I seem to be in tune with the zeitgeist. That is, I am just about one step (Okay, sometimes two or three steps) ahead of what is universally about to be acknowledge en masse all around me. Consequently, many people think I’m crazy… until… lo’ and behold: suddenly, thousands of people are saying the same things I’ve been saying for weeks, months, years (dare I admit to decades?) Turns out lots of people who disagreed with me for years and years, now suddenly agree with me. Hmm…
Right now, one such topic of discussion across the country is sexual harassment. It’s a nonpartisan subject because, unfortunately, sexism is so universal in the USA that most people just accept it as normal. It’s like the water that flows out of your faucet; the sun that rises every morning. We take it for granted. While many other countries around the world have long since had women leaders, we’ve never had a woman president, or even a vice president here in the USA. Political discussions broadcast publicly are typically conducted by wealthy, older, white men, as though the rest of us can’t/shouldn’t share in the political analysis, and that doesn’t occur to most Americans as odd. It’s just business as usual.
The internet helps and hurts–helps by bringing us together, hurts by allowing sociopaths to easily hide behind anonymous usernames from which they violently attack their victims (usually women and girls who attempt to engage in the political discussion by expressing their opinions online.)
I went on Facebook today, and felt inspired to post another link to my blog and to reveal details of my life I probably shouldn’t, i.e., my own experiences with sexual harassment. Yes, sexual harassment has been a huge part of my life, unfortunately.
Looking through my blogs today, I realized that a blog I’d written over the summer is very relevant… apropos… right now.
I don’t like to talk about this much, but since it’s timely, I will:
Most women who move to Hollywood/Hollyweird will experience sexual harassment. It’s just business as usual in the entertainment industry. Has been for decades. Young, attractive women trying to get into the entertainment industry (actresses especially) often will not succeed unless they give in to it on some level.
Yes, sexual harassment exists in every industry. In fact, I’m sorry to say that it has played a big role in my life–within and without the entertainment industry. It’s a larger part of my life than I care to admit to, even to myself sometimes.
The first time a boy tried to rape me, I was probably 6 or 7. He was another kid, just a couple years older than I. Back then, I had stronger vocal cords. (Oh Lord, what happened to them? Maybe I wore them out that day.) Screamed at the top of my little lungs, scaring the heck out of him, then ran home faster than spark lightning. Ah, the good old days…
Business as usual for most of us girls. Nothing to see here, folks. Nothing to see. Just everyday sexism. A day in the life of a girl.
What happened, little girl? Everything okay? Oh, another pervert? Well, maybe we shouldn’t let you have the freedom to walk down the street anymore. Girls need to be protected, right? After all, boys will be boys. They certainly aren’t going to change.
Oh no, my parents never said anything like that, silly. American society said all that, and it continues to say it over and over again to girls and women throughout our lives. Victim of an attack? Well, it’s your own fault! What made you think you had a right to walk down the street all by yourself? To dress the way you want? To talk to other people? To be independent? Only boys have that kind of freedom.
No, I don’t live in the Middle East. I live in the USA.
And boys will be… boys. So… what does it mean to be a boy?
Second time, I was working in a restaurant. A guy had been harassing me for weeks and getting away with it because–now, get this: the women I worked with, including the manager, believe it or not, blamed me for his behavior. “Why is he harassing you, not us?” they demanded to know. Obviously there was something wrong with me that was causing him to harass me, from their point of view. (Oh, and no, I was NOT dressed provocatively. Fast food restaurant uniforms with ketchup stains on them and the smell of stale salad dressing is NOT attractive.) Frankly, if I had shown up to work in a sexy burger costume, swaying my voluptuous, lettuce-like hips to and fro (Oh dear!), I think that would have scared him away–buns and all! Extra mayo? I think not!
What turned him on was my reserved, shy demeanor and my lack of interest in sex with him. Yep, it was my utter lack of sexiness that had awakened his libido. It made him feel strong and powerful to intimidate someone like me, someone too passive to fight back, someone desperate for a job who didn’t want to lose her job no matter what, someone who had to be there ’cause she needed the money. Yes, rapists are bullies who deep, down inside are cowards. They choose victims who they think can’t/won’t fight back. Doesn’t take much courage to do that. Sexual harassment and rape are power struggles. They have little to do with sex but a lot to do with wielding power over another person. And here’s another news flash: it’s pretty hard to defend yourself when everyone around you is blaming you for someone else’s actions. You start questioning yourself, second guessing, and there’s the creepy idea that if you did fight back, if you maybe kicked him in the balls or something, that somehow you’d be the one who’d get arrested. Can’t win.
Generally speaking, women tend to be more passive than men. Most of us are not socialized to fight back. We’re taught to be mothers, to be nurturing, supportive, and to run away from male violence (or worse, to excuse it) rather than to confront it. (That needs to change. Violence against women will never end until we women stand up for each other and fight back in some way. Of course, I’m not suggesting violence, but we need to confront and take action, to stop running away.)
So… the harassment carried on until it escalated. Another male coworker began joining in on the “fun,” so now I had two coworkers constantly making remarks at me while I tried to ignore them and just do my job. (I needed the money very badly!) Then… one day, I had to go into the cooler to pull out some food for the kitchen, and he followed me in! Then… Wham! Bam! No, thank you, ma’am! He lunged at me and tried to force himself on me. Fortunately, a female coworker walked in, and the two of us together fought him off. (He wasn’t a big muscle-bound guy, but he was very aggressive, strung out on adrenaline, no doubt.)
I ran out of that cooler, let the manager know I was quitting, then ran home once again, but this time I was unemployed and devastated. This time, I was a young adult in charge of supporting myself.
What hurt the most wasn’t just the physical assault but the psy-op, if you will. I mean, the mind games my female coworkers were playing, as though they were jealous of me, as though I were the one who had done something wrong. “Why is he giving you, and not us, all that attention?” While some of my male coworkers were concerned about me and tried to look out for me, my boss, a woman, had the power to fire that man, but instead she and all of my female coworkers viewed me with contempt, as though I’d brought this harassment on myself. We women have a hard time supporting each other, don’t we?
As I mentioned earlier, sexual harassment has been a big part of my life, so these are not the only experiences I’ve had, just the most dramatic. Possibly I’ll write more in future blogs. Above, I wrote of attempted rapes. The other, unwritten, instances were attempts to ruin my career, my life, or just to make me feel miserable, but they didn’t always involve physical violence. Obviously, these are not things I like to think about much, and writing about them makes me think about them, so… I don’t usually do that, but…
maybe it needs to be written. It’s a history, my history (her-story?) and, like it or not, it has shaped who I’ve become–somewhat of a recluse at times, and most definitely single. How do you connect with men when so many of them want to physically or psychologically harm you?
I am not a hater. There are men in my life who I love dearly. But trust? Trust is another thing entirely.
I’ve joked about this onstage, even wrote a song called, “Not a Stripper,” about struggling in Los Angeles, realizing that the only decent-paying jobs for women involved stripping. Not only that, but strippers got roles in film and TV–regardless of whether or not they’d studied acting. Men hold most of the powerful positions in the entertainment industry. So… if you strip for a man, maybe he’ll help your career? Might give you the lead role?
But if you say no? Then what will he give you? A ruined career? A ruined life? Stalking? Harassment? Or just an eerie silence when you realize that no one wants to hire you anymore?
The icing on the cake for me was leaving Los Angeles in tears and being advised by friends that I should have “used my charm” and my “good looks” to get men to help me succeed. Why was someone as pretty as me (yes, people thought I was pretty back in La La Land) struggling financially? Why, oh why, hadn’t I learned that the real way to make money wasn’t to go to college and earn good grades but just have sex with people you don’t like? (In fact, nobody likes those people. That’s why they have to bully and intimidate young, struggling women to sleep with them–or else!) Pretty pathetic when you have to threaten people in order to get them to sleep with you, eh?
It’s sort of a rite of passage for every woman who wants to succeed in the entertainment industry. You must learn to allow men to treat you like a sex object. Just let them fondle you, and let them know you’re flirty and okay with whatever they might want to do to you, and guess what? They might let you obtain a little bit of success… as long as you don’t acquire enough power in the industry to compete with them ’cause then you’ll be able to fight back.