To the good guys in the industry,
You knew. Of course you knew.
In most cases it was obvious. In others we told you. You even listened sometimes. You considered our words and made all the right sounds of compassion.
Then you put our concerns on the scales and weighed them.
Unfortunately they weren’t the scales of justice but the scales of commerce. And what chance did we have — the $30,000-a-year secretary or $60,000-a-year junior associate — against the partner who billed tens of millions of dollars every year?
So what if the partner or the studio head answered the door naked and asked us to put suntan lotion on his back or fired us for turning down an invitation to go to Mexico with him? He made more money for the company than any other partner or executive. His name was on the door.
And then there was your own reputation. Why stick out your neck when you didn’t have to? Maybe you even talked to him, told him that it had to stop, this time for real. Possibly you even believed him when he said it would. And In the meantime you put us off. “I’m working on it,” you said.
Only you weren’t. You were just putting space between cause and inevitable effect so that when a few months later you told us it just wasn’t working out, it was plausible. We weren’t getting our work in on time, you said (even though we were). Our performance reviews weren’t strong enough, you said (even though they had been positive).
And so the harasser stayed while we had to go.
But we had rent to pay. We needed to eat. So when you offered us a few thousand dollars for our silence we accepted even though it meant we couldn’t warn the next girl. Who would believe us anyway? We were nobody.
It was left to us to explain that hole in our résumé with some vague and unconvincing reference to “personal reasons.”
And that hand up our skirt? It never existed. We filed it away with the unmatched socks we found in the dryer, with the racist jokes, the anti-Semitic put-downs, and the knowledge that we were being paid less than men for the same work.
We saw what happened to those few who dared to speak out. You branded them “disgruntled former employees,” in tones dripping with disdain, as if there could be nothing worse. Even if the reason a former employee was disgruntled was that she’d seen the boss’s penis. After all, you weren’t the one he’d masturbated in front of. Why couldn’t she just “play ball” like everyone else, like you were now?
Because really what was the big deal? It was just a penis. Half the world has one.
What was wrong with having to tell an agent her female client was being paid less than a man in essentially the same role because the director liked many of the actresses who tried out but there was only one male he’d liked. Of course they had to pay the male what he wanted, otherwise he’d walk. And there was no shortage of talented women. In other words, the women were better so they were getting paid less. Yeah, that made perfect sense — as much sense as the head of production pulling a Harvard-trained lawyer onto his lap during dailies, or an executive masturbating over the phone while she was trying to close a deal with him.
I once showed up at a new job where people in other departments were making bets — based solely on my résumé — about how long I would last with the harasser I’d gone to work for. The under/over was six months. I lasted one.
Not that I knew until after the inevitable happened and I complained to HR. The firm’s response? To defend the harasser because no actual money had changed hands during the betting — as if my complaint had been about illegal gambling and not about the pervasive harassment they had known about for years but repeatedly ignored.
This type of open secret happens because people who are basically decent allow it to. Having been granted access to the most exclusive club in the world, the members fear having it revoked. How much easier to blame the actions of a harasser on the nobody, to type in a new name on the settlement agreement, to write another check, to convince oneself that this time the harasser will learn his lesson and change.
But maybe things don’t change as much as they should because the good guys don’t think they have the moral authority to speak up. Who hasn’t had a little too much to drink at the holiday party and made an inappropriate comment, told a dirty joke, flirted with a colleague?
All the more reason to try to make things right now. Most people do know better. Most people actually care. And you’re the ones we need to stand with us. It isn’t enough to go home and tell your daughters to stand up for themselves. Don’t you think our fathers told us the same thing? What are a father’s words against the Harveys of the world, the men who hold the keys to the club door, who can make you feel proud for simply getting in and convince you that you just aren’t tough enough if you can’t take what they dish out?
Hollywood is a man’s world. Even now when I drive home along Sunset Boulevard and look at the billboards for upcoming movies I see men — almost all men, mostly white. I see the names of harassers all over the credits on films and TV, from the presentations to the thanks at the end.
And we’ve thought things were changing before. In 2007, HBO’s Chris Albrecht resigned after it came out that he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend in a Las Vegas parking lot. Never mind that it had been 16 years since a female subordinate had reported that he had choked her during a confrontation in her office.
When Albrecht resigned, it was one of the first times a harasser had been asked to leave. Those of us who had experienced harassment of our own were hopeful that it signaled to men that they could no longer take our well-being for granted.
Alas, how wrong we were. It was still business as usual. Until last week. Probably. Maybe. Hopefully.