The Rant

Monsters in the Conference Room

Are workplace sexual harassers finally getting what they deserve?

(Getty Images)

Just as Bill Cosby and his sexual depravity become old news, Harvey Weinstein pops up to take his place. Recently, Weinstein's shenanigans have broken the internet. He's been accused of sexually harassing some of the most famous female actors in Hollywood—Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd and Rosanna Arquette, to name just a few. He's since been fired from the film studio he founded and lost his wife of 10 years.

As a feminist, I know I should be ecstatic this douchebag has been outed—another misogynist asshole gets what he deserves—but it only makes me angrier.

What about women who aren't rich and famous Hollywood players? What about the rest of us, the unsung, ordinary, everyday working women who are harassed at alarming rates? Who listens to us?

No one. Sexual harassment is so insidious, so woven into our culture that people not only expect it to happen, they even condone it—after all, boys will be boys.

Shining a light on it only hurts the one holding the light. And has anything really changed since the women's movement of the '60s and '70s took on workplace sexual harassment? Not much, in my opinion. Men just got better at hiding it.

My first job after college was as a junior art director for Benton and Bowles, an advertising agency in Los Angeles. Run by a couple of New York creatives slumming it in the L.A. office, my boss was a famous art director. As his assistant, I drew up his ideas and didn't expect to be doing my own work for a long time. But almost immediately he gave me real ad assignments, assignments for big clients like Continental Airlines. I even did a photo shoot alone after only three months on the job. None of my friends at other agencies had earned that responsibility yet. I was flattered and happy.

My boss became a father figure to me, someone who was genuinely concerned about my career and future. How naive I was. One day, he swooped into an empty office, took me in his arms, dipped me like Cary Grant in an old movie and kissed me on the mouth. Shocked and embarrassed, I pushed him away and said no.

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The next day, he appeared in my office with an armload of rough sketches. Without a word, he dumped them on my desk. It was back to the drawing board for me. No more ads. No more shoots. I was being demoted because I hadn't fucked him.

When I told our creative director what happened he said grinning, "That son of gun."

"Are you serious?" I said. "You're supposed to protect me."

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But he did nothing. And since sexual harassment laws did not exist in 1979, he didn't have to. I was forced to quit.

A few years later, I took a job at a New York ad agency to work on BMW. I was the only woman in the creative department and that screamed trouble—but this was my dream job and nothing was going to stop me.

One day, my supervisor, an attractive older man, appeared in my office doorway.

"I can't get you out of my mind," he said.

My life passed before my eyes. I was fucked. I was fucked if I said yes and fucked if I said no. I also had a rule: No messing around at work. Women always lose in the end. Going for damage control, I thought a nice dinner might diffuse the situation.

Dinner was fun. He was smart, funny, well-read and interesting. I agreed to see him again because he also seemed like a decent human being. And I liked him. I could break my rule for something that may have a future.

Boy, was I wrong. At the next dinner, he was distant and weird. We ate mostly in silence. His moodiness scared me so much that after dinner I made up an appointment and jumped into a cab.

He spent the next six months making my life hell. He had me totally redesign an ad campaign that had already won major awards and didn't need a redesign. He asked for ads he never assigned me then would berate me in front of the whole agency for not doing them. He tried like hell to get me fired. I explained what was going on to the head of the agency—that I was being sexually harassed—but all he said was, "I sincerely hope this isn't true."

Translation: Shut the fuck up, Gail. Don't rock the boat.

It was a veiled threat.

Why was this happening? I didn't understand. Why did this handsome and successful man need me so badly? Women threw themselves at him. But it wasn't about me. It was about power. It was about entitlement. It was about hearing the word no and acting like a 3-year-old throwing a tantrum in a grocery store when he didn't get what he wanted.

Harvey Weinstein got away with the sexual horror show he produced because he had power. He also got away with it because he had help. His assistants—male and female—colluded with him. Even the women he propositioned, by saying nothing, were accomplices to his crimes.

I was forced to quit the job of my dreams because a weak man wanted my body and when I said no, other weak men sided with him. I was expendable because I was female and females aren't as valuable as men. It's a simple as that.

Now, years later, I'm like that famous internet meme, the one where an old lady holds up a protest sign that reads, "I can't believe I still have to protest this shit."

But I see a tiny glimmer of light. These outings seem to be happening more. Could things be changing? I won't live to see equality between the sexes. I know this. But my daughter might. And this soothes my anger. A bit.

   
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