I’ve been sexually harassed for as long as I can remember.
So have most women I know.
Most of the time I haven’t said anything—not out of fear but because it hardly seemed notable.
And I was never willing to actually sleep with anyone to get ahead. It’s not that I have excellent morality; it’s just that for a long time I naively thought I could play at their game and win.
When I first moved to LA and wanted to get signed by a lit agent, I would go to drinks with male agents. A few tried to sleep with me. One succeeded. None of them signed me.
It was only later that I realized I had it backwards. You had to act like you weren’t going to sleep with them and then sleep with them. I’d act like I was going to and then not do it.
I’d hear about various women who’d made it by sleeping their way to the top — a comedian here, an actress there. I even worked on a show with an actress who seemed highly skilled at that and is very successful now.
I’d wonder if I should have just gone ahead with it.
The Famous Musician
When I was working for People magazine, I was assigned a profile on a hugely famous musician — one who went on to marry a hugely famous supermodel, from whom he’s now divorced. People required home shoots and interviews, but I was told that he would only agree to the interview if it wasn’t at home and so this was going to happen at the L’Ermitage Hotel.
Cool. I’d done hotel interviews before.
When I arrived, a no-nonsense female manager let me into the suite. When the musician arrived, he looked at me and said we’d be doing the interview in the bedroom. I wasn’t phased; in fact, I was flattered. A famous musician was smiling lasciviously at me. The no-nonsense manager shrugged. Into the bedroom I went.
I’m Part of the Problem
I wasn’t scared or nervous. I felt like I knew exactly how to balance the flirtation, how to get exactly what I wanted while not having to do anything I didn’t want to do. I enjoyed it.
Does that mean I’m part of the problem?
When he invited me to his house the next night to “finish the interview,” I said yes. We exchanged numbers and I showed up at the address he’d given me.
Of course, this is the part I was always bad at. I showed up. I can be an idiot so I actually thought we were finishing the interview.
When it became clear we were not, I realized that I was not attracted to this man so much as attracted to the fact that he was attracted to me.
I told him I wasn’t going to sleep with him and shortly after he asked me to leave.
To his credit — and yes, it’s sad that this has to be mentioned as something that goes in the “good” column — he put no pressure on me at all.
And Then I Had to Finish the Story
A few weeks later, I had to “close” the story — which is to say get a few final facts. I called him. He did not return the call. And so I called the no-nonsense manager. She was kind and told me she’d talk to him and get right back to me.
When she called back, her tone had changed entirely. “He told me you went to his house,” she said, as if I had found his address on a star map and showed up.
“I did,” I answered. I felt ashamed.
“Well, he’s given you plenty then,” she said. “We’re not answering any more questions.”
She hung up.
I got in trouble with my editor — I couldn’t fill in the holes in the story. And I felt like I’d done something horribly wrong.
The gray in these situations can be occasionally blinding.
The Abusive Actor and Website Owner
When I wrote a book for an infamously abusive actor, he also asked me to interview him in his bed. I acquiesced then, too. I needed the interview.
And honestly, doing that was a lot less frightening than doing the other things he demanded on other days — like fly a hooker in from San Francisco or duck when he was throwing his phone at me.
When I worked at a website, the owner said so many inappropriate things to me that I stopped even noticing.
Just like with the infamously abusive actor, the sexual comments were nothing compared to the rage. I would much prefer to be sexually harassed than yelled at.
I guess that’s one of the things that bothers me about what’s been going on lately. Sexual harassment is everywhere. And, to me, it’s a lot less terrifying than the sort of things many sexual harassers also do — namely, yell and say cruel, horrifying things (the go-to line for the actor whose book I wrote, when I asked him about something he didn’t want to talk about was, “F — you, you dumb c — — . You’re even stupider than you look.”)
I told the agent on the book (a man) what was happening.
I told the editor on the book (a woman) what was happening.
They both said the same thing: I’d signed a contract. This would be over soon. I had to do it. There was nothing they could do. Just get through it.
That’s What Bothers Me
In our “You’ve been publicly shamed” era, people are acting like they’re shocked by something many of us have been participating in for years.
The truth is it’s easy to come after someone when they’re not as powerful as they once were.
And it’s tempting to do it now, as so many of us feel so powerless in terms of being able to do anything about the sexism literally ruling our country. But it’s the witch-hunt aspect of it — the piling on of stories when it’s convenient to do so — that bothers me.
Where were all these people when Harvey was the most powerful man in Hollywood? If they cared so much about this not happening to other women, wouldn’t they have said something back when he was capable of doing it to a large swath of women rather than now, when no one will return his call?
I don’t want women to be sexually harassed. I don’t want to be sexually harassed. I want people to share about their darkest experiences so they can find their light. But I need to do it in a way that is authentic and, for me, it’s much more complicated than a #metoo hashtag.
The only people who should be surprised during these incidents are the good guys — the men who didn’t know that a large part of their gender behaves like this. The rest of the men, and all the women, have always known.
Maybe moments like this mean change is possible. But I also know that when people are empowered, many — a no-nonsense manager, an editor who needs to get a book in — look the other way.
Maybe we’re in a new era. I know people are hoping that this moment will make a real difference.