Sunday, October 9, 2016

"Sexual Harassment in the TV Industry (When You're a Nobody.)"

Before you read the rest of this post, please read this piece written by a female rigger out in Portland, Oregon. (Thanks to Michael Taylor who tipped me off to it.)

Okay, first off, let's set a few things straight since I know some readers will focus on minor details instead of the bigger picture.
 - "Juicer" doesn't necessarily mean "rigging electrician."
 - In California/Hollywood, she didn't have to join a union. You can keep working union jobs if you're not a union member, but it's a weird, complicated thing.
 - The sexual harassment meeting isn't "her fault." Based on what I know is shot in Portland, paired with what I know about the size of her show, I can make a fairly accurate guess about which show it was. And in turn, who the production company is. That production company is known for sticking to the book and legally covering their asses in every which way, and that includes mandatory sexual harassment meetings, often more than once in a season, and often a general one PLUS one for department heads. Believe me, it's not something they only whip out just because a woman is on the payroll.
 - Her "feminine emergency" taking too long is bullshit. For those of you guys out there who think us taking slightly longer than usual bathroom breaks is cutting into precious work time and unfair to those who don't have a bleeding vagina to use as an excuse to duck out of work, just think back to all those times you and/or your colleagues had to 10-2. I've waited on more guys to finish taking a shit far more times than they've had to wait for me when I'm menstruating. Not to mention all the countless smoke breaks. At least ours is only for a few days each month.

Okay, now back to the meat of the article. What happened to her sucks, and sexual harassment and sexism is unfortunately not uncommon. What is uncommon is that she reported it. Because, and this is the sad, harsh and unfair reality of it, what did she expect the outcome to be? That "The Boss," who technically is free to hire whoever he wants*, will bring her back after she filed a claim on him? That even if production made him hire her, a day player, back, that he'd do so with open arms? As much of an asshole The Boss was, one thing he did get right was when he said "it can never be the way it was." Even if, best case scenario, The Boss is fired and she gets back to work, I feel like her colleagues would be so full of resentment anyway that they'd get rid of her the first chance they get. Plus, it'll always be the elephant in the room, making the 10+ hour workday seem even longer.

That's not to say she shouldn't have filed a complaint against the scumbag. I'm just pointing out the lose-lose situation. And while her complaint doesn't get her job back (and it sounds like it was lost before she filed anything), it does shed a light on how unfair this business is in practice. So, yay for that.

Now, let's get this straight: IN NO WAY AM I BLAMING THE VICTIM HERE. It is not her fault her boss is a total douche. There's no way for her to know that a system disguised to protect her (such as the sexual harassment meeting, the Bureau of Labor and Industry) is really a way for companies to cover their own asses. And she's new to a world where she, in my own total outside-of-the-situation opinion, was too nieve to handle.** Which, in a perfect world, her inexperience with the industry shouldn't matter, but we are far from a perfect world here.

That said, if I could turn back time and travel to Portland and find this girl (or really, any other woman in this situation), I'd tell her:
1) If you want longevity, diversify. Either in your capabilities (on set juicer, board op, etc) or, more importantly, your crews. Don't stick with just one if you can help it so when shit hits the fan, you a) have another crew to fall back on and b) possibly have a character witness on your behalf when you need it, whether it be on an official level or just as a job reference to a Best Boy.

2) Think about who else you can list as a witness to your boss' assholery other than co-workers. If his "special job on the truck" comment was on an open radio, was anyone else, other than the grip, around to hear it? Any P.A.s, Crafty, Background, etc, around any of the times he made inappropriate comments? Has he made sleezy comments to anyone else? In my experience, someone who creeps you out has probably creeped someone else out, too.

And documenting every time, place and comment made probably wouldn't hurt either. Even if there's no witnesses, showing the higher ups a detailed list of offenses holds more weight than "sometime last week, he said _________." And on that note...

3) If you don't trust your union rep, e-mail them your situation and have them write back in the e-mail what they think you should do. You're essentially preparing for a legal battle here. Cover your ass and get as much of it in writing as possible. Show the BOLI that you followed all the appropriate steps and don't let them make it a game of "he said/she said."

4) If you're still in the union, put yourself of the availability list. You said yourself, when it gets busy, people have to hire union members before they can hire anyone else. It may not me the ideal situation, but it may be your best if all your want to do is get back to work.

I do hope that, while she may never be given the chance to work as a rigging election again, her speaking up will put a target on her former boss. That people will be more aware of what is and isn't acceptable behavior in the workplace. That perhaps her speaking up about what happened to her will shed light on how sexist this business can be and hopefully change something for the good. You may think if she was in L.A., she could avoid this stuff / it'd be easier for her to find work. I believe that is false. A bigger work pool just means there are more assholes here, and also more gossiping going on. Portland is just a microcosm of us. If I was in her shoes, would I have filed a formal complaint? Hard to say. But I will say, that her coworkers who were unwilling to testify?
They're no better than her asshole boss.

* Technically speaking, he's actually hiring on behalf of the Producer, but it's not like they usually give a shit who's actually hired for such a low-on-the-totem poll position.
** The Boss saying "Girls don't do this kind of stuff" when they first met is what sent a whole bunch of alarms ringing in my head. From my experience, guys who say sexist shit like that right off the bat are the ones not worth working for. And if you do have to work for them, proceed with extreme caution.


Audrey Rose said...

Thanks for the think-piece. Just wanted to mention a couple things that seem to have been missed.

1. I listed over a dozen witnesses who heard the walkie-talkie comment and many others. The company claimed to be unable to find a single person to testify on my behalf, however the person who warned me, I "should always have a chip on my shoulder because this business is extremely sexist" says he most certainly did speak on my behalf. He left a the following comment on my Facebook wall, attached to my original post:

"I received a call not long after I left, and discussed the situation with a female producer. I gave her all the information I had, totally backing up your side. That was the last I heard of it. For those reading this story, I verify the inappropriate events she talks about. The guy was completely out of line, especially as a supervisor. I found him mentally unstable also. He tried to intimidate me, Good luck to anyone trying that, then ended up crying (literally) about his marital situation. Kudos to you Audrey for having the strength and courage to stand up for yourself."

2. I reported it because I was already gone. Every day that passed without being called back to work, I got more frustrated. He wasn't bringing me back, ever since the "special job in the truck" moment, when he stopped seeing me as a fun object of entertainment. The complaint came after several weeks passing with no work. I felt like there was nothing to lose, and I wouldn't be doing any favors by going away quietly.

3. You're right - I was naive. (Although I don't think I was "too naive to handle it" because I handled it, regardless.) True, I didn't know ANYTHING about rigging electric in the beginning. But since this all happened, I've crossed over to working with Local 28 (stagehands union). So I've learned a LOT in the last five years. And I'm happy to report, work has been plenty.

Jenerator said...

It's so difficult to know how to deal with the sexist and inappropriate comments (it would be nice to be able to eat a freakin banana on set without commentary..). My approach now is to confront them there and then and tell them they're out of line. If any physical or continuing verbal harassment were to happen I hope I'd have the courage to make an official complaint. Some comments I've heard would've gotten the guys sacked on a "normal" job. But it's really hard when some of those comments come from people you like and who are your friends. There is a bit of expectation to put up with some of the banter when you're "one of the boys", but a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

I'd like to think if I filed a complaint now if something happened I'm established enough for it not to make a difference but in the beginning that would've certainly been a death sentence to my career. Kudos to you Audrey indeed for standing up for yourself and for the rest of us.

A.J. said...

Audrey - Wow, thanks for taking the time to read my piece and comment. I was under the impression that no one came forward to testify on your behalf so I'm pleased to hear that you were working with at least one person of character. However, it is shitty that they said otherwise. Either way, I'm glad you reported it and have been able to find work in another field, and hopefully, with less douchey people.

Jenerator - I agree, it's hard to balance between bantering with your colleagues because you're "one of the boys" and what an inappropriate comment is. And it's also hard to approach a colleague/friend about something they said that made you uncomfortable, but yet try to preserve that easy-going relationship you have.

I'm with ya on that last part, though I like to think that the pool of people I'm working with now know better than to make idiotic comments to begin with (although once in a while, I'm sadly proven wrong).

...And I'm still waiting for the day I can eat a banana on set.

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