known from my mother to my sister - you know, probably to my daughter someday, if I'm being real. That's the reality, you know?

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: That's the reality of the world.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: And we really need to go deeply in and hold space for different ways of thinking and communicating story and to tell all of the stories. And if we're going to talk about inclusion, and if inclusion and equality of the body matters, then inclusion and equality of the story must matter, as well.

SANDERS: Yeah. How did you prepare to write as men? Did you consult men? Did you talk with men that have been through some of these personal experiences? Did you - I mean, like, how'd you get your head in there?

TAMBLYN: Yeah. It's a good question. Well, there's two things, I think. I started writing this book 3 1/2 years ago, so...

SANDERS: So before #MeToo.

TAMBLYN: Oh, yeah - way before.

SANDERS: OK. OK.

TAMBLYN: But I think it's been in the hive mind, you know? This kind of story, this kind of perspective has - is out there. I've felt it lingering in many different ways. But for me, I feel like, as a woman, I've had to live and understand what men need, and desire, and want, and how they work, and how they live, and how they operate, and their rules, and their laws and their types of wars. That has been the experience of every woman you will ever know. And so, to me, I feel like I was primed a little bit already to...

SANDERS: You were already living in the mind of a man.

TAMBLYN: Yeah. I mean, we - that's kind of - that's the endemic experience of a woman. But that's not to be - to say that that's all that I did. I definitely - I would say my husband, David Cross, was instrumental in giving me the very first set of notes on the book and giving me some ideas that just - the reason that this book, I think, is so strong as far as the male perspective and the truth is because of him and because he was really able to help me layer in some pieces that I was missing, some ways in which perhaps I wasn't seeing. And so that was a real gift for me as a writer - that and a few other friends of mine who are men, a few of whom, after they read it, came out to me and told me that they had been sexually assaulted...

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness.

TAMBLYN: ...By women. Yes.

SANDERS: What did you do in those moments when these men that you came to with your draft of this book said, actually, it's real, and it happened to me? What do you say in that moment?

TAMBLYN: I mean, they're all - they're both very different. So, you know, I would just talk to them about it. One, I just had a shot of bourbon with. That was our way of sort of processing it.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

TAMBLYN: And, you know, in the - and the other one, we just talked it through. We talked about it. And I think that, for the men who have experienced this, it's a reality, and it's a taboo that hasn't really been able to be touched...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...In a certain way. And so, you know, I hope that that also brings about that other conversation, which really hasn't been taking place.

SANDERS: What, for you, is the biggest difference in the way men have talked to you about sexual assault they've gone through and women have talked about that...

TAMBLYN: Boy, that's a really...

SANDERS: ...Where they've through it?

TAMBLYN: ...Good question. It's really - it's hard to say because I've only spoken to two men about it, and I've probably - there's probably not a conversation with any woman I've ever had that doesn't involve that of some nature - so in the hundreds. And certainly, around this - you know, the #MeToo movement and everything that's been happening in the last year, there's been a lot more stories that have come up...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...Of friends of mine and family. And I think that was one of the scariest, most difficult parts of the #MeToo movement breaking open, was suddenly finding out that your mother had been sexually assaulted...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...Or someone you never - you know, you'd never thought of - maybe a girlfriend or a daughter. It's more normal for women - the experience - and so they speak about it slightly easier, and they're able to really communicate the clarity of their experiences, I think because it is so common and because, usually, if you're going to express it, you know, the woman you're sitting across from who you're expressing it to also went through something similar. So there's a camaraderie a little bit there.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: All right - time for a break. When we come back, Amber Tamblyn talks about her own #MeToo experience and how she deals with her privilege in this work. BRB.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Did #MeToo happen or start to happen before or after you finished the writing of this book?

TAMBLYN: It happened after the first draft. So after the first draft was finished, I had - I remember it. I'd written a letter. I'd written an op-ed in The New York Times called "I'm Done With Not Being Believed."

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...Which was just, you know, talking about being a woman and the idea that the first response after you tell a story of assault or harassment is to be questioned. And so when I finished the draft, that letter, that op-ed I had published - and then, almost two months later, I think, the Harvey Weinstein story broke, and it just was - everything was like a flood. So that's what I mean about it being in the zeitgeist. Even me writing that piece before the Jodi Kantor story came out - it was because everyone was feeling it. It was in the air.

SANDERS: Got you. And we should just clarify briefly what that op-ed was about. It was about a few things. It was about an interaction with the actor James Woods and some other stuff.

TAMBLYN: Yeah. So basically, there was just a thing that had happened on Twitter where I mentioned that actor picking me up once when I was - attempting to pick me up when I was 17, and he denied it and called me a liar. And my response was to write this op-ed for The Times, essentially saying, I'm done with not being believed, and I'm not asking anymore to be believed.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: You know, this is the new stance, and women are going to be telling their stories, and you're not going to stop us. So it was...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: To me, it was a real sort of battle cry, that piece.

SANDERS: Yeah. And it all came about because James Woods was criticizing Armie Hammer, who you've worked with before.

TAMBLYN: Oh, I forgot about that part (laughter). Yes.

SANDERS: Yeah. So James Woods was critiquing Armie Hammer for being in the movie "Call Me By Your Name" because that depicted a relationship between a 17-year-old old boy and a 24-year-old man, and...

TAMBLYN: Armie responded and called him a hypocrite. And I didn't really know anything about James Woods. And he apparently has a history with dating young girls and young women, and so Armie said that to him. And then I happened to see Armie's tweet, and a memory was triggered.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: And I checked with my dad. I checked with my girlfriend that was with me when we - when that happened.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...And just to be like, am I crazy? And they said, oh, yeah, I remember that. And my dad remembered me coming home and telling him after it had happened when I was 17.

SANDERS: And apparently - and so you and your friend were at some diner in LA, and James Woods just sees y'all and says, do you want to come to Vegas with me?

TAMBLYN: Yeah. He had - there was, like - you know, he gave his little presentation, his little dance of why we should go. And then when I told him I was - we were 17, he said, even better.

SANDERS: Jesus.

TAMBLYN: So that was the part.

SANDERS: And then, of course, you say this happened, and he denies it all again. And it's...

TAMBLYN: Yeah, and that...

SANDERS: How does that feel? That must be frustrating.

TAMBLYN: You know, it wasn't frustrating. It lit a fire in me. And, you know, in the age and the world of Donald Trump, I think that there really is this sense of being furious when somebody doesn't believe you over a story like that and tries to publicly shame you and call you a liar. And so James just messed with the wrong one.

SANDERS: OK.

TAMBLYN: That's just what it is.

SANDERS: OK.

TAMBLYN: He just messed with the wrong one.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: But anyway, he's retired now. That's what I heard.

SANDERS: (Laughter) What about victims of sexual assault who either don't want to be the wrong one, don't have the means to be the wrong one, don't have the job or financial security to be the wrong one? You know, and you've spoken about this before. You're a woman of privilege. How do you grapple with that?

TAMBLYN: Well, I don't know if I grapple, but the reason that propelled me to write that piece and to speak out and to call him out publicly was for that exact reason. Writing that piece was not about my experience. Like, I talk in the beginning of it about some experiences I had growing up in the entertainment business, but there's a macro conversation happening within that article and with anything that I write that is always about the larger picture. It's always about the people who are voiceless.

For instance, in "Any Man," in this novel, there's a pretty upsetting - to me, the most upsetting part of the book is a trans character who's the only one in the entire book, the only man whose narrative you don't hear out of his own mouth. It is taken from him immediately. It is told through social media. It is told through every different type of personality and person. There's an ownership over his experience that is ungodly and cruel and I think some of the worst that this country has to offer. And I think that is a - I've heard that is the common experience of any trans person. And so for me showing that, showing it and letting it - you know, letting it be as awful as it is in the literal experience of our world is so much more important than painting a pretty picture.

SANDERS: Yeah. I am actually pulling up that chapter now. This chapter is entirely composed of tweets. The tweets aren't real, but the names attached to the tweets are real people, like Mike Cernovich, and Alex Jones, and Kate Hudson and Katy Perry. And it's all these tweets about one of the victims of this rapist who happens to be trans. And before they even get into the nuts and bolts of this person's story, there is this immediate judgment whether this person is right or wrong or guilty or innocent because they're trans. And...

TAMBLYN: That's exactly right. There's a full onslaught of a character assassination rooted in deep, deep, deep bigotry that you and I probably see - you know, we see it. You see it on social media.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

TAMBLYN: You see it all the time.

SANDERS: And you set up a really interesting critique of the way that Twitter and social media and the news media can really bring out the worst when it comes to dealing with sexual assault as an issue facing the culture. I mean, there are - besides that great chapter full of just tweets, there is this fictitious newsy, chatty talk show in the book called "The Hope Show (ph)," which if I find quite ironic. I love that.

TAMBLYN: (Laughter).

SANDERS: And "The Hope Show's" - the whole pitch is, quote, "covering all of America's horrific stories of injustice."

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: And it's just kind of disaster, torture, tragedy porn.

TAMBLYN: That's right.

SANDERS: And it plays into America's weird appetite and American news media's weird appetite to play up stories of tragedy - like, tragedy.

TAMBLYN: Yeah, and glamorized pain.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: That's what we do.

SANDERS: What is the fix for that?

TAMBLYN: Well, I think that we need to all hold our divisions accountable better. And I know that that's the work of everyone together, just in the same way that I on a daily basis look across, and I'm constantly trying to hold my other white feminist girlfriends accountable and help them to see and help them to not get defensive off the bat and to see that, you know, feminism is much larger than just what they're feeling and thinking. You know, that's something that takes years and years to restructure out of somebody's brain. And I think that that in a parallel world, that is true of the news cycles. That is true of us on social media. Before we hit that retweet or quote retweet of some drastic thing we're going to say, we don't pause to think about how we could be harming somebody else.

SANDERS: Yeah. There's this paragraph towards the end of the book that hit me like a truck. One of the characters in the book, Donald Ellis, he writes a piece for this paper in the novel. And he talks a bit about the media. And he says, quote, "let me be emphatically clear. They don't care about us. People who lived through sexual assault are a crash on the side of the road. And the American media is nothing more than cars slowing down just long enough to take a peek, just long enough to take a picture before speeding off to their next fatality. We are a country that capitalizes on the fetishizing of felonies."

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: That's real.

TAMBLYN: That is real. And it is a fetish.

SANDERS: As real as that critique of the American news media is and as valid as I think it is as someone who's in the media, you also can't be an activist on the issues you care about without engaging that same media. And you're engaging with that media right now talking to me, right? How do you navigate that dance with the devil? (Laughter) It's a dance with the devil.

TAMBLYN: Right. It's a good question. It is. But I think that it's - I think it's just important, again, to keep coming back to naming a problem. Even in the course of this interview, we've named several problems that we've both been a part of, that we've both been complicit in in our own ways. And that's what's true. And that's what's right about I think the work being done. And, you know, we have to remember that the #MeToo movement, the actual, literal #MeToo movement, you know, started a long time ago from Tarana Burke.

But this iteration of it was born on social media. And the news and everyone else had nothing to do with it. They amplified it, but it began when women just turned and started speaking into that giant hive mind we've been talking about. So this is, like, one of the examples of the positive nature of social media and of Twitter, is that it didn't belong to anybody other than the women and some of the men and the trans communities who were telling the stories and saying, this is real, and no one owns it.

And I don't have to, like, give an interview to have a platform. I don't have to be special. I actually don't have to be one of the affluent, rich, celebrity, white women that have been primarily interviewed about Harvey Weinstein or, you know, pick somebody else. I don't have to. That doesn't matter. I can just go out and say it. And there will be a consequence. That person, their boss, will be watching. The whole world is watching. And to me, that is just absolutely profound.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. You know, it's funny. I was finishing up your book the other day, and I was at a coffee shop on the east side of LA, somewhere in Frogtown. But I was sitting outside reading the book, and these two dudes come up to the coffee shop. They both came up on bikes. They both were in full spandex. One was probably in his 40s. One was, like, in his 50s. They get their coffee. They sit down outside not too far from me. And I swear - this is a true story, Amber.

I hear one of them say out of the corner of my ear - he says, well, I mean, just look at what happened to Aziz Ansari. And I was like, what? So I stopped reading your book for a second, and I totally eavesdrop. And they go on and on to talk about how, like, in their understanding of it, #MeToo has gone too far. And then before they get back on their bikes in their full spandex, the other one says, and, I mean, now they're even coming for Morgan Freeman. I swear to you.

TAMBLYN: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I swear to you. And so I guess, like...

TAMBLYN: That's literally going to be the name of my next feminist nonfiction book of essays - "Now They're Even Coming For Morgan Freeman."

SANDERS: (Laughter) But, like, there are probably a lot of Americans who think of themselves as fair and kind and tolerant and respectful of women who were saying, you know what - too far. What do you say when you encounter those kind of men or women in your life?

TAMBLYN: Those are some hard conversations, and I encounter them often. One of the most disappointing things is some of the most liberal men I know really view the othering and experience of women as a form of identity politics, which is a term they hate.

SANDERS: And to which I say everyone has an identity. The left and the right and everyone does identity politics. Like, it's - we all have identities.

TAMBLYN: But in the arming of that term, in the arming of it and making it seem as though it doesn't matter or that it's actually not something that physically, literally harms people's lives, it's just interesting to me that some of the hardest people to get through to are those that are on our side. And I - again, I think it just - you know, this is a very dizzying, confusing time because we've taken something that has been the structure of how men and women have talked to each other, treated each other since the beginning of time, and we've ceased it.

SANDERS: And it also - I mean, like, it changes the very biology and science of human interaction because for so long it's been this way. To me, it's tantamount to saying to everyone, I know for thousands of years we've all drunk water and breathed air. Let's change it up. Now we're going to drink air and breathe water. Like, it's that monumental.

TAMBLYN: It's so funny. I was - the actress Blake Lively, who's like my little sister, we did a bunch of movies together. And her husband is the actor Ryan Reynolds. And he said to me once the most profoundly - I think he was the most clearheaded of any man that I've spoken to about all of this over the last year. And he said, oh, yeah, this all makes so much sense to me. And it just seems so obvious that women want us to just sit down and shut up for a little while. And you guys are going to figure out what you need, what you want going forward. And then when you know, you're going to come tell us. And we're going to get on board with it. And that's how this is going to go down. And I was like, Ryan...

SANDERS: Easier said than done (laughter).

TAMBLYN: Yeah. I know. But he got it, you know?

SANDERS: Was there or has there been a moment in this #MeToo moment where you said to yourself, that's too much?

TAMBLYN: Wow. No one's ever asked me that ever. I'm trying to think. I don't think so. I will say that the Aziz story really broke my heart because I knew what the writer was trying to do by exposing that story and writing it. And the harm that I think it did was only in the sense that we as a country, we're not yet able to talk about the gray areas of these conversations. And some of those gray areas involve things like coercion.

And that is also the other problem, that we don't even know how we're going to address that yet. And I'm not - you know, I'm not saying Aziz didn't deserve that story. I'm just saying that there was a context missing to it that I wish had been examined on a deeper level. And that was the context of coercion and what that means, again, not just in that particular story with that woman but on a larger macro level with women who are not in positions of power being coerced by men who are.

SANDERS: What do you think should happen to Aziz? I've thought about that a lot because I love his work.

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: And I read the article and said, well, damn, because there is so much gray area left on the page there. It, like...

TAMBLYN: The fact of the matter is nothing has happened to Aziz, so...

SANDERS: He's been laying low for a little bit.

TAMBLYN: Yeah, but come on. That's not - that's nothing, meaning there's not real impact there. And I try not to really think about the feelings and the redemptions of these men right now. It's in the background of my mind. And anytime someone brings it up, you know, the redemption aspect of it and - well, what's going to happen? Is their whole legacy going to be destroyed and disappear? It's like, you know, that's really not my work to do. That's for them to do. If they feel like, you know, the world has shut them out and shut their legacy out and their voice out, then that's their work to do to figure out how they can be part of this conversation and come back to the table.

And that doesn't mean going and sulking and just, you know, meeting with your publicist who's going to tell you to stay quiet for six months or however long. It's, like, what's the work you're really doing? Are you doing it, or are you not doing it? Do you feel like you're the victim of this, or do you see how you helped perpetuate this? I think that that's for each of those men to figure out.

And if they don't figure it out and they come back, you know, they're going to get sniffed out again. It's just - you're going to see it. You're going to feel it. And I think there'll be more problems in the long run, which saddens me. But my hope is that, you know, there are good, strong people behind those guys and that they are helping them see, helping them get therapy and work and to really see how that they are not just the victims of this movement.

SANDERS: Yeah.

All right, time for another break right here. After this, Amber talks with me about whether #MeToo has gone too far. She also talks about her relationship with her husband David Cross, who had his own #MeToo moment recently. She tells me about how the two of them handled it together. All right, BRB.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: I don't want to - and I wanted to be careful in how I brought it up because I don't think it's fair to make conversations with women about the men in their lives. But there are two men that have been in the news with you because of their relationship...

TAMBLYN: Two?

SANDERS: ...There's two.

TAMBLYN: Who's the other one?

SANDERS: Well, Quentin Tarantino.

TAMBLYN: Oh, Quentin.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: Yeah (laughter), Quentin.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Can we talk about Quentin for a second?

TAMBLYN: I wish you could see how hard I'm rolling my eyes...

SANDERS: I know.

TAMBLYN: ...Right now (laughter).

SANDERS: And my goal is to never make someone roll their eyes. But I do think that you can share some nuggets, share some wisdom with people, with women that are trying to engage in conversations with men that want to help. So the backstory...

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...First. You know, after #MeToo was a thing, you had a dinner with Quentin Tarantino, who has been involved careerwise with Harvey Weinstein for a long time.

TAMBLYN: For his whole career.

SANDERS: For his whole career. And you basically said, we need to talk about how you may have been complicit without even knowing it. I mean, are there some nuggets from that conversation and how you tackled that that could be of some advice to listeners?

TAMBLYN: A lot of what I said to Quentin is exactly that and helping him see. I think what's really unfortunate for a lot of men from that generation and even older is that they really - they always just assumed that the rumors they heard about, oh, he likes to pat women on the butt or maybe he sticks his hand up their dress or - you know, if somebody was engaging in oral sex, then how could it be rape? I didn't realize it went that far. And I think for a lot of them, that's been the experience, is that they don't realize how systemic of a problem it is until you point it out to them.

You know, and I think it was - saying that to Quentin and also - you know, his people were mad at him because he was quiet, and he didn't say anything for, like, a week. And I'm not - was never mad at him for that. He - people - what some people don't understand behind the lens was - you know, behind the story of that was just that Quentin grew up without a father figure in a lot of ways. And I won't go into that because that's his personal story. And Harvey was a father figure to him.

And I think that when something like this happens and you're so angry at yourself for letting it happen in a certain way in the way that Quentin was, you need a second. You just need a second. You can't just put out a statement. If you put out a statement immediately, that's a little telling...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...And fake.

SANDERS: What are you trying to cover up?

TAMBLYN: Yeah, it's just like...

SANDERS: What are you trying to hide?

TAMBLYN: Well, are you - did this really affect you? And Quentin is, as most men in my life are, extremely sensitive and extremely introspective. And when they are in pain, they go in, and they go quiet. And for him, he needed to do that until he could come out and speak. And, you know, subsequently, all this stuff came out with Uma Thurman. And, you know, look; it's all kind of heartbreaking at a certain level. And you realize that even the men you love so nearly and dearly who are close to you are incredibly flawed.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: And I think the most important thing that we can do that we have to do even though we don't want to, even though we didn't ask for this job of being teachers, is to teach because we know how to do it. And if we want the change that we're talking about, then we have to facilitate the change.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, it's interesting hearing you say this because I think a lot of folks would say women deal with enough.

TAMBLYN: They do.

SANDERS: They shouldn't also have to be the teachers for these men that don't get it.

TAMBLYN: So Ali Wong says that. We have suffered enough (laughter).

SANDERS: Yeah. I mean, because I think of the parallels I have. Like, every few weeks, a goodhearted white listener writes in, and they want me to explain race to them.

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: And I'm like, I've got a full-time job (laughter), and you have Google. And I'm dealing with my own stuff. And I don't want to have to be a teacher on top of having to deal with, like...

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...I don't know, systemic oppression.

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: Do you ever have a day where you're, like, no, dude, you go figure it out?

TAMBLYN: All the time.

SANDERS: Oh. Oh, yeah. Yeah.

TAMBLYN: All the time. And I think an aside to that is that I've always called myself a feminist, and I don't think I knew how to be a feminist until I really started listening to my black girlfriends, my black friends, female friends. And the experience - pretty much everything I've ever been taught is from them. And that makes me really sad to say that because I know what that feels like, what that's felt like for them to have to teach another white girl X, Y, Z.

SANDERS: Have they ever sat you down and said, I'm tired; I'm not going to teach you this stuff?

TAMBLYN: Yeah. Oh, yeah. One of my best, closest friends said, I don't want to be your white whisperer anymore. And that hurt. And it - and I needed to hear it. I really needed to hear it.

SANDERS: How did you react?

TAMBLYN: I accepted it, and I agreed. And that was that. You know, and I always keep that sort of in the back of my mind of, like, I wouldn't be in the position I'm in - literally - if black women didn't teach me. And even though that was painful, difficult, unfair to them, that's where I sit. And so my power and my hope is in being able to share the beauty and the wisdom...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...That has been gifted to me.

SANDERS: Yeah. I want you to tell me and my listeners now one of those black women whose work we should seek out who should be amplified.

TAMBLYN: Oh, gosh.

SANDERS: If you're comfortable with it.

TAMBLYN: Oh, of course. I mean, whether or not I've had these types of conversations with them, I'm going to just name a couple people's work who I love.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: The poet Patricia Smith is extraordinary. Obviously, Roxane Gay...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: I think everything she's doing right now is so, so incredibly important, I think.

SANDERS: And she's spoken highly of you. I think she...

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: She talked about you for BuzzFeed recently.

TAMBLYN: Yeah, she did. She did. Morgan Parker, a phenomenal poet; Randa Jarrar, phenomenal writer, memoirist, fiction writer - there's - boy, I could give you a list a mile long, but that's - those are the ones...

SANDERS: That's a good start.

TAMBLYN: ...Off the top of my head.

SANDERS: It's a good start.

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: In that thread and that theme of, you know, having conversations with men or white people that want to help but aren't there yet...

TAMBLYN: Uh-huh.

SANDERS: You have spoken about a man in your life who might not be all the way there yet but is trying. I am talking about your husband, David Cross. Are you comfortable speaking a bit about him and some conversations that have been had about - some allegations of some off-color comments from a few years ago and how you reacted to that?

TAMBLYN: Yeah. You know, I think basically he was rightfully accused of doing something racist to the comedian Charlyne Yi. You know, I think the jokes that work for white guys and their white guy comedian friends don't work always for women of color.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: And I think that - believe me; his eyes are open to that now if they weren't before. And this is what it took to have that change.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: Some men don't change. The thing I can say about David that I love so much about him is that he changes. And part of his introspection and his sensitivity is that he's aware of that. And I think same thing goes for the - you know, talking over Jessica Walter's incident that happened recently, the "Arrested Development" press tour.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: I think it was a similar experience where, you know, it's just a continual sense of getting them to open their eyes...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...And getting them to see either how they're helping or they're not helping.

SANDERS: Exactly. Did you guys talk about that moment? And if so, what did he say? What did you say to him?

TAMBLYN: I mean, what do you think?

SANDERS: (Laughter) I'm guessing you talked about it.

TAMBLYN: Do you think I talked to my husband about that moment?

SANDERS: (Laughter) Were you, like, listen up, David; let me tell you something? If you ever - or, like, how do you navigate the conversation? Because you love this man, but you know he messed up.

TAMBLYN: Yeah. I just - I helped him to see. That's the best thing that you could do. And, you know, that was really difficult for our family. We got death threats.

SANDERS: Really?

TAMBLYN: Oh, yeah, it was awful. And women were coming after me and telling me, oh, you can't be the head of a movement and not speak to this. And I just - you know, I really, really hold a strong boundary with this and believe I've earned the right to privacy.

SANDERS: Yes.

TAMBLYN: And if you care about my voice and what I have to say at all, then - and you think you know me, then you'd better assume that I'm having really difficult conversations with my husband about it just like all women are.

SANDERS: Yeah. Well, and this is the thing that I think is lacking often in the tenor of our conversation about these issues, especially online. We forget that everyone messes up. Everyone at some point along their path will disappoint you. And that's just humanity.

TAMBLYN: That is humanity.

SANDERS: That's just life.

TAMBLYN: That's also the reality for us wives...

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: ...You know, to still stay in a marriage and still be in love with someone and to go, like, this is tough. This is really going to be tough for us. And I believe in the other side. I think that's the most important part.

SANDERS: Yeah. And people can contain multitudes. Like, people...

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: Like, people can be good and bad at the same time, you know? Like, that is how life works, you know?

TAMBLYN: Yeah.

SANDERS: Last thing, and I'll let you go - I promise. You have said before - and I believe this statement fully - that women should not be held responsible for the actions of their partners. And I believe that. But, you know, after that incident came to light of David and the Asian-American comic, you went to talk to her.

TAMBLYN: Mmm hmm.

SANDERS: Did you feel that you were in a way having to unfairly carry his water?

TAMBLYN: No, 'cause it wasn't about him. That - me talking to her was not about him. And I know Charlyne. That was about her. That was about me checking in on her and making sure she was OK.

SANDERS: Yeah.

TAMBLYN: I knew my husband was in hell. He wasn't sleeping. You know, a lot of people don't know, but my husband is also - suffers from depression and anxiety pretty severely. And so while I worried for him and his mental health through that experience, I also worried about Charlyne because I know that that wasn't easy. And even she said, like, I've said this in public before, and no one paid attention. And now that this happened, it became so huge.

And the truth of the matter is - and he - if he was sitting here right now, he would tell you, I didn't do myself any favors in the way I handled it. You know, he jumped so quickly to defense and gave this kind of, like, half-assed apology. He knows all that. He knows - he's well aware that he handled it really, really poorly and probably created more injury than not. And that's his work to do.

SANDERS: Yeah. I really am so grateful to you for all of your time because I've definitely kept you over schedule. And I appreciate you.

TAMBLYN: No, this is just such a wonderful conversation. I really appreciate it.

SANDERS: Thank you so much, Amber Tamblyn.

TAMBLYN: Thank you, Sam.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Amber Tamblyn, thank you so much. You were so gracious with all my questions.

As always, listeners, do not forget to share with me the best things that happened to you all week. Record yourself, send the file to samsanders@npr.org - samsanders@npr.org. We may share your message on our Weekly Wrap at the end of the week. Until then, thanks for listening. I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

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