Why Men Defending Other Men is so Damaging
I had another blog post all scheduled and ready to go for this week, but when I read / listened to the NY Times piece with the cast of “Arrested Development,” I had some things I wanted to say.
For those who don’t know what happened— in very short summation— during a cast interview Jessica Walters spoke out about the verbal abuse Jeffrey Tambor inflicted on her on set. The same Jeffrey Tambor who was recently fired from the show “Transparent” because of sexual harassment claims, despite him being the star of the show and winning an Emmy. Instead of defending a teary Jessica Walters, the male cast members defended their fellow male cast member, Mr. Tambor, downplaying the incident by making jokes, and chalking it up to typical set behavior. It felt like they were bullying and belittling her to make their male co-star feel better about himself. It’s a reaction that many women, myself included, know all too well.
I was upset for multiple reasons. My fandom for Arrested Development aside (which is quite strong), it was very disappointing to hear a group of what I thought were smart, intelligent, and caring men (David Cross is married to outspoken feminist goddess Amber Tamblyn, for pete’s sake) ganging up on a woman who has been acting longer than some of them had been alive. She doesn’t need an education on set behavior. It was “mansplaining” in its’ purest, grossest form. But, it also reminded me of my own experience of sexual harassment in the Hollywood workplace and how the men in my situation were quick to jump to the defense of the man who harassed me, instead of me, the victim.
This man had been making sexual jokes in front of me and about me all season. It was downplayed by everyone as, “that’s just how it is,” so I did my best to ignore it and not take it personally (which is not okay, by the way). But when this same person “accidentally” grabbed my ass one day while walking past me, I finally had enough. I reported the incident to my boss who downplayed it and said it was probably an honest mistake, and even joked that I “did look really hot in that red dress,” (which I was wearing the day this happened). At my insistence, he reported it to our production exec, another man, who said he’d rather not make a big deal of it because the showrunner was “too important” to them and perhaps I should just not come into the office for the few remaining weeks we were on the show. I don’t think anyone ever said they were sorry or tried to empathize with me. Their message was clear: the showrunner was important and I was not.
Defending someone’s shitty actions is almost worse than the shitty action itself. I felt betrayed by the men who were supposed to defend me, like I was the one in the wrong for saying anything at all. Taking on one person alone is one thing; having to take on 3 people, 2 of which are supposed to have your back in the first place, is damn near impossible. And here’s the thing, several years later, I doubt any one of those three men involved even remember the incident. But, I think about it every day when I get dressed for work (I haven’t worn that particular dress into an office since).
This came up again in my own life when the news about Aziz Ansari’s “bad date” came out. I felt sympathy for the woman— she clearly felt violated and I have been in that same situation too many times and know how shitty it feels. You don’t want to damage the guy’s ego, so you’re trying to be nice because as women, that’s what we’re taught to be: nice. But, that niceness often comes at the expense of our own self-worth. My husband, however; saw the date as a failure to communicate and didn’t think Aziz did anything particularly wrong. “She should’ve spoken up.” But, I think what men don’t realize is it’s a lot harder to simply speak up, when at every turn woman are accused of either “faking it” or simply get talked over, or their feelings brushed aside. What happened to me at work is a clear example of that, as is what happened to Jessica Walters during the interview. Until men realize it’s not just their actions that are the problem, but also their inaction and ignorance, these incidents will continue.
But, I do see a changing tide. We are having these conversations and I think more women are feeling braver and more empowered to speak out— even if (like in the case of Jessica Walters) that speaking out isn’t met with empathy. The night of the “Arrested Development” drama, I tweeted about my experience and several men reached out to me to tell me how sorry they were and that they would be more aware of their actions. That’s a start. Jason Bateman’s heartfelt and sincere apology is also a great start. And as I’m writing this, Harvey Weinstein (who really started the whole #MeToo movement) is being led out of a NY precinct in handcuffs, showing that even the most powerful men will eventually have to face the consequences to their shitty actions. And the more we share our stories, we’ll realize our trauma doesn’t continue to hurt us, but can actually empower us. In the meantime, all we can do is continue to educate with love and kindness.