lev radin / Shutterstock.com
lev radin / Shutterstock.com
The Sacrifice of Speaking Up
Harvey Weinstein is now a convicted rapist—and we owe that to the silence-breakers. But we also owe them something more: the ability to work without fear of being perceived as “difficult” or “dangerous.” We owe them their lives back.
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Recently I was having drinks with Lauren Sivan, an Emmy-winning journalist and broadcaster. She is also one of convicted-rapist Harvey Weinstein’s silence-breakers. I was passing on a positive message from someone Sivan didn’t know, but who wanted to thank her for doing an extremely brave and admirable act. Lauren sighed. “Everyone thinks you’re great until it comes down to giving you a job.”
While everyone is cheering the long-awaited justice for Weinstein (sentenced today to 23 years for his convicted sex crimes; he also awaits trial in Los Angeles), Sivan is working freelance. But landing a full-time job has been more of a struggle. And the reason, much like the experience that led to it, is not in her head. “You make them nervous,” she was told after multiple interviews for a job it looked like she was going to get. “It’s the Weinstein thing.” She was told by another agent, “When we Google you, the first thing that comes up is a Weinstein lawsuit.” When Sivan explained she wasn’t part of that, they would say, “It just seems like you’re part of it.” The film mogul’s conviction appears like a Hollywood ending, especially for all of us who have watched so many sexual predators go free, or get paltry sentences, or become appointed to the Supreme Court. But bringing a sexual predator to justice is a pyrrhic victory if the women who helped make it happen can’t support themselves as a result of it. We owe them more than our admiration; we need to give them back their financial agency.
“Companies don’t want someone they think is going to sue them,” she’s been told. But Sivan has never sued anyone. In fact, her connection with this case should make her exactly the kind of candidate they want: calling out injustice is the purpose of journalism. It makes her courageous and compassionate, two qualities we could use in our press right now. Instead, she’s been called “too political,” as a result of her actions. “You’re forever linked to an incident that happened to you ten years ago,” she laments. “This is a Scarlet letter forever.”
She’s not the only one wearing this scarlet letter. Former Def Jam executive, Drew Dixon was a producer of hit records with such artists as Aretha Franklin, John Legend and Mary. J. Blige, when she went on record with accusations of sexual harassment and assault against Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons in December 2017. And in a panel discussion at the end of last month she admitted, “Nobody called me, to this day,” despite all of her previous successes. Also on the panel was actor, writer, and filmmaker Sarah Ann Masse who recently wrote a piece for The Wrap on her experiences coming forward about Weinstein. As women online were being empowered to hashtag their truth, the experience offline was much different. After being silent for nearly a decade, she finally spoke up in what was supposed to be a safer, more enlightened era—and found that her career was ruined. Two months into the #MeToo movement, Masse learned she was being blacklisted. “Enough is enough … Why do you keep talking about this? … Directors don’t want to call you in,” Masse heard from reps. She went nearly two years without an audition.
Masse is the first to admit the business ebbs and flows, but a year and eight months was excessive by anyone’s measure. And she, like Sivan, had heard enough comments to know that something else was going on. Equally awful is the not knowing.
I have talked about my own experiences as a female writer in Hollywood: Being a woman in a room full of men is often like being Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense—you’re talking and you don’t understand why no one can hear you. In addition to the erasure, I’ve found my ability to do my job hampered by inappropriate and sexual comments. At times, I’ve even been worried for my safety. At first, I was quiet, afraid of retribution or that no one would see it as any big deal, but like many emboldened by the movement, I have grown more vocal. I also discussed what was happening at the time with a male supervisor. Did he tell others? Did it get back to people? Are people saying I’m difficult or crazy or disparaging my work? These are the things that keep me up at night when I’m not working. At the time I was told, “This is why this keeps happening to you women. Because you don’t do anything.” But we did something. And because we can’t get hired as a result, it’s going to keep happening.
Any sentence I have typed above can be a reason I never get hired again.
If I was a political candidate talking about economic justice for a group of people, the progressive men who run Hollywood would be behind it. And yet no one wants to discuss or remedy the economic injustice done to the survivors who come forward. Progressive men think it’s great to take on the establishment unless they are the establishment. And they’re not big on rewarding the women who do. For a town that loves movies about a hero, they don’t seem to care much about the real ones working—or not working—among them. “I hate being heralded as a hero and then not finding work. It’s infuriating,” Sivan says. She’s right: This ending sucks and I want my money back.
Rather than resulting in an increase in the number of women in the workplace, the #MeToo movement has sparked a backlash that has decreased it. A Forbes article at the end of last year revealed a series of disturbing trends across all professions: 21 percent of men and 12 percent of women are more reluctant to hire women for jobs that require close interaction with men, while 60 percent of male managers were uncomfortable participating in job-related activities with women, such as mentoring. The reason for the reluctance? Men claim they don’t know how to act or what they can say anymore. It seems, “Don’t be creepy” is too complicated for them. Now we’re not just punishing those who speak out, but those women who don’t as well. #MeToo was essential to starting a conversation that had been silenced for too long. But what we could really use now is #HireMeToo.
We need to find a solution. And the silence-breakers have had two years to think about it. “People have to be ethical and brave in positions of power with access to capital, access to distribution and put us on [projects],” says Dixon. For her part Masse is trying to promote a social media campaign like last year’s #WGAStaffingBoost, an initiative started to help writers find work. This campaign also included a grid so people interested in hiring writers could be introduced to new names. Masse sees #HireSurvivors and #HireSurvivorsHollywood as a positive way to talk about survivors, out of the context of one event in their lives that people seem determined to define them by. As Masses explains, “So much of what surrounds those of us who have come forward is this negativity and the salaciousness of our abuse and we kind of get dehumanized. We lose our dynamism and our layers as human beings.”
“My work now is finding solutions for our industry,” says Dominique Huett, an actress and model, who says she rejected Weinstein’s advances in 2006 and found herself blacklisted not just professionally, but socially as well. The experience has motivated her to create support systems that help other women avoid the same fate. Sivan agrees: “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to have more women helping women… It’s not enough just to have women in executive power positions, they have to be open to helping those who come below them.”
But if we want the women who came before us to help us, we need to help them, too. Claudia Lonow, the creator of such shows as How to Live With Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life and Accidentally on Purpose, summed it up perfectly when she passed along this advice, “It’s not enough to believe us, hire us. And then don’t just hire us, let us create and tell our stories.”
When we tell our stories, we change the culture that allows this to happen. And when we change the culture, men no longer have to worry about “not knowing how to act.” But we can do more than invent these remedies on TV. We can create them for real, too. But we need to do more than just admire those with the courage to come forward. We need to hire them.
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