Reading the Harvey Weinstein pieces in The New Yorker and The New York Times was intense, to say the least. Listening to that recording was chilling and familiar. It’s definitely the first time I’ve read a Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie quote and thought to myself, “wow, stars really are just like us.” Of course it’s only the most recent account of a famous man using his institutional power to be a predator and/or a rapist — reading about Roger Ailes, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump was intense, too. Oh and David O. Russell and Roman Polanski and Larry Nassar and OH I could go on because there are so many men, and yet these men remain in charge of things. Men are still in charge of the whole world! Donald Trump is our president!
So it’s on my mind and it’s on a lot of people’s minds. And so I wanted to make a space here for us to talk about it — our own experiences with workplace sexual harassment and/or assault from the men who are in charge of our careers. Anne Helen Peterson, in Buzzfeed:
…when the gossip is authenticated in the press, it just confirms the sad truth we’ve gradually come to understand, from years of gossip and personal experience: that all types of men, in all types of positions and political persuasions, develop and maintain power by exploiting women’s lack of it. Whether it’s Donald Trump or Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein or the myriad “devils in pussy hats,” the message remains: We trust men at our own peril.
It’s actually easier to think of male bosses I’ve had who never said anything sexually inappropriate to me than it is to remember all of the ones who have. My first waitressing job, at The Olive Garden in Times Square when I was 18, offered me the extreme pleasure of working for a manager named Scott who was often accused, behind his back, of having a “Napoleon Complex,” which I guess was a way of saying he was short and fat without sounding like an asshole. But also, Scott was an asshole. He was THE asshole. I played along when he flirted because I noticed that the girls who flirted back got things, like first dibs on E-Meal and dishes that died on the line. To the side of the line there’d be these stacks of boxes — unopened shipments of stuff, I guess — and Teresa, Scott’s favorite, was allowed to sit there and rest when she wanted to, while the rest of us ran food. Scott didn’t just say inappropriate things; he’d touch us, too, and he seemed fundamentally incapable of completing a sentence free of sexual innuendo. He was one of many co-workers who’d slap my ass on their way past the Com-pri like it was a normal thing to do, like my body wasn’t entirely my own.
I went back to Michigan for school before returning to my esteemed position at the aforementioned Olive Garden in Times Square the following summer, 2001. I was shocked to learn that Scott had been fired for sexual harassment. I was shocked to hear some girls had stood up to him ’cause I couldn’t imagine doing that myself, and I was shocked that they’d succeeded. I wish I’d asked for specifics. I hadn’t been alive long enough to know that I’d just experienced something relatively rare.
90% of restaurant employees have experienced sexual harassment on the job, and the majority of them will not see their harasser punished, let alone fired. It’s possible that tolerating this behavior fundamentally changes how we handle future workplaces, too. From 9 in 10 Female Servers Say They’ve Been Sexually Harassed On The Job:
This dynamic stays with women for life, the report also shows that tipped workers are more likely to tolerate forms of harassment later on in life at different industries because ‘it was never as bad as it was in the restaurant industry.’
It certainly seemed common and basically normal to me, at that restaurant job and several others I had in what added up to five or so years of waiting tables. I’m lucky in that for me it didn’t feel traumatic, it just felt like life, and the men I worked with were like most of the men I knew outside of work, too. Life for a young woman is often just constant sexual harassment. Sometimes the girls would talk about it like we were gaming the system — male servers always made more money than female servers, so who wouldn’t try to get a better section by flirting back? I’d always been better at flirting than networking. I guess that was a master’s tools / master’s house situation. Restaurants, in my experience, were always very sexually charged environments, full of young, spry, unmarried people who drank together (on the job, after it, on breaks from it) and often slept together or dated. Sometimes the lines got blurry with managers, who’d often been servers once, too.
For my first few weeks in any new job as an adult, be it a restaurant or an office job, this or that man who liked me was usually my best pathway into the workplace social web. I wish I’d had more confidence in my work or my social skills. In retrospect, my gains were always short-term. But also this was just the world — is just the world. I’ve never been surprised to hear about a powerful man sexually exploiting women. It is entirely consistent with everything I know about powerful men.
I had a boss once who apparently declared to another co-worker, after a femme girl I was dating picked me up from work and subsequently left with me, “what a loss.” He meant it was a loss that we were dating each other, instead of men. I was reminded of this when I read about Harvey trying to coerce Cara Delevingne into kissing a woman in front of him, and told her she’d never make it in Hollywood as a lesbian. It’s none of his business, is the thing.
Eventually, I decided I wanted to get paid more for having to reciprocate sexual attention to men I didn’t like, and became a sex worker. The money I made went to me and it went to the girls who owned the place, not to a corporation or a man. It was hard work, and not always healthy, and often dangerous. But despite how frequently I was violated in that environment, I felt, finally, empowered in the workplace. Maybe I felt that way because I was prepared, I knew the risks, I knew my boundaries would be challenged, and I was making an hourly rate that reflected that risk. I also had lots of clients who I knew, because they basically told me so, that they were attracted to women they worked with but instead of acting on those attractions, they came to us instead. They were probably lying at least a little bit about that. Now I own my own business and never work with straight white cis men.
The truth is that men like Harvey Weinstein exist in every industry. The truth is that most of us here have probably worked with or for a predatory man.
Just a reminder while we are talking about sexual assault in entertainment: Indie promotions continue to book known abusers all the time.
— colette arrand (@colettearrand) October 11, 2017
Music journalism / media has its Harvey Weinsteins too, for sure.
— I’m Gary #CABBAGES (@noyokono) October 10, 2017
1 in 3 women report having been sexually harassed at work, according to a survey in Cosmopolitan Magazine. 1 in 5 women have been sexually harassed by their boss. I have created this feelings atrium to be a space where we can talk about those experiences.