When I saw the article written by Ellen Page on Facebook, it resonated with me because I too am out, and in the film industry. I stayed in Canada, however (we don’t have the star system or money that Hollywood has), but what we deal with here is just as prevalent in terms of harassment and or assault by men in the industry.
Likely all women in the film business, and in most industries, have experienced some form of harassment.
Harassment is not always as obvious as the horrific stories we hear about on the news right now, re: Weinstein or Spacey, Bill Cosby, Trump, and Roy Moore. But sometimes it’s more subtle, behind closed doors or on sets- the constant touching or hugs after every shot, being called at midnight or asked to meet in private, or having to put up with rude and sexual comments if you happen to be a lesbian (or not). While growing up, I was subject to more harassment by men as a girl and teenager, but when I became an adult and came out, the way I was treated changed. There was a homophobic lens that I was seen through by producers, directors, cast or crew. Sometimes men thought they could relate to a lesbian by making inappropriate, sexual jokes, as if somehow I was in the ‘boys’ club and was going to laugh, slap backs, or participate in the sexism they so easily spewed and demonstrated, or with the ‘cat’ calls and whistles. I am a feminist and I care about women. I’m not interested in reducing them/us to sexual objects, or making lewd and inappropriate jokes about women because I am a lesbian. It’s offensive and degrading. I can’t imagine how much more horrific it might be if I were a woman of color. I do think race, gender identity and LGBTQ people, have a different and complex reality when it comes to sexual violence and harassment. Some voices are never heard.
As someone who works in a heterosexual dominated industry and culture, the levels and layers are complex, the reactions to identity or expression of gender – whether I’m being told to grow my hair, show more skin, wear skirts, put on more make-up, or being shut out, left out of audition rooms because I am a lesbian, because I don’t ‘flaunt’ myself or try to pass, or because I am not “fuck-able’ to men. That is the big phrase/question in our industry when, mostly men, are making decisions about casting women, “Would you fuck her?” We are reduced to object, always. I don’t buy into the idea that being an actor means you must be ‘sexy’ (or under the age of thirty to be on screen but that is a separate issue). Someone/ industry is defining what ‘sexy’ is and what age women on screen should be, and most of us in North American culture know that the men are the ones holding the strings. It’s a toxic industry, designed to make women look like puppets and idiots, with roles that do not reflect intelligence, dignity, grace, aging, complex characters or stories- but continues to degrade, harass, assault and silence women (or tries to).
It doesn’t matter if we are talented or good actors, have studied or devoted our entire lives to our craft and art. But let’s face it, until diverse screenplays, scripts, and roles for women and queers that reflect who we are, are created, and until the power dynamics shift, we will be trapped in this white, heterosexual story telling paradigm, dominated by sexist stereotypes, and the same trappings we have lived with since black and white movies were invented!
It’s insidious. Girls have been trained for so long to say ‘yes,’ to not cause a fuss, to be “good girls,” obey, be kind, don’t get angry, clean up, tidy house, make the meals, wait until the father takes his place at the table before eating a meal, sitting with your legs crossed to not take up up too much space, not get fat, don’t eat, don’t study math or science, don’t go out at night in those clothes, because if you do, then you are ‘asking’ for it. You are ‘asking for it’ if you drink, get high, kiss but say no, say yes but then say no, as if somehow the body of a female does not belong to her- as if just because she first said yes, she doesn’t have a right to change her mind and say no. As if she is not her own. And the training of all girls in the culture, in homes or at schools, does not prepare her to say no when a big director corners her, makes promises of a job but then…expects something more. Or when someone with extreme power threatens her. Women know when their careers and livelihoods are at stake, one threat is all it takes. And if you add the reality to this that at least one out of two girls is sexually abused in some form before the age of eighteen, how prepared is she to deal with the harassment in a large and powerful industry? Sexism begins long before a woman or girls hits the stage or the set of a film. The training begins the day we are born. And this same training includes being torn down, if you are also a woman of color, or LGBTQ, it’s just that much harder because there is more ammunition, more ways to hurt us.
It’s going to take a long time to unlearn societal sexism, racism and homophobia. If we want our films and television shows to reflect who we are, then we are going to have to overhaul our biz completely, shift the power, who gets funding, who has their stories realized and produced. We must have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment in place for women who are queer, black, brown, Asian, Indigenous and trans, and women who have been sexually objectified and violated.
The #metoo movement is not the first wave of female warriors to tackle sexual violence and it likely we won’t be the last. If we look back at the feminists of yesterday and women like Anita Hill and the hearings, civil rights, the vote for women, labor laws, reproductive rights and Roe V. Wade, control over our bodies, access to education, employment, ending domestic violence done by men, sexual abuse of children, trafficking of women. And there were other female warriors- Sharon Simone, Gloria Steinem, Rosa Parks, Edith Windsor, Storme Delaverie, Maya Angelou, and the founder of the Metoo movement years ago, Tarana Burke, and oh, so many.
The next generation is watching and we have a role to play in changing the cultural face of our industry and the world. Let’s at least make sure that 50% of our shows and movies are female driven, and that the other 50% are from racially and gendered diverse populations including LGBTQ people. I guess that means 100%? That would be revolutionary.
Please visit an old site with some of the work Sharon Simone and I did for years, an NGO I founded with zero dollars, and kept alive because the youth inspired me. It’s not running anymore but there is a site that holds it’s history: Youth Out Loud.