'The Vow' Episode 8: Keith Raniere degraded women in ways beyond sex cult, said they 'can't be as good as men'
In DOS, women would recruit other women to be their 'slaves' and have them do tasks — like take permission every time the 'slave' wanted to do something, counting calories or even go to sleep
In HBO's miniseries, 'The Vow', viewers get in-depth retellings from former members of NXIVM (pronounced Nex-e-um) from former members of the cult that dominated the news a few years ago when it was revealed that a secret society within NXIVM was operating as a sex trafficking front. Both the founder, Keith Raniere, and 'Smallville' actress Allison Mack — a prominent member of the group — were arrested on trafficking charges among others in 2018.
After a six-week trial in 2019, Raniere was convicted in June 2019 of charges, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and attempted sex trafficking. 'The Vow' features former members, including actresses Sarah Edmondson and Bonnie Piesse, as well as Piesse's spouse, filmmaker Mark Vicente.
Featuring ample archival footage of NXIVM meetings, with Raniere at the helm, 'The Vow' gives a nuanced look at the person who co-founded NXIVM with Nancy Salzman, reportedly an expert in neuro-linguistic programming. In NXIVM, Raniere went on to start the DOS — "Dominant Over Submissive" in Latin — though this was denied for long. In the DOS, women would recruit other women to be their "slaves" and have them do demeaning tasks — like take permission every time the "slave" wanted to do something, counting calories, or even go to sleep. The "masters" would even give the women the task of seducing Raniere, and often letting him do whatever he wanted with them. Women were made to count calories because Raniere reportedly liked women to be of a certain shape and size.
While the specifics of the DOS — and Mack's involvement — were revealed in the previous few episodes, this week's episode shows that Raniere's attitude towards women went far beyond him just using those vulnerable as his sex slaves. In this week's episode, we see that Raniere used two other groups under NXIVM — Jness (for women) and the Society of Protectors (SOP, for men) — to build the foundations of the DOS, and as Edmondson puts it, to test the limits of what he could get his followers to do. In recorded footage of Raniere speaking at Jness and SOP meetings, Raniere's true feelings about women come to light. He believed women, protected all their lives, were prideful, whereas men were humiliated as children and in locker rooms. Raniere also says that abuse is a "made up human construct" and that the ones who are on the receiving end only decide they are victims when they accept that.
In some sessions designed by Raniere, he wanted women to learn what it is like to grow up as a little boy. Women signed up for these programs perhaps to understand men more, the reason that Piesse says was why she joined. In these sessions, men would "fault" the women — who were numbered — and each fault would be negative points. The faults — as seen in the archival footage — are often trivial and meaningless, like not offering to switch seats with a man, for "being in [their] way", for forgetting to remind them to stop biting their nails, or for not offering them a Kleenez. The women with the most faults or negative points would then be made to do penance — in the footage showed, they were made to do planks.
Edmondson also recalled an instance when she was humiliated — she was called up to the front of the room and was given a prize ribbon for "Best display of ass" because her "jeans were too tight". Perhaps Raniere used these forms of humiliation to break women down — Piesse believes that he did so to Mack — to control them. Raniere believed that women had to learn to yield. He also says that "women can't be as good as men" for one simple reason "because we won't let you".
'The Vow' airs on HBO on Sunday nights at 10/9c.