Well done, Harvey. Although, probably not exactly the legacy you thought you’d be leaving behind. Alyssa Milano tweeted a note that read “Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Now the phrase has been posted across Facebook and Twitter about a million times (and counting) and the rest is hashtag history.
About a dozen years ago, while I was still in local TV, I went to a television convention in Vegas and ended up at a swanky party with a bunch of Hollywood elites, complete with the entire cast of Everybody Loves Raymond. I was seated next to Larry Divney – the then-President of Comedy Central. (This story is *not* about Larry – he was a perfect gentleman). After the party, I ended up hanging out with Larry, along with a big-wig from New Line Cinema (who, in my memory, looked just like Paul Simon), the GM of an LA TV station and…a mystery guy that was also in the industry, but I was unclear on where he fit into the mix.
After piling into Larry’s limo, we ended up at Ghost Bar – the place to be for the who’s-who visiting Vegas. Sure, I was 30 – they were all in their 50s and 60s and I joked that, being the only woman, I probably looked like a hooker. But, it was sort of fascinating hanging out with them. The New Line guy was talking about producing Lord of the Rings like it was just another day at the office and Larry reminisced about the night he and the Paul Simon look-a-like came up with the idea for MTV. (Crazy, right?)
After a drink or two – the mystery guy (since I never caught his name or figured out where he worked) – who was about four inches shorter than me, 25 years older, and 400 pounds, if he was an ounce – started rubbing my arm. My TV station buddy had wandered off to the bar and this guy seized the opportunity since I was by myself. So this asshole started rubbing my arm and he said, “So, are you gonna hook this up for me, or what?”
Excuse me? Hook what up?
The confusion on my face was evident and, once I figured out what he meant, I was more than a little disgusted. I made no response. Once my buddy came back, I cornered him and told him he was not to leave me alone with that guy again. And he didn’t. However, when my male friend stayed by my side, the asshole said to him, “Oh, you’re getting that. I see.” To the guy. Like I was a door prize.
What’s funny is that – I was most offended by the fact that I wasn’t some wannabe actress or model sucking up to this guy. I was (or so I thought, anyway) a colleague. I was a Program Director – a station executive. I was married. And he…was a fat bastard. A not-in-a-million-years-if-you-were-the-last-man-on-earth dirt-bag.
So – is this some horrible trial I had to endure? Obviously not. This doesn’t even compare to what so many women have gone through.
But – when I thought about this – I realized that I have a dozen of these stories. Not TV industry people – just men. Creepy come-ons that left me uncomfortable and looking for an exit, ass-grabs by strange men in bars, co-workers, decades ago, that I was careful never to wind up alone with.
And, for the most part, I’ve shrugged it off. (Ok, there was one complaint to an HR Director when the ick-factor went too far, because when your creepy, leering, co-worker tells you that your eyeglasses and pony-tail make you look like the librarian in a porn film – it’s time to speak up.) Is it okay? Of course not. But – I hate to say it – you get used to it. I’m not saying women should; I’m just saying many do.
The one thing I find problematic in all of this discussion of sexual harassment is what I call the “First-Move Factor.” Throughout history, when someone was attracted to someone else, eventually they took the risk and made the first move. Every person, genuinely attracted to another person, who makes the first move is not a sexual predator. I mean, how would I have gotten together with my husband? (Okay – well, I made the first move there because, let’s be real, we wouldn’t be married now if I was waiting on him.) But, throughout my life, how many first moves were made? Some that were welcome – some that were not. Every time someone took a chance and misread a signal, every unwelcome advance, was *not* harassment. We don’t want a society so mired in political correctness and fear of repercussions that all men are afraid to ever make a move on the off-chance it’s unwanted.
So, maybe it’s like Justice Stewart’s characterization of pornography when he said he couldn’t list everything that went into that category, but that, “I know it when I see it.” Fat Bastard? He didn’t even know my name. He just figured, because of his power and position, that a little 30-year-old nobody like me was on the menu. Clearly that was harassment. (And gross.)
I guess we just know it when we see it. We need to trust our instincts. I think most of us have been on the receiving end of a clumsy pass that we dismissed, and, on the other hand, most of us have been in a situation where a man’s words and actions made us nervous and uncomfortable. But, in the moment, confrontation in difficult. Over the years, I’ve never publicly called out a guy in bar for grabbing me. And when I was 18, I didn’t tell the co-worker who followed me into empty storage rooms that he made me uncomfortable. And when I was 30, I didn’t tell Fat Bastard that he was being a sexist slimeball. Woulda, shoulda, coulda.
If we can teach our daughters to trust those same instincts and speak up when behavior isn’t okay…and if we can teach our sons to be disgusted by that kind of oppressive, demeaning behavior…maybe we can get to a point when our girls won’t hesitate to stand up for themselves.
Maybe this is the start of us leading by example by standing up for ourselves.
Then, maybe our daughters won’t simply get used to it, like too many of us have done.
And, as Carrie Fisher taught us, mailing the occasional cow tongue in a Tiffany box when trying to get your point across doesn’t hurt, either.