Reader Jess wrote in response to this blog post on sexual harassment:
Obviously each department is its own animal, but having worked the majority of my life on skeleton crew indies (with the exception of one major TV show when I was in school) I’m worried that getting any deeper into things is going to expose me to shit like this.
I’ve lived in Portland most of my life, and have a pretty good idea which set this was on—but I’m still unsettled by the fact that someone can get iced out of the business for bringing up real safety concerns.
As a woman, who prefers to stay relatively low on the food chain for personal reasons, is this behavior something to expect should I start working on more established projects? If so, what are some tips for handling it in a way that’s professional, but doesn’t give anyone the idea that their shit is tolerable? (Whether you yourself have experienced it, or seen your colleagues experience it.)
The sad truth is, sexual harassment is going to happen. Part of the problem is that humans are assholes, and humans are sexual beings, so some humans are going to be assholes about sex. It will never completely go away, even though we’ve made progress over the decades.
Hollywood has an extra problem, because we think we’re somehow unique, and different from any other workplace. Some of you are too young to remember, but about ten years ago, a writers assistant on Friends sued the producers for sexual harassment. The judge threw the case out, because “vulgar and coarse comments by the show’s writers reflected the ‘creative workplace’ for a comedy with sexual themes.”
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened. Discussing sex in the writers room of a show about the sexual activity of six friends may be okay, but something like this isn’t–
A distressing number of people I work with don’t seem to know the difference. But that Friends case gets brought up an awful lot.
What to do?
I talked to a number of friends about these sorts of situations, and we came up with a little checklist of things to do, if you find yourself on the receiving end of some unwanted attention.
1. Talk to the person (if you feel comfortable).
As I said, some people behave on set in ways they never would at a corporate office (or even shipyard). It’s possible they may not even realize they’re making you uncomfortable.
I had a boss a couple years ago who was a touchy-feely kind of person. When she talked to the PAs, she’d often come up behind us and rub our shoulders. A pat on the butt was not uncommon. Not, like, a grope, but more like we were on a baseball team.
Still, I’m not comfortable with that kind of touching. I have a personal bubble that only a few select people get to enter.2 One day, the boss came into the kitchen, where I was cleaning up the crafty area, and slapped my butt. “How ya doin’, TAPA?”
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said, “I’m okay, but it really makes me uncomfortable when you touch me like that.”
She froze in her tracks, her eyes going wide. I’m sure visions of lawsuits danced in her head. “I am so sorry. I didn’t know I was making you uncomfortable.”
“That’s okay. I know you didn’t know.” And that was it. It was never mentioned again. This is pretty much the best case scenario, since I had a good relationship with my boss and she respected me. But if that’s not what you’re dealing with…
2. Keep a record.
Keep a list of dates, what was said or done, who was around. If you end up having to file some kind of report, this is information you’ll need. Yes, others might not corroborate your story, but at least you have an honest timeline of what happened.
3. Tell others.
This isn’t a very PC thing to say, but find some other women on set to talk to. If a dude is harassing you, he’s probably harassing others. But if nobody talks about, he’ll keep doing it. There’s safety in numbers, and, to be perfectly honest, a woman is more likely to understand how you feel than a man.3
And, again, you may be in a misunderstanding-type situation. It’s totally possible the guy is oblivious to the way he makes you feel. And one of the others might have a better relationship that she can go back to step one.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s good to have witnesses, and if you bring it up to others, it’s more likely they’ll notice a pattern of behavior. Which brings us to step four…
4. Report him.
Tell your supervisor. If your supervisor is smart, they’ll know that sexual harassment is a liability not just for the production or company, but for them, if they don’t take steps to curb inappropriate behavior. It’s also a good idea to talk to an AD, the UPM, or, on a smaller show, a producer. They’re trained to deal with situations like this.
If you are on a big show, the studios and the unions (if you’re in one) have systems in place to anonymously report workplace harassment. Of course, even if they try to keep your name out of it, it won’t be long before the person figures out who filed a report. If studio HR came to my old boss and said, “Did you slap someone’s ass in the kitchen?”, she’d know I was the one who called them.
But ultimately, they are a whole department that is set up to protect you. They will usually believe the person reporting it first. They will also keep tabs on how this might effect you during the process, and will do their best to make sure that you are not further harassed, threatened, or mistreated because you reported the situation. Again, the studio knows they’re liable for any retaliation against you for reporting harassment.
5. Brace yourself.
All of that being said, nobody likes a squeaky wheel. A coordinator might think twice in the future about hiring a PA who upsets the status quo.
Plus, succeeding in this business depends on making and keeping friends. If the sexual harassment comes from a department head, the crew might back the person who hires them a lot, no matter what kind of asshole they are. People might not be willing to come to your aid if you make an accusation.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really a surefire way to protect yourself from jobs drying up, but that does not mean that you should have to needlessly deal with harassment in the work place.
6. Help others.
The only way this behavior will eventually disappear is if no one accepts it.
Once, on a day I happened to be wearing a notably low-cut tank top,4 a grip up in the green beds took a picture of my cleavage. He didn’t even have the courtesy to call “flashing!”5 I yelled up at him that he was an asshole, but there wasn’t much I could do about it from where I was standing.
There was, however, another grip up there who saw the whole thing. He sort of chuckled at the other dude, in a “Oh shit, you got busted” kind of way. But in no way did he discourage the guy from perving on the young PA who was too hot to wear a turtleneck that day.
Don’t be like that first grip, obviously, but don’t be like that second one, either. If you see inappropriate behavior directed at someone else, speak up. The only way we’ll put a stop to this is by helping each other.
- I know some people can’t take a joke when a serious topic is being discussed, so let me be clear– I’m kidding. I know I did not solve the problem of sexual harassment in one blog post. It’ll take at least two more.↩
- My dog, my significant other, …and that’s the end of that list.↩
- Again, I know this is super sexist to say, and there are certainly exceptions to this rule, but now isn’t really the time to start looking for them.↩
- It was hot, okay?↩
- Which, honestly, would’ve been a clever pun.↩