We just watched “Sixteen Candles” this weekend, and we were awed by the outrageous racism, homophobia, and the fact that Anthony Michael Hall’s character blatantly sexually harasses Molly Ringwald’s character, and he’s seen as the good guy. There’s a scene in which Hall goes in for a kiss, Ringwald pushes him away, and then, when he comes in for another one, she laughs and says it’s okay. Let’s not even talk about when Jake “gives” Hall’s character his drunken girlfriend. Ugh.
Truth: When I saw this movie as a teenager, I didn’t see sexual harassment. I just … didn’t. It wasn’t part of my perspective. Was this the case for other viewers, or just me?
Similarly, we watched Ruthless People on Friday night. Oh my God. Funny movie, by the way, but what’s the deal with Sandy Kessler (Helen Slater), wife of Ken (Judge Reinhold)? She’s an infant. Ken has to explain every simple thing to Sandy, who even then seems not to understand anything about the world.
I wondered if it had been written by a man, and indeed, of course it was.
Our cultural awareness of “isms” and of of sexual harassment has changed significantly in 30 years. That’s a good thing. It’s a good thing that movies nowadays don’t generally have characters like Long Duck Dong, who is interchangeably Chinese and Japanese and whose onscreen appearance is always greeted with a gong. And that if such a character were to be created today, it would be called out immediately on social media. Similarly, Molly Ringwald’s character in 2018 probably wouldn’t call Hall’s character a “fag.” And if that happened, there would be an outcry.
So we’ve moved forward, but there’s more work to be done. Obviously.
When I woke up Saturday morning to the story about sexual harassment claims in the YA community, I felt heartbroken. For the women (and men) who have been harassed. For the safety of this bubble that (I thought) we’d created. Yeah, I thought we were better than this, but the reality is we’re the same as everyone else, and these messy, unpleasant and entirely necessary conversations need to happen here, too.
I stand with those who have been victimized. And yes, I believe you.
Also, I call out the behavior of the men who have acted as predators. These behaviors are not okay, and it is time for us men–gay or straight–to recognize and act upon what we’re being told. That when we are in positions of power, or can be seen as being in a position of power, it is NOT OKAY to solicit sex from someone over whom we may wield power.
Got it, men? A rule of thumb: if you have power over a woman’s (or man’s) career, we need to put away our penises. In fact, if you’re in a professional setting, just go ahead and put your penis away. This is 2018, not 1988, and we know better now. We’ve been told. If you can adversely impact someone’s career, you simply cannot have sex with them. The end.
I hope we will work on policing ourselves better, and help each other when we see something happening that shouldn’t be happening. We must be upstanders, not bystanders.
As painful as it is, I’m glad the conversations are happening. And I hope we can eradicate predatory behavior from our industry. I’ll be here to do my part.