As an avalanche of stories about bad behavior in Hollywood consumes the industry, it’s time to not only question the system that enabled this behavior, but acknowledge the full extent of the resulting damage.
Beyond the physical or psychological damage that such harassment and assault caused its victims, many of these cases impacted careers — stopping some from chasing their Hollywood hopes and dreams all together, and keeping others from pursuing certain jobs because of whom might be attached.
For instance, in the NY Times exposé on Louis C.K.’s long history of sexual misconduct, two of the two women who watched C.K. get naked and masturbate in front of them, writers Dana Min Goodman and Julia Wolov, told the newspaper that they didn’t go to the police because they were unsure whether or not what he had done was a criminal act.
But beyond whether C.K. could have been arrested for his actions, the far more serious crime committed against these women may be the underreported but horrifying trend that unites every one of these stories: the aftermath.
Actresses who were labeled as “difficult” and denied top roles, writers who quit their jobs, directors who never got another chance. Women who wanted to pursue their passion in the entertainment industry, and instead exited in tatters. The actual acts are awful, but the fact that those who experienced them have had to live with the repercussions, while the perpetrators have experienced great success, makes it all worse.
In the case of Goodman and Wolov, for example, the Times noted that the writers talked to members of the comedy world about what C.K. did — until they felt pressured by CK’s manager, 3 Arts’ Dave Becky, to stop talking. Becky reps some of the top comedians in the business, including Kevin Hart and Amy Poehler, but Goodman and Wolov “took themselves out of the running for the many projects he was involved in. Though their humor is in line with what he produces, ‘we know immediately that we can never even submit our material,'” Wolov told the newspaper.
Another comedian who spoke to the Times about C.K.’s actions, Abby Schachner, said the star apologized to her later, and that she accepted his apology. “But the original interaction left her deeply dispirited, she said, and was one of the things that discouraged her from pursuing comedy,” the Times wrote.
The list of actresses who believe their careers were curtailed because they turned down Harvey Weinstein’s advances are endless. And it goes far beyond just that one mogul: Actress Rae Dawn Chong recently told the press that her agency, CAA, didn’t support her when she was harassed by another agency client, Steven Seagal, and felt that speaking up impacted her career.
In the case of Kater Gordon, who revealed Thursday that she was sexually harassed by “Mad Men” showrunner Matthew Weiner, she quit the business entirely. Despite having won an Emmy for co-writing the Season 2 episode “Meditations In An Emergency” with Weiner, she has yet to write again in Hollywood. (According to The Information, she is starting a non-profit to tackle issues of sexual harassment called Modern Alliance.)
“Mad Men” was a lot of things to a lot of people, but one relatively consistent thread was the fact that Don Draper (Jon Hamm) had an aura of cool, while being a shitty boss. The smartest decision made by Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) over the course of the series was to quit working for him and find her own place in the world.
But Don never treated her like a object, never made her feel that she owed him sexual favors in exchange for the opportunities she’d received. Peggy dealt with no shortage of bullshit from her male colleagues, but while often centered around her gender it never crossed the sort of line that Gordon reports having experienced, and Peggy as a result went on to have a successful career.
In the real world, the basic fact is that when someone is worried about their safety, it affects their ability to work, to create. Some of those affected by these scandals have chosen to use their experiences, such as when Asia Argento wrote and directed a scene inspired by her alleged assault by Harvey Weinstein, or the recent storyline about a masturbating boss on “One Mississippi,” written by Tig Notaro and her all-female writing staff. But there are better ways to get source material than to experience sexual harassment or assault.
When you look at the truths being told right now about the bad behavior of men, their names all lead the headlines. Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Sheen, Kevin Spacey. The focus has been on the men who commit these actions. But attention must be paid to the women and men who were affected by their actions. The accused caused legitimate harm, damaging or even ruining lives and careers.
Just a few months ago, it felt like a plea that would be easily ignored: “believe women.” Today, women are speaking, and being listened to. The next step is acknowledging the tremendous price that they have paid, year after year, as a result of this treatment.
The step after that? An industry that has zero tolerance for abuse, where women and men are able to create on an equal playing field. Imagine the amazing work that might be possible, from talent that hasn’t been scarred by abuse. Get excited for a better future.