If I decide not to report someone when they make an inappropriate comment, does it make me an enabler? If I continue to work with someone who I’ve heard rumours about does it make me complicit? If I post this sexy photo on my social media, does it make me more of a target?
I sometimes wonder if the reason women don’t succeed in the film industry as often as men do is because so much of our energy is focused on asking ourselves these questions. As well as defending ourselves for our decisions several times a day, every day of our careers.
I’m sure some men are kept up at night bothered by these things too, but I’m willing to bet that we as women spend a lot more of our time doing so. Not only are we more often the victims in these instances but we often have to defend ourselves against women as well when they put blame on us.
Although I am a woman who has been working in a male-dominated industry for over a decade, when the conversation of sexual harassment comes up I often say, “You know, I don’t have any personal experiences with that. I guess I’ve been lucky in that way.” Which is what I considered to be the truth. But on further reflection, I could name over a dozen occasions where I’m surrounded by men in a room or on a set where my looks and body have been a topic of discussion in a derogatory way. I have been condescended to, belittled and embarrassed by powerful people in front of several peers and colleagues. And then there’s the 15 minutes of viral internet “fame” I experienced in 2015 when a prominent rapper and his entourage pointed and laughed as my body was reviewed in front of a crowd of people with a rolling CBC camera on a my shoulder.
I suppose I perused my professional endeavours assuming I would have to put up with inappropriate and derogatory comments. Or worse. And the fact that no one has ever taken out their penis in front of me made me “one of the lucky ones.” Let’s think about that for a moment. Despite several instances of being humiliated, condescended to and sexualized in my chosen industry while I am only there to be a professional, I still consider myself lucky. No woman should ever feel that this behaviour is normal or expected.
So I am left thinking “What is my responsibility here?”
I will never ask women “Why didn’t you quit your job?” or “Why didn’t you report him?” when they confide in me about their personal experiences. Those questions put blame on the victim and too often women are made to feel responsible for men’s actions. I will always be there to listen. I willingly take on the role of being there for any woman, any time they need to talk.
I am in no way excusing men who abuse their power—it’s deplorable and disgusting. As a sole woman I can’t make those men change their ways. But we must stand together now more than ever. If we believe and support our female colleagues when they come forward, and we refuse to accept these acts as normal and harmless then we can truly change the landscape of how this industry works. Let’s not get lost in the pursuit of a safer, welcoming environment for women.
If we do, we lose.