It’s a moment I will never forget. Sitting in the back of a taxi with a work colleague, late at night after yet another work function, lubricated with way too much liquor and thick with suggestive lewdity. A normal midweeker for someone working in the film and television industry in Australia in the 2000s. I had been particularly chuffed about my invite to this event because it was a fairly significant one for me, with some major players involved and I thought it was a reflection of my talent and ability, that I had been given a seat at the table.
The gender balance at this event, as at most, was fairly imbalanced. I was one of a handful of ambitious (yes I was ambitious!) women in lower level positions mixing with men more powerful than me. Men who could literally make or break my career overnight. The night was pretty run of the mill really, littered with arse grabs and sexual innuendo that just got more overt as the alcohol flowed. It was always worse at the end of the night when everyone usually ended up at a dingy karaoke bar or some club in the city.
In the dark, silenced by pumping music and vulnerable from alcohol, the boundaries didn’t seem to exist anymore. It was like being caught in a thick fog of hands and sexual suggestion, the boys falling in line behind the men, taking their spot in the queue, hierarchy forming based on the perceived sexual attractiveness of the women in the room. The most attractive women being the target and prize for the most powerful men and so on.
Not that any of us knew this of course. It didn’t matter what the women wanted or whether we were even interested or available most of the time. This is the insidious language of misogyny and entitlement that the entertainment industry was built upon. This is the way it has always been. Where else did the concept of the “casting couch” come from? And who can forget the grand studios of the golden age of Hollywood, plying their female stars with drugs to keep them thin and controlled.
Ashamedly for me, it was just easier to roll along with it and appease, than confront it head on. Having an undiagnosed anxiety disorder didn’t help either. So that’s exactly what I did and what many of us are still doing today. It’s just easier to put up with it, don’t say too much, act like “one of the guys”, take “the joke”, be “chill” about it because it’s all “in good fun”…even when it really isn’t.
This is not new. All of my feminist heroes have addressed it in their own books. Clementine Ford, Tracey Spicer, Caitlin Moran, Gloria Steinem and so on but it is STILL happening and it is STILL how most of us react when faced with sexual harassment in the workplace. Serving to perpetuate the problem because when it happens on such a consistent basis, when it is the rule rather than the exception, then we normalise it because it IS normal. It feels more normal than NOT being harassed but it shouldn’t and herein lies the crux of the problem. In the entertainment industry, being sexual harassesed is about as common as rain and we women have all learnt to carry umbrellas to protect ourselves from it instead of the industry itself, stopping the rain from falling in the first place.
So back to the taxi…one had been hailed after the wind had finally fallen from my bosses’ sails at about 3am. One of the big wigs hopped in a cab with me even though their house was nowhere near mine. I only learnt that…in the cab. Not the first flag I had chosen to ignore that night. He was a person I respected and admired. One of the most powerful influencers in the film and television industry at the time and someone I desperately wanted to impress. With my brain.