Chicago producer’s take on the Weinstein scandal

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Laura Day

Laura Day

As a young woman working in the film industry, I can’t say the Weinstein scandal surprised me. Instead, I’m experiencing the routine bittersweet cocktail of emotions I get every time a story of sexism and rape culture makes the news.

I’m sad for the women who were abused and sadder still to think about the many more who will never come forward.

But I’m also relieved. I’m relieved that these stories are strengthening the dialogue around an endemic issue. I’m relieved for the reminder that it’s not just me. This shit happens… to a lot of women.

When word spread in my own circle that I would be writing this piece, I was overwhelmed with the number of anecdotes that flooded my inbox.

“There aren’t enough pages
to recount all of my experiences
facing sexism in this business.”

 
There aren’t enough pages to recount all of my experiences facing sexism in this business. I’m writing an essay, not a memoir.

I’ll have to settle for sharing a few personal interactions that Harvey’s crimes made fresh in my mind, and I’ll pepper in a couple of accounts from my friends where I can make them fit.

Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem

Harvey’s victims were often too scared of the power he held over their careers to challenge him.

While many of us are fortunate to never face the graphic-violence these women endured, every woman I spoke with has, at some point, experienced the fear that rejecting a man would carry professional consequences.

For me, this is a familiar dilemma.

Most recently, I’ve found myself walking into job interviews that amount to nothing beyond the interviewer trying to get into my pants. It’s always disappointing when I feel my professional excitement transform into panic over how to issue a rejection without burning any bridges, but more than that, these interactions have planted a deeply seeded fear that I’ll never be as valued for my professional ability as I am for my attractiveness to men.

I’ve needed a break from job hunting after the last of these experiences. After working with me on set, a prominent Director at one of Chicago’s biggest agencies enthusiastically praised my work, telling me he’d like to “mentor” me and that I gave him “hope for the future generation.” He said he wanted to help advance my career.

However, after bringing me into the office and introducing me to his production team, he repeatedly asked me to “hang out” and “get dinner” with him. He took to leaving heart eyed emojis under my Instagram photos.

Because he would never flat out ask me to go on a date with him, I was given the choice of either showing up at one of these “hang out sessions” to face an awkward, if not dangerous, encounter, or preemptively rejecting him via text, at the risk of being labeled a presumptuous bitch. I went with the second game plan.

Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King

He told me he understood, and that he hoped I didn’t think he was “creepy.”

This dynamic will continue to be an issue as long as the film and entertainment industry remains a patriarchal stronghold.

The women who do find their way into the industry are frequently relegated to jobs that depend on their beauty and charm [actors] or secretarial skills [the myriad “associate” support roles].

While this is the case, there will always be an overwhelming number of men with the authority to make or break a woman’s career and too much leeway for them to abuse that power.

Women are often caught in a lose-lose situation when propositioned by other industry professionals. I love being part of a “power couple,” but that rarely goes well for me or the women I know. A close friend of mine witnessed many of her connections turn cold when her very public relationship with a prominent member of Chicago’s production community fell apart. I’ve had a similar experience.

The last Executive Producer I dated ended our relationship after taking no small amount of my work without offering credit for its future use. He then requested to our superior that we no longer be placed on projects together. Later, that superior explained that I always would be more of an Associate Producer while my ex was “made” to be an Executive Producer. Why?

Because my ex didn’t like doing the hard work I was doing and had delegating “in his blood.” I was being told that I would always rank below a man because I was willing to work harder than he was.

I look up to that superior. He’s a good person and I consider him a friend. it pains me that he might read this, but that doesn’t make that exchange okay.

Betty Friedan
Betty Friedan

It’s easy to acknowledge that we need to stop blatant abuse of power a la Harvey Weinstein. It’s a little harder to stand against all the micro aggressions women experience throughout their careers.

A friend of mine at a major production house is vexed that every time the front desk attendant (the only other woman on her team) is out of the office, it falls on her to answer the phones. This happens regardless of the fact that she outranks most of the men around her.

These constant, seemingly small insults chip away at our self-confidence.

The good news is that our culture is shifting. Public outrage over the Weinstein scandal would have been much less strident ten years ago. I am happy that he was kicked out of the Academy and hopefully the same will happen with the Producer’s Guild.

I’m stubborn and will continue to pursue the work I want to be doing, although I can’t guarantee I’ll keep my composure at all times.

On a recent set, our AD demanded to know what I was doing as I climbed into the bathroom shuttle.

“I’m going to change my tampon” I announced. I watched him turn beet red in front of our crew and angrily sputter something about that being “too much information.”

So, for the women reading, I’ll leave you with these words of encouragement: As long as we deal with this bullshit, take comfort in the fact that you still hold the power to make a misogynist crumble at the mere mention of your menstrual cycle. It’s a rough world out there; get your kicks where you can.

Laura Day freelances as a producer, writer and editor. She also serves as a creative producer with Women of the Now, a local organization working to support female and femme identified people working in film. email her way at laura.lafaver.day@gmail.com, or Instagram: lauranne817.

BackTalk
  • Distribution411

    Good article, thanks for sharing. (Great response to that AD, as well.)

  • nells

    Loved this. I was always asked to make the coffee. The guys would make fun of me to goad me to make it but I always said no. And I never ever made coffee for them. To this day, I laugh at their antics, indignation, and stupidity.