Chef and CNN host Anthony Bourdain was best known for his food and travel chronicles, but in recent months he had also become an advocate for the Me Too movement, offering candid reflections on sexual harassment and “bro culture” in the restaurant industry.
As remembrances from friends, colleagues and fans poured in following the announcement of Bourdain’s death Friday morning, some noted his role in championing the Me Too movement.
Bourdain was in a relationship with the Italian actress and director Asia Argento, one of the first women to go public with accusations of serial sexual misconduct against mega-producer Harvey Weinstein. Argento has said that in 1997, Weinstein raped her at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. She is one of scores of actresses and former employees who have accused Weinstein of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation in a period spanning several decades.
Bourdain credited Argento with helping him better understand the difficulties that women face in reporting sexual harassment and assault, and helping him reflect on his own personal failings.
He praised Argento’s bravery, like after her powerful speech at Cannes last month, when she warned other sexual predators: “You know who you are. But more importantly, we know who you are, and we won’t allow you to get away with any longer.”
“It was absolutely fearless to walk right into the lion’s den and say what she said, the way she said it,” Bourdain said in an interview with Indiewire last week. “It was an incredibly powerful moment, I thought. I am honored to know someone who has the strength and fearlessness to do something like that.”
On May 25, when New York police arrested Weinstein, a watershed moment for the Me Too movement, Bourdain tweeted to Argento: “You were sure this day would never come, that you would be crushed, that you were alone. And yet you did it anyway.”
Bourdain had also spoken candidly about his own reflections, grappling with the way his “bad boy” persona may have contributed to toxic masculinity and sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.
In an extensive interview in October, he told Slate how his best-selling book Kitchen Confidential depicted and perhaps endorsed “bro culture.”
“I’ve had to ask myself, and I have been for some time, ‘To what extent in that book did I provide validation to meatheads?’” he recalled. “If you read the book, there’s a lot of bad language. There’s a lot of sexualization of food. I don’t recall any leeringly or particularly, what’s the word, prurient interest in the book, other than the first scene as a young man watching my chef very happily [have a] consensual encounter with a client. But still, that’s bro culture, that’s meathead culture.”
He also said he’d started to scrutinize his own conduct, calling it “a personal failing” that female colleagues may not have felt comfortable confiding in him, and noting how the restaurant industry perpetuated a “militaristic, male system” and that he was “a guy in a guy’s world”:
I had to ask myself, particularly given some things that I’m hearing, and the people I’m hearing them about: Why was I not the sort of person, or why was I not seen as the sort of person, that these women could feel comfortable confiding in? I see this as a personal failing.
I’ve been hearing a lot of really bad shit, frankly, and in many cases it’s like, wow, I’ve known some of these women and I’ve known women who’ve had stories like this for years and they’ve said nothing to me. What is wrong with me? What have I, how have I presented myself in such a way as to not give confidence, or why was I not the sort of person people would see as a natural ally here? So I started looking at that.
In December, he condemned his friend Mario Batali, the chef and restaurateur who has faced sexual misconduct allegations from at least 18 women. Bourdain expressed “real remorse” for “a culture that allowed the kind of grotesque behaviors we’re hearing about all too frequently.”
“I’ve been sitting on stories that were not mine to tell,” he tweeted. “And feeling sick and guilty as fuck I hadn’t heard them before.”
That month, he wrote on Medium that his support of the movement “doesn’t make me any more enlightened than any other man who has begun listening and paying attention. It does makes me, I hope, slightly less stupid.”
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