One of the most important things in the sexual harasser’s arsenal is the skill to make you feel small and insignificant. Their abuse tactics won’t work unless you fear their power. They prey on your insecurities, using them to violate you when you’re at your most trusting and needy. Scumbags, you say? Don’t look to me for an argument.
Keep in mind that one of the things they will and must do in order to pull off their crime(s) is to threaten you. Like with child molesters, your silence is imperative to their continuing activities.
They will inevitably tell you some version of, “If you don’t…(whatever)… you’ll lose your job” (or “never work in this industry again,” etc.).
To quote politician/actress Sheila James Kuehl from Screen Actor (Fall 1992):
“I often hear from men, ‘We don’t mean anything by it. It’s good-natured. It’s meant as a compliment.’ And many men believe that women receive it as complimentary behavior. But women think that men know this is creepy behavior and do it on purpose…if you don’t complain, they say, ‘See, it really doesn’t bother them.’ Of course, there is enormous pressure not to bothered, to be a ‘good sport,’ to go along and get along.” Apparently, if you don’t tell, you are perceived to be endorsing such behavior. If you DO tell, you face a whole different set of circumstances.”
The implied (or voiced) threat, “If you tell, you’ll lose your job” or “never work in this industry again” is one that keeps many a scared sexual harassment victim quiet.
The reality is very different – if you tell, THEY will never work in that industry again. They know it, that’s why they make their threats big and frightening. To keep their victims quiet. Our silence is their priority. It is also our undoing.
As an employee (AKA underling, one of the little people, etc), you have no power. You have your job, some “financial security” (if any job can be said to be secure nowadays), your insurance (if you’ve got any), but no leverage. No control. You do, however, have one more thing – rights.
Every person has the right to dignity, respect, and the right to keep whatever self-esteem they can muster (not always easy if you are, for instance, working in the mailroom (the bottom rung on all corporate ladders), waiting tables, working as a sales person behind a department store counter, or as an extra on a soundstage, etc.
We are sometimes asked to pay a high price for our careers. The “dues” are tough. They can go on for a long time and, sometimes, we get no payoff, in spite of how much we’ve paid.
But no one, NO ONE, has the right to ask you to compromise yourself the way harassers routinely do. You owe NOBODY your skin.
No one, no matter what they have or don’t have the power to do for you, has the right to ask you to perform like a porno star before they will help your career. Professionals won’t ask you to do that. Those who ARE interested in your career will ask you to do your job well…and only that.
Reciting your rights won’t impress harassers. It might make them smile, however. They’ll think they have you scared.
Standing up for your rights, on the other hand, will impress them. It will prove to them that you are strong, a person not to be toyed with. It might also engender some respect, which they didn’t have for you when they harassed you. Think about it…
Keep in mind, also, that many harassers don’t have the power they would lead you to believe they have. It’s in their best interest (if they’re going to brutalize you) to make sure you believe that they have power. And lots of it.
It’s a game, never doubt it. Play the game, if you can get good at it.
Your best play is to be strong, be ready to fight for your dignity and, if you can pull it off, you’ve got to convince them that what they (claim to) have isn’t so important to you that you’re willing to compromise yourself for it. They can’t buy you, bribe you, or scare you. When they really believe that, they’ll look for another victim who’s more easily scared.
Quoting, again, from the DGA’s sheet of Sexual Harassment guidelines (circa 1993 – old but still true):
“Sexual harassment is never justified. When faced with unwanted sexual attention, one has the right to refuse such attention and the responsibility to state clearly what is acceptable. Sexual harassment is not the victim’s fault, it is the fault of the harasser…The fact that a person responded when harassed does not preclude the fact that harassment existed and he/she is still protected by the law. This is most easily proven if the other person is in a hiring/firing position in relationship to the victim’s job, but the law supports the victim regardless of what positions each person holds…It is against the law to fire someone who has made charges of sexual harassment.”
Or withhold employment to them in the future – although that is what happened to me, and others I’ve known – the law notwithstanding.
Here are some actor’s rights, compliments of SAG’s Women’s Conference Committee, from the same era.
“On the set, if you need a body microphone (or other types of equipment on or near your body) – you are always allowed to ask for the assistance of someone you feel comfortable with to perform the task of “miking you.” (Such as your same sex wardrobe person)
Performers must receive PRIOR NOTIFICATION of any interview or audition requiring nudity and shall have the absolute right to have a person of the performer’s choice present at that audition.
When you see or become a victim of sexual harassment, DON’T IGNORE IT, DON’T PRETEND IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. Every action you take against this behavior means it is less likely to be repeated (against you or anyone else).
You have a responsibility to yourself to see that you are treated with respect in the job search and the workplace.
One more thing, if you’re an actor with an agent, go to them for help. Many small agents will be reluctant to give you that kind of time or effort (“I’m not your mother!”).
I’ve worked at Wm Morris, ICM, and many others. You can bet if one of their clients calls for help, they help. Why shouldn’t you have an agent who will aid you in fending off the vultures (AKA harassers)? Aren’t you of some value to your agency? (When harassment begins to interfere with your work, that SHOULD BE their business, too)
If you discover they will not be there to steer you through the minefield, get another agent. It is not asking too much for an agent to intercede when you are being attacked in a casting office or on a set. Anyone who thinks it IS asking too much, isn’t doing his/her job in taking care of you and fighting for their client’s rights.
To quote Nina Blanchard:
“The casting couch has been around for 1,000 years and actors have to be able to come to the agent to discuss incidents of it…it’s important that agents are willing to pick up the phone to make a complaint.”
One of your rights is the right to have an agent who cares about your welfare.
And, for those readers not in the show biz industry – Aren’t ya glad you’re not?