(Possible triggers around harassment in this article.)
What climate, what culture, makes it possible for Weinstein to go on sexually harassing and assaulting women for over 30 years? The news is inundated with deplorable stories of the abuse of people and power – the media is spelling out every detail, no need to do that here. Instead, I want to discuss the ecosystem that allows the Weinsteins, the Spaceys, and the Ghomeshis to thrive. That ecosystem is the community we all live in.
My favourite colour as a little girl was blue. When my friends and I would play a board game I’d always call the blue marker. I remember when boys would play too; I’d be fighting for my colour. There was an implicit understanding amongst us eight year olds that if a boy and a girl both wanted blue it would go to the boy, unless he preferred another colour such as red or green. In those instances, I was allowed to use the blue marker. I remember my female friends’ little faces looking at me, their eyes telling me not to make a big deal about it – let’s just play and let it go.
Now, I better understand the patriarchal structure of the playground. I know why I’m less likely to get the blue marker. I’ve built coping mechanisms. Despite this, I often feel like my younger self; choosing between playing the game quietly or risking alienation if I protest. What am I protesting? I feel bashful admitting the little things contribute to the majority of my frustrations, just like they did when I was eight. It seems trite to complain about someone taking credit for my idea. I don’t want to be labeled a morality cop when I bring attention to the racist undertones of a joke. If someone makes a lewd comment about a colleague’s appearance I don’t want to ruin his or her reputation. A large part of our job security is dependent on our reputation in the film community. Complaining or calling people out can feel like an all or nothing dilemma. The media’s message seems to say you’re either a perpetrator or a victim. I don’t necessarily want to lump my colleague in with Weinstein for telling an inappropriate joke. But there are some really tough days that make me question being in this industry. The little things add up, and there needs to be a change.
The Weinstein Reckoning is a starting point for a discussion around harassment. It’s scary to write about the nuances of harassment and bullying because I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. Part of my discomfort with addressing smaller systemic instances of harassment and bullying is because there are so few models on how to handle those situations. I want to be an effective ally. There is no short cut in advocacy, it takes practice. The people being corrected will be as inexperienced as those asking for a higher degree of professionalism and respect. I look forward to the day when I have the experience and wisdom to advocate with empathy and grace. Till then, my advocacy may resemble a fawn trying to take its first steps.
Manitoba’s RESPECT on SET initiative encompasses all forms of harassment and acknowledges that it’s part of a larger issue of power imbalance. It’s easy to hold the Weinstein story at a distance, to denounce his actions. It’s not so easy to acknowledge the moments when we are complicit. This cultural moment is a rare opportunity to build a safe environment, with ACTRA MB’s help, where we feel like speaking out might be finally respected instead of punished. Rather than simply gawk at the Hollywood horror stories, let’s use them to create change. Practicing RESPECT on SET means holding yourself accountable for your inaction. It means noticing when you’ve had the blue piece for longer than others. Acknowledging the moments when I stood silently by whilst a colleague was being ridiculed. It’s time to reflect on our part in the playground.
November 21, 2017