In a new podcast interview, breakout new Real Housewives of New York City cast member Leah McSweeney, who is enjoying one of the most celebrated debut seasons in the franchise’s history, defended controversial statements she has made criticizing key members of the #MeToo movement.
Quotes from columns McSweeney had penned for Penthouse magazine accusing Asia Argento and Rose McGowan of exploiting the movement for personal gain—as well as a YouTube interview in which she defended Donald Trump—recirculated among Bravo fans when McSweeney joined the show, and were recounted in a Daily Beast article that published last month.
“I’m not even sure if it’s a recirculation,” McSweeney said in an interview on the Everything Iconic with Danny Pellegrino podcast. “My views on things and where I stand is out there. And I stand by it all. Of course people change their minds and things like that. My mind has not changed.”
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In the op-ed, titled “Can We Talk About Toxic Femininity?,” which was published shortly after the death of Argento’s then-boyfriend Anthony Bourdain, McSweeney wrote that Argento and #MeToo movement figurehead McGowan were examples of “a display of chronic, predatory narcissism.” She also disputed Argento’s account that she had been raped by Harvey Weinstein, arguing that it wasn’t rape because she had been in a consensual sexual relationship with the producer.
“Calling this ‘rape’ is doing our society, including sexual-assault survivors, a disservice on so many levels,” McSweeney wrote. “I was raped when I was 15 years old. I know a lot of women will accuse me of victim-blaming, but at some point we have to remove the impenetrable shield that one receives when she is considered a victim.”
“Argento went on to have a consensual relationship with Weinstein for several years,” she also said. “The New Yorker article is what thrust the Italian actress into America’s cultural conversation. Before this, the American media knew little about her.”
Later that year, McSweeney co-bylined the Tablet magazine story exposing the damaging in-fighting and problematic anti-Semitic views within the Women’s March organization. In January 2019, McSweeney launched a YouTube video series with journalist Nancy Rommelmann titled “#MeNeither.” The episodes have since been taken down or made private.
In her podcast interview with Pellegrino, which published Thursday night, McSweeney, who did not respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment for the original article, called the story “fucked up because they were trying to create a story out of nothing.”
“If you were going to look at the headline you were going to be like, she’s terrible I hate her,” she said. “It’s like no, do your research.”
“Look at what that article in Penthouse [said], which was about how Asia Argento and Rose McGowan hijacked the #MeToo Movement from a black woman, who I had on my podcast trying to give her a platform—they hijacked it from her and turned it into them. And it turned out that a few weeks later, Asia Argento, it turned out that she was a fraud. If anything I called bullshit on her, and I was right.”
The article the Daily Beast published—the one that created a story out of a conversation that, in fact, did already exist—reported that fans and Bravo experts, including popular podcast host Sarah Galli of Andy’s Girls, were discussing McSweeney’s column on social media, on fan websites, in reality TV news outlets, and in episodes of the podcast.
The article put those conversations in context with quotes from McSweeney’s column, and relayed comments from fans who said they complicated how they thought of her and her entertaining debut on the Bravo series.
“Sussing out the Real Housewives’ real-world politics and views on feminism has become a parlor game of sorts among fans, especially in recent years when the stakes have made it such that the line between the personal and political has all but evaporated when it comes to public figures,” the article said. “What seems different about this case is that there’s no claim to privacy here. McSweeney’s comments are already public, and easily accessible to anyone who wants to Google them. Most are under her own byline.”
The difference between “reality” and “reality TV” is the topic of constant conversation with shows like these. Galli told the Beast at the time that, while she disagreed with McSweeney’s statements, she found herself willing and able to separate them from the experience of watching and enjoying her on the show.
“In some ways, the reasons I disagree with her real-life views compound the reason she’s such a fantastic fit for RHONY, and so easy to watch on TV,” she said. “She’s self-aware and confident about the power and value of her voice, and feels empowered to stand up for whatever (and whomever) she thinks is worthy of defense. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day she’s holding the center apple.”
“My views on things and where I stand is out there. And I stand by it all. Of course people change their minds and things like that. My mind has not changed.”
— Leah McSweeney
McSweeney’s popularity has grown each week, and deservedly so. She is, as she noted on Pellegrino’s podcast, one of the few Housewives to exist “here on Earth.” Her rational, no-bull perspective has made her the ideal avatar for the viewer at home, and a refreshing change of pace from the (endearingly) delusional other cast members on the series.
An episode that took place in the Hamptons provided a particular breakout moment for McSweeney, who went on a hilarious drunken rampage, stripping naked and destroying tiki torches because they represented the “bullshit” of white supremacy after the riots in Charlottesville.
Even Last Week Tonight host John Oliver called just the teaser for the episode “one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year.”
On an episode of Watch What Happens Live, Oliver told host Andy Cohen, “That should have the logo for ‘Jury Selection Cannes Film Festival’ at the end…I watched Parasite and I liked it a lot. If you were to say to me, ‘What did you like more, Parasite or 20 seconds of that trailer?’ I would say Parasite—and I would be lying to you.”
There is something arguably refreshing about someone on the show whose acknowledgement of the “real world” extends to politics and the ways in which it affects our lives, whereas so many other cast members have historically tiptoed around the issues, either because they were uninformed, did not care, or were nervous that their opinions might be deemed controversial to viewers.
Often when something a Housewife has said or done, particularly in the past, makes headlines, there is an instinct to deny, deflect, or refute, which can be transparently disingenuous. While there was not necessarily a call for McSweeney to “take back” or apologize for past comments, the way that controversies are reactionarily handled—often mistakenly—there is nonetheless something admirable about the fact that she doesn’t explain them away and lets them speak for themselves.
The YouTube interview in question that circulated among fans when McSweeney was hired was filmed before the 2016 election. In it, she said she thought Donald Trump was “lying about being racist,” explaining that “he’s saying what the country wants to hear. Like Middle America and shit, because he knows that’s how he’s going to get the vote.”
She also insinuated that she might not vote in the election because she didn’t like Trump or Hillary Clinton, something she confirmed in Thursday’s Everything Iconic podcast.
“I didn’t vote in 2016,” she said. “That was my protest against both candidates. That’s my right, to not vote. It’s not about privilege for me. It’s literally my protest. I think that I should, if I’m going to vote, feel good about who I’m pulling that lever for. You know what I mean? That’s just how I feel. I don’t consider myself conservative. I don’t consider myself liberal. I just am who I am. Figure it out. People are like, but you do that and that doesn’t make sense and that makes you this and you should be here. But it’s like, no, I’m just going to feel the way I feel and that’s it. If anything, I consider myself a free thinker.”