But Maxwell, who has repeatedly denied all allegations against her, has never been charged or tried in a criminal court, and so when an entrepreneurial amateur photographer finally spotted her this week, she was quietly sitting outside an In-N-Out Burger in Los Angeles. Like Serena, she was reading—reportedly a nonfiction book about CIA agents who’ve been killed in service. In photos obtained by the New York Post, she’s wearing a pale-blue sweatshirt and a couple of oversize rings, just your average disgraced heiress chowing down a Double-Double and a shake. Her reading glasses sit on the table, and her chin rests on her elbow in a way that makes me wonder whether she might have actually posed for the photo.
Read: The myth of the ‘underage woman’
Serena Waterford, coffee drinker, reader, former mistress of a house in which a woman was ritually raped once a month. Ghislaine Maxwell, burger connoisseur, reader, the woman accused by several others of facilitating their assaults. Women are, of course, no more innately ethical or benevolent than men are, and yet there’s something grimly perplexing about women who seem to help men subjugate other women. In Hulu’s expanded version of the universe detailed in Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, Serena Waterford isn’t just a former televangelist whose career is stunted by Gilead’s brutal, patriarchal theocracy. As played by Strahovski and envisioned by The Handmaid’s Tale’s creator, Bruce Miller, she’s one of the intellectual forces that helped conceive it, shown in flashback to have been a conservative speaker and the author of a book titled A Woman’s Place. Serena is among the first pre-Gileadians to frame fertility as a “national resource” and reproduction as a “moral imperative.” What she fails to foresee is that a society fashioned around male supremacy won’t always make special exceptions for her.
To watch The Handmaid’s Tale this week, or Showtime’s The Loudest Voice—in which Russell Crowe’s Roger Ailes was seemingly enabled in his alleged sexual harassment and abuse by his assistant Judy Laterza (Aleksa Palladino)—was to see echoes of a recurring theme that keeps playing out in the news cycle. Harvey Weinstein was reportedly able to compel actresses to attend meetings in his hotel room because he had female assistants take them upstairs. Laterza, according to accounts by the journalist Gabriel Sherman, approached pretty young interns and invited them to meet her boss. Maxwell allegedly functioned as a madam for Epstein, finding him a steady flow of girls. No system of female oppression can function, it seems, without women being complicit in it.
The 2016 election, in which 53 percent of white women opted to vote for a man who has bragged about assaulting women, showed that many women will prioritize their assumed economic security over the well-being of others. On the simplest level, money and power can act as powerful motivators. Before Maxwell met Epstein, she’d suffered a decline in her own fortunes when her father, the media tycoon Robert Maxwell, drowned in 1991 after falling from his yacht, Lady Ghislaine, off the coast of the Canary Islands. After his death, it emerged that Maxwell had plundered hundreds of millions of pounds from his company’s pension funds. His daughter was left with nothing but a personal trust granting her £80,000 a year. She fled to New York, leaving 32,000 of her father’s employees to deal with the emptying out he’d done of their retirement accounts.