We have had several points over the last forty years in which Americans have learned about sexual harassment – the 1991 Anita Hill senate testimony, the 2010 Casey Affleck allegations, and now the 2017 Harvey Weinstein revelations. Generations of women and girls learned that coming forward about sexual harassment often meant that you would be blamed and shamed for the harassment and your career would suffer while your harasser would go unpunished and, sometimes, get promoted. In 2017, however, Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually harassing, assaulting, and/or raping almost 100 women, including dozens of famous Hollywood actresses. Hundreds of women have come forward to hold men accountable for sexual misconduct since then. While most of us don’t immediately associate Hollywood with a work environment, it is for writers, directors, actors, production assistants, and the hundreds of people it takes to make a film or TV show. I caught up with Barbara Marshall, a film and TV screenwriter in Los Angeles, about how the unique Hollywood work environment led many to accept sexual harassment as part of the work and how the entertainment industry is moving forward. Ms. Marshall’s writing credits include the recent horror film, “Wish Upon,” the film “Viral,” and NBC’s “Terra Nova.” Ms. Marshall is also writing the script for the upcoming Lifetime R. Kelly film as part of Lifetime’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign.
Hollywood: Sexual Harassment in a Social Work Environment
I started out by asking Ms. Marshall if the prominent Hollywood men being called out for sexual harassment was a shock or a long time coming. Ms. Marshall believes it “was a long time coming because there does seem to be a bit of a culture that enables behavior that even if it’s not harassing, it can be incredibly inappropriate. And that can escalate. And it’s also such a boy’s club that I think men feel like they have a lot of money and just feel empowered to do whatever they want because no one really calls them on it. To call someone on it means that you might be risking your career.” She also points out that the fact that the entertainment industry involves a work environment that is more social, has more money involved, and attracts eccentric and creative personalities who tend to burn brighter than normal leads many to “write it off as part of the business and write it off as part of an eccentricity when it’s just bad behavior.”
We Need to Change the Stories We See on Screen and Increase Female Leadership
Ms. Marshall says that post-Weinstein, many women are realizing “we don’t have to put up with this garbage” because there are “enough of us in positions of power and with talent that we can bond together and tell women’s stories that are lucrative, that are popular, and just not have to worry about all this excess baggage.” In fact, companies like Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, exemplifies what Ms. Marshall identifies as a “shift in Hollywood away from middle aged white male with the same homogenous storytelling to try to embrace diversity, embrace women.” Ms. Marshall says
It feels like the business model is changing and therefore it’s changing the culture.”
While including more women’s stories on screen is part of the solution, Ms. Marshall believes that “the more women you see in positions of power, the less likely you’re going to see this behavior is going to be tolerated.” She is already beginning to see changes. At a recent project meeting, she was surprised to see that “everyone in the room – the producer, writer, writer of the novel – it was all women.”
While Hollywood is unique in many ways, the same factors that led to the widespread sexual harassment in entertainment – intimidation by wealthy and influential men being written off as part of business and lots of socializing – can exist in other industries too. The Weinstein effect has taught us that sexual harassment happens regardless of the nature of your work and the location where your work is done. Cultural change can take a long time and it may be a while before other industries have strong female leadership at the same pace that it seems to be occurring in Hollywood. If it weren’t for the women who were brave enough to come forward about Harvey Weinstein, we may not be having this cultural shift. If you are experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace in any industry, an attorney can help you understand your rights.