By Alex McMahon.
In the ad industry, we sometimes like to think we exist outside of the rest of the world. Here we are, cocooned from real life, acting as the feeders and gatekeepers of the consumers of the world. Our problems are unique, as are theirs…right?
As the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, we all watched as wave of stories upon stories came out, shocking and disgusting tales about a powerful man who allegedly used his position and influence to dominate, intimidate and abuse women who were generally at a disadvantage in whatever exchange.
But those shocking stories are not what happens over there. They happen here. They happen to us.
As AD News reported, the first Agency Circle benchmarking survey in Australia asked agency employees and leadership questions around diversity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, disability, gender and age.
And let’s look at some of the outcomes…
- A staggering 42% of female employees across all agencies reported they have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career in advertising.
- A total of 20% said they had experienced it “more than few times”.
- A third of senior management know women who have experienced sexual harassment.
- Almost half (45%) of women said they feel vulnerable because they are women.
A young woman I know, new to the industry, was approached by a senior industry figure, who drunkenly took a hold of her face. Before she could push him away, he looked her up and down, and uttered: “God darling, you’re so beautiful. How much for a piece of you? How much?”
When I heard about the incident later, it was being laughed off as foolish, drunken tomfoolery. As one big joke.
Just in case you need informing, this is not a fucking joke.
That same woman – a young, polite, intelligent, human – was approached by a much older, larger man who was at least 35 years her senior, who felt it his right to put his arm around her and proclaim: “If I was 20 years younger, I would fuck you so hard.”
If you’re reading this and thinking, well, that’s just normal behavior, then you’re probably an old, white, male. We are all part of a culture – advertising industry included – that has normalized this kind of behavior, and it is something that women of all ages, of all creeds, in all walks of life, have to suffer from and think about…every…single…day.
Brit Marling, writer, actress and producer behind many films and TV shows like The OA, captured it brilliantly, when she said: “The things that happen in hotel rooms and board rooms all over the world (and in every industry) between women seeking employment or trying to keep employment and men holding the power to grant it or take it away exist in a gray zone where words like “consent” cannot fully capture the complexity of the encounter. Because consent is a function of power. You have to have a modicum of power to give it. In many cases women do not have that power because their livelihood is in jeopardy and because they are the gender that is oppressed by a daily, invisible war waged against all that is feminine—women and humans who behave or dress or think or feel or look feminine.”
As the powerful, heartbreaking hashtag #MeToo told us, the Weinstein style encounters are an everyday occurrence, not just in the film industry, but every industry. Even the advertising industry.
Thankfully, hopefully, the times they are a’changing. More and more women are becoming vocal about the sexist, abusive, and disgusting harassment that they have suffered.
“The #metoo movement, following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, has become a catalyst for hundreds of people coming forward, and finally naming names,” said Tracey Spicer, veteran Australian journalist.
“While the majority wish to remain anonymous, for fear of retribution from powerful people within the industry, others are saying ‘enough is enough’. They are planning to report these instances to police, and go on the record. But this investigation must be done properly. We will deeply research these cases for a matter of months before proper action is taken. It’s time to do this, once and for all, to ensure the safety of women in the media and entertainment industry.”
Make no mistake – in this industry of ours there exists many dinosaurs, some of whom are sexist, homophobic, racist and generally the kind of scum that should be put to pasture, and not be given opportunity to work in a field that is thriving with young, forward-thinking, creative, open-minded talent of all genders.
Advertising industry legend Cindy Gallop recently posted a call to arms on her Facebook page, calling for names of the industry creeps that I’m referring to here.
“Women – and men – of the ad industry, I’ve been contacted many times over the years by women who’ve suffered appalling sexual harassment in our industry. I’ve exhorted them to tell their stories and offered to introduce them to my friends who are reporters and editors in our industry trade media, so those stories can be told publicly. Historically, women have been reluctant to speak out and name names. I’m hoping that the current climate may now have changed that – because it’s not until the first brave women are willing to speak out, that many others will, to end the Harvey Weinsteins of our industry once and for all. If you have a story to tell and a name to name, please email firstname.lastname@example.org in complete confidence – even if you’re not yet sure you want to go public. The time is now. (And men, if you’ve watched sexual harassment happen, or been a victim yourself, I want to hear from you too, naming names.)”
If you read that and feel threatened by those words, well let me tell you this…The clock is ticking…the rising tide will one day soon wash the dirt of your endeavors away, leaving you nothing left to cling to and no power or position to abuse.
If you’ve been sexually harassed at work, you can call 1800 RESPECT or Beyond Blue to talk to a counsellor. To make a complaint and find out more about your rights, visit the Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales.