Most women have these stories. From acts of casual disregard to the deep dark violations of assault, abuse and rape. Most of us have stories for every category. I know I do. And I know for a long time I have thought myself somehow weak. That the solution to this problem was to become strong. I’ve been more ashamed of myself for being chosen as a victim than the men who have preyed on me. That’s conditioning for you.
My journey out from under these feelings is midway. It’s been devastating and arduous and exhausting and I know it will continue to be. The more I build my self worth, trust my intuition, solidify my boundaries, and take personal responsibility for my part in accepting certain behaviors as normal, the angrier and angrier I am. And everyone knows what the world thinks of angry women. We’re damaged. Ragged edged and undesirable. Shrill and sharp in all the places we’re meant to be gentle and soft. It layers shame on top of shame on top of shame.
Processing all of this in my personal life has made me take a long, hard look at the entertainment industry and my place in it, long before the current news cycle demanded it. I woke up at the beginning of this year and suddenly felt too sensitive to exist in all of the spaces I used to tolerate. This world I’ve spent a decade campaigning to be invited into is suddenly garish and false, like there’s a high pitch being emitted from hidden speakers and I flinch and collapse while everyone else walks around oblivious and smiling. I’ve never been flat out physically assaulted in a professional situation but the treatment of women is disgusting and pervasive in almost every interaction if you are paying attention. These are just a few I remember vividly enough to tell.
I worked with a director who wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I was the female lead of the film. He consistently gave my notes to my male costar.
I worked with a director who felt entitled to control my sex life. Any co-mingling in his cast could potentially effect our work and his investment so he actually manipulated my relationship, wanting it to develop at a speed he was comfortable with so he could know whether or not we would need to be separated or replaced for the sake of his project.
I worked with a director who unleashed a narcissistic rage on me when I wanted to have a say in the blocking of a scene for my physical comfort level. There was implied nudity and I was not interested in implying it for the camera but showing it to the crew. He completely lost his temper, belittled and shamed me in front of the entire crew and my costar. I burst into tears and the room had to be cleared for ME to get a grip. Later, the writer approached me to “apologize” on behalf of the director but ended up justifying his behavior by explaining that he just “really cares about the film”.
I’ve been told by a director that my upcoming scene will be what teenage boys will be jerking off to when they watch the movie.
I worked on a big budget film that shot on location and production conspired with my male costar so that he could pay for my hotel room “as a favor”. They claimed it wasn’t in the budget to house me. When my manager called to negotiate he was informed by an AD that my costar had already paid for it.
Before I was cast in a film I was contacted via Facebook by one of it’s writers. He pitched himself as my champion, told me he was helping to influence the director to choose me. He asked for my phone number so he could be the first to tell me when the decision was made. I played along, fearing that a failure to appease him would cost me the job. He sent me screenshots of emails between the director and producers, with the email addresses all clearly visible, to show me how involved he was in the conversation about casting. When I was cast, he said I owed him a celebratory drink. He later told me that I was almost fired the night before shooting because of the way my body looked in the photos from my fitting. He also had another actress’ sex scene from that same film saved in his phone. He showed it to my friend and I at a bar, laughing.
On one occasion when I did a brief sex scene requiring topless nudity, wardrobe gave me pasties to wear, since no one had been explicitly informed of the exact details of the scene. I wore them, figuring I would be asked to remove them if necessary. No one said anything and we shot the scene, but ran out of light and had to reshoot it the next day. In the interim, the director called the casting office and unleashed an angry tirade on them over the fact that I had worn the pasties. They in turn called my agent, unleashing a similar tirade on him, who in turn called to yell at me. Two offices full of people were blamed and demeaned, funneling all of that humiliation onto me, all because this particular director didn’t have the maturity and communications skills to directly ask me to do something. The most confounding thing was that he WROTE that scene. He sat at his computer in his office and decided that a young actress would have to agree, through agents, managers and lawyers, to reveal her breasts in the service of his storytelling and he didn’t even have the balls to make the request directly when the moment came. That tells you everything you need to know about the problem in Hollywood right there.
These stories go on and on and on. Every single one of these experiences was NORMAL. Par for the fucking course. Completely unchallenged by me or anyone else who witnessed it. And I am tired. I am angry. I want to challenge everyone and everything. I don’t care if I’m being unfair, I DO NOT WANT TO WORK WITH OR FOR MEN. It’s not a realistic desire since men are running nearly 90% of this business but I feel it in my core. The way I have been treated off camera doesn’t even begin to deal with the way I have been treated through male storytelling. The characters I’ve had to play, the things I’ve had to say and do, the clothing I’ve been made to wear or not wear. The pressure to say yes because there are so few opportunities in the first place and you hope it will lead to something better. My favorite acting teacher in college told me that the way I looked would open a lot of doors, and I would have to work hard if I wanted to have something to offer when I got there. I operated from that place for a long time, thinking that it was on me to earn my place, that it was only natural I be given opportunities based on my looks and sexuality and I would have to prove I was capable of more. What I wish he told me was that not every open door leads to a room that deserves you. Every exploitation was framed perfectly as an opportunity until the door was locked behind me.
The fury that lives in the pit of my stomach is heavy and consuming. It burns calories, runs me down and yet keeps me awake at night. I often feel powerless. I want to build something for myself from the ground up but I’m not quite sure how. I know a lot of women who feel this way, and women of color, nonbinary, and anyone in the LGBTQ community feel it in the deepest ways of all. We want to band together and make a new playing field, set a completely different code of rules, make men apply to us for admission on the terms of their compliance with this new requirement of respect. It’s difficult to do because we’ve been taught our whole lives that our place is not at the top of any power structure and somewhere in us, no matter how angry or frustrated we are, we believe that. It’s going to take time to unlearn. It’s going to take time to stop laughing nervously at jokes that aren’t funny or accepting apologies that aren’t genuine or thinking we have to replace our sensitivity with numbness mislabeled as strength. It’s going to take time for men too. For the bad ones to be dismantled and for the good ones to admit that this culture of toxic masculinity has both tainted and benefited them too. I don’t claim to have any of the answers, but it’s high time we were honest about the problem. It is excruciating and exalting to finally have the support to say it out loud.