In smaller cities in a less glitzy industry with a tinier career and projects at stake, I went through some of what Harvey Weinstein’s victims experienced. That doesn’t make me special; it’s ordinary. We women share these stories like soldiers reminiscing about being in battle. It’s everywhere and I’m willing to bet that there’s one powerful predator at every big company whose behavior is being covered up or ignored. People in Hollywood knew about Weinstein’s predatory ways. He had the Midas touch and veto power and no one wanted to piss him off, as horrible as he was.
You get to know who the touchy-feely guy is in the executive ranks. Word gets around. Both times I was propositioned for favours in exchange for work, it wasn’t difficult to reject them although it was hugely uncomfortable and in one case, disappointing almost to the point of being devastating.
The first time it happened involved a guy all the women at work knew was a Class A Creep. I had been warned about him. At a social gathering for staff, this older male colleague with slightly more clout than me cornered me with the classic line, “My wife and I have an agreement that I can sleep with whoever I want.” Well good for you, I thought. That doesn’t suddenly make you attractive to me, or less married. He said it would be good for my career to get him “onside”. He’d love to work with me and be a mentor, if only we were closer. I said, no thank you, and moved away. Later in the night he was quite drunk and I heard him slurring a similar offer to another woman.
That wouldn’t be the last time I heard the “wife and I have an agreement” line. I probably heard it from a half-dozen men over the years, from a TV producer giving me a ride home after a shoot to a middle-manager making a middle-of-the-night visit to the studio where I was on air. Perhaps it worked on someone, but never on me.
The second time, I was directly propositioned for work in exchange for sex during a job interview. The General Manager rolled his chair from behind his desk and up to mine so we were almost touching. He reached out and put an open hand on one of my panty-hosed knees and said that once I worked for him, he’d love to take me out for a drink and show me the city. I muttered something about it being “okay” and that I already knew the city fairly well, and the temperature in the room dropped about fifteen degrees as he rolled away, not making eye contact with me again. I knew I wouldn’t be offered the job and now I didn’t want it, and I had really wanted it when I arrived. In fact, it was going to be a move up the corporate ladder that I desperately wanted at that time. The interview was over, there were no more questions and he didn’t even get up to see me out.
Sometimes you can feel a build-up to something inappropriate and you can shut it down. But you still have to wait for it, so the onus is on you. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and it’s suddenly in your face. It could always be worse, but there’s no feeling like the powerlessness that the aggressor knows they’re creating. That’s what they’re counting on, convincing you that don’t have a choice. It’s always wrong, no matter what you’re wearing.
It’s not a woman’s job to police the behavior of the men around her, although she is put in that impossible position more often than you might guess. When I look back at these situations, I try to be gentle with the young, less confident woman I was. I would definitely advise her to tell someone about the second scenario. She could walk into the Program Director’s office on her way out of the building and tell him the entire story of the way his boss behaved. If it happened today, that’s what I’d do – but it would never happen now. I’m not that young and vulnerable anymore.