Our third year Drama & Theatre students reflect on and pose questions about theatre intimacy, work environments, and women’s rights in the current art industry. Listen up!
Sexual Harassment in the Arts
by Holly Sloan
I recently took part in a Theatrical Intimacy workshop, which explored the topic of sexual harassment in theatre, and the understanding that everyone involved in a production has the right to offer or decline their consent to intimacy – be it technicians or stage managers who may see intimate scenes, to actors who have the right to decide what parts of their body they are comfortable being touched; if at all. This workshop came at a time when sexual harassment in the arts is the hot topic of conversation across news and social media platforms, so I feel that it is important to reflect upon this experience by contextualising sexual harassment in the arts today.
I find it astonishing, yet not surprising, that in a world so technologically advanced and progressive, instances of sexual harassment and abuse is still prominent – and often covered up – in the arts. The element of shock or surprise at such cases, in my view, is replaced by a somewhat nonchalant sense of normalisation. I doubt that I would be the only person to find myself mildly unfazed by such repetitive reports of yet another sexual abuse case in this industry, as these reports have become so regular that they neither shock nor surprise me. In many ways, it saddens me to realise that there have been so many accounts of sexual abuse, that I have become unintentionally passive to these reports. The journal article Normalising Sexual Violence argues that ‘Young people are socialised into a patriarchal culture that normalises and often encourages male power and aggression’ (Hlavka, 2014: 339). Placed in the context of the theatre industry, I can understand where this argument is valid. A study by the League of Professional Theatre Women found that theatre companies were ‘highly gendered’, and ‘just 33 percent of directors were female’ (Goodwin, 2016). Without wishing to come across as blaming all males in a position of authority in theatres of sexual harassment, and while acknowledging that men can also be victims, it is easy to see how this patriarchal culture within the theatre industries’ hierarchy could leave those working under such individuals, vulnerable to sexual harassment. This is particularly considered in the Theatrical Intimacy workshop, which unearthed how often performers don’t feel they can deny their consent to performing intimate scenes. If this so called ‘normalisation’ of sexual abuse is so embedded within the theatre industry, and within the public reactions to consistent reports, then recent campaigns such as the #MeToo movement, have never been more relevant – and desperately needed.
#MeToo was originally launched in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence (metoomvmt.org, n.d.), but it catapulted into the world of Hollywood in October 2017 following the emergence 82 women who came forward with cases of sexual assault against movie producer, Harvey Weinstein (Scott, 2017). This triggered countless people, world-wide, to speak out about their experiences of sexual assault. It raised the very real issue that there have been so many accounts of abuse for decades, both in the arts industry and out, that happen every single day, yet those victims have never had the courage to speak out against perpetrators. Until now.
Having participated in the Theatrical Intimacy workshop, and following instances of sexual harassment in the arts, I feel that this workshop is training which could help decline the number of people, men and women, who are affected by sexual abuse in this industry. It astounded me how true the fact is that performers won’t speak up to the director if they are uncomfortable with intimacy, for fear of being inadequate for the role. I know it myself as a performer, I would have struggled to speak up about consent had I not participated in this workshop. Workshops such as this, are a simple way to enforce that sexual harassment in the arts, or in any other capacity, is never OK.
Goodwin, J. (2016) There’s A Big Gender Gap In Key Theater Jobs — Can Boston Change The Story? [Internet] Available from: http://www.wbur.org/artery/2016/04/13/women-in-theater-boston [Accessed 15th April 2018]
Hlavka, H. (2014) Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse. Sage Journals, vol. 28, issue 3.
metoomvt.org (n.d.) You are not alone. [Internet] Available from: https://metoomvmt.org/ [Accessed 15th April 2018]
Scott, D. (2017) Harvey Weinstein’s victims release list of 82 women who say they were sexually abused. [Internet] Available from https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/10/28/16564486/harvey-weinstein-sexual-abuse-list-twitter [Accessed 15th April 2018]
Intimacy in the Arts: The Weinstein Effect
by Rachael Sampson
Oprah (as always) said it best:
I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again. (Read the full transcript of her 2018 Golden Globes speech here).
Before we can bask in the future, we must understand our past. It is 2018 and (predominantly) white older men continue to abuse their positions of power through sexual misconduct within the arts. Surprise. It is astonishing to see how a world moving so far forward in complex developments such as life-changing science and technology, continues to freeze or retort backward when it comes down to blatantly obvious and easy rules of conduct, for example – don’t sexually harass people. In recent times, the Weinstein effect has led to the birth of movements such as Time’s Up and the #MeToo Campaign, meaning that we no longer feel as if we are wading through mud, however– the fact that this is an ongoing issue which STILL needs addressing in today’s society emphasises the severity of its importance.
It is easy for someone such as Oprah Winfrey (a powerful woman with immense status and privilege) to stand on stage in a room full of elitist filmmakers and express these obvious sentiments as she accepts her Cecil B. DeMille Award. She has the power to demand equal opportunities, demand equal pay and demand that the cameraman with the creepy hand is fired. People do, and will listen to her.
But what about the rest of us? It isn’t that simple.
Looking back on our history at the lack of women within the arts (and in this instance, women working in film), this imbalance has subsequently allowed for a male hierarchy to grow and loom over us, which not only controls our opportunities to work for the art, but emits narrow, male ideologies into society which are absorbed by the audience. 52% of that audience is made up of us women, yet on average, we make up just over 10% of the industry (2017 statistics available here.)
Harvey Weinstein, James Franco, Casey Affleck and Louis C.K. are prime examples of men who exploit the disadvantage that women are forced to suffer within the industry. Now that they are being named and shamed, there is a distant light at the end of this very long and dingy tunnel. The actions and consequences of the elite are being listened to and understood by the rest of us. They help shift the climate towards a brighter future, and this recent exposure has provided those who live in fear and do not have the advantage of status and privilege, to come forward and speak up.
The tectonic plates are shifting, and hopefully when the light at the end of the tunnel is in reach, we too, like Oprah, can stand tall and proclaim our imperative and invaluable worth in the world of art, without being trapped under the wrinkly white thumb of patriarchy.
Buckle up ladies, and get ready to take the power.
Intimacy in Work Environments
by India Butler
I always believed that once an individual reached a high level within their workplace that they are somewhat elite and therefore untouchable. I now realise that this ideal is completely naïve and that anyone can become victim to injustice not only within their workplace but in everyday life. It’s disheartening to think that some of those that are admired and lucky enough to be successful within the film, television and art industry have faced sexual harassment at work, and that it hasn’t been spoken about sooner due to fear of losing future career prospects. My naïve thoughts believe it is the abuser that should suffer due to their actions, not the victim. I have seen and heard multiple accounts of sexual harassment allegations towards highly regarded and respectable men in the creative industry. And yet I haven’t seen or heard their careers being tarnished and them facing any consequences for their disgusting and inhumane actions; until January 2018, where the Time’s Up campaign began.
Not only is there the Time’s Up campaign that was created by people working in the film and television industry that have faced sexual abuse and harassment by those in higher positions and abusing their power in the workplace; there is also the “Me Too” movement that is aimed for victims of sexual harassment to open up and speak out about their experience with abuse, to make it known that it is ok to talk about. The end goal will eventually lead to more people talking openly about their experience of being sexually harassed, for them not to be shamed to spread awareness on abuse, and for them begin to heal because of it.
Artists naturally have a platform of communication through their work and the attention they receive because of it. It is a great position to be in to spread awareness and out social, cultural and political issues for people to be inspired to rise up against sexual exploitation. But what does this mean for the creative industry in terms of abusing power and will the stars that have been accused of sexual abuse truly face the consequences? There needs to be a heightened sense of professionalism within the industry; where all meetings are in an office at a suitable time of day, not in hotel rooms late at night, no one-on-one meeting should be held without having a representative for each individuals ensuring a suitable exchange is being made and it is appropriate to the work. As some of Weinstein’s employees have spoken out about knowing what he is capable of and have still allowed him to be left alone with younger women.
With all of the uproar and incidents involving Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Casey Affleck, Woody Allen, will hopefully lead to an effective change in the future. There needs to be a change in how the world views women that have been victim to sexual harassment not only in Hollywood, but in the world. The women that are brave enough to stand up and fight against it, to speak openly about their own experience may have an ongoing effect outside of Hollywood. As one person spoke out against Weinstein, there were multiple accounts against him that followed; in this case, all it took was for one person to speak out, and that gave other women the strength to follow suit. It very well may encourage women sat at home watching these celebrities speak out to feel empowered and strong enough to stand and speak out themselves. Now I can’t finish this post without exalting Oprah’s moving speech at the Oscars, on the note that their time is up, not just in Hollywood, but on a global scale.
For more information on these movements and campaigns please click on the links below to visit each of their sites: