Fight, Flight, or Frumpy?
The newscycle is still reeling about Harvey Weinstein. His actions were gross, ridiculous, and incendiary – no question. Although I think it’s a mistake to single him out as an exception. Having worked on the inside of the entertainment industry, I can tell you that this is not one man, but a culture.
Mind you, I was never an aspiring model or actress so my perch was altogether different. The marketing team would make sexually charged videos for a roomful of suits in order to “preview” the great content coming in the year ahead. The few self-aware men in the room would peer over to me and whisper, “Please don’t call HR.”
Then the boisterous producer would shout, “Don’t worry! She’s cool.”
How did he know? He didn’t even know me. He saw an unassuming Asian businesswoman with glasses and figured I wasn’t a threat. He was right.
What was I going to do anyway? Fight? Go to HR and say that I was uncomfortable watching bikini-clad women gyrate over a convertible, legitimate work that they were paid for. The company would have likely flagged me as sensitive and jealous, then label me a liability.
In the current media limelight, the right thing to do seems clear. Even popular. But in the context of the everyday workplace, employees are often forced to balance their integrity with their paycheck. As one lawyer friend tells me, “You have more rights as a citizen or working for the government than you do as a company employee.”
And the quip goes: if you don’t like it, leave. Easier said than done. For many, living in New York and single, this is a difficult decision or not an option at all. There is also a heavy guilt in leaving the scene of a crime, a sense that I could have done more or fought harder if I was stronger. The trauma alone, not to mention word-of-mouth, can keep someone from moving on with their career.
Finally, I can’t stop thinking of Emily Nestor’s quote in the New Yorker piece about her first individual meeting with Harvey, having been fully warned, “I dressed very frumpy,” she said.
That didn’t work either. According to the article, he persisted.
Every option seems like a bad one. Deny your beauty or embrace it. Are you worth it or are you asking for it? Are you cool or not?
There are no good answers. Because these are debasing questions. All I know is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I believe markets self-correct. And as the wise man sitting next to me on the bus reminded me, “You will get away with breaking the law most of the time, but not always.”
Married men who commit adultery will be caught eventually. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hurt people hurt people.
At the same time, I don’t think women are off the hook so easily.
I took a negotiations class during business school when a Brazilian female classmate proudly announced, “I have no problem using my sexuality to get what I want!” The rest of us fell silent.
I watched the men kind of nod in agreement with some envy, the women scrunching their eyebrows in bewilderment. She was privileged with beauty, no doubt. Would it get her better deals and open doors for her? Maybe. But if she knew that her beauty was the key reason that people indulged her, I wondered how far she would go to get what she wanted and what would happen when someone more beautiful came onto the scene. There are indeed fifty shades of gray.
Despite sounding bold and empowered, I think she was perhaps entrapped by a false belief in a transient power.
Nobody is innocent in this world. We have all fallen short of our own highest ideals. We are human. Whether that means fighting, fleeing, or being frumpy, we have to see people we work with for who they are and hold fast to the responsibility to do what is best for ourselves with eyes wide open.
I am so proud of the women who have come forward in the past few days and hope that their truth can deliver a platform for everlasting change.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”