This week, a series of highly-uncomfortable short films went live on YouTube.
I describe them as highly uncomfortable because each of the videos, which range between three and five minutes long, are downright excruciating to watch.
The series is called #ThatsHarassment. As the title suggests, it aims to shine a light on the uncomfortable situations so many women find themselves in on too regular a basis.
Directed by Sigal Avin and produced by David Schwimmer, who also starred in one of the videos (“The Boss”), the videos feature women in a number of different scenarios, from a first day on the job to a trip to the doctor’s office. All of these women have one thing in common: The men they’re interacting with sexually harass them.
I said the videos were excruciating, and I meant it: Each scene plays out in a way that feels unscripted, unabridged, with painful silences and uncomfortable looks that make the viewer cringe. This is telling: When something is that uncomfortable to watch, it’s because it makes us feel something familiar. The women in these videos felt unsafe, and we felt unsafe with them.
Each story is based on a true event, one of which (“The Actor”) even happened to Avin herself. In the scene, Cristela Alonso plays a wardrobe person dressing an actor, played by Noah Emmerich, for an event. During the interaction, the actor takes his penis out of his pants, leaving Alonso’s character horrified. It’s easy to pass something like that off as something over the top, something that could never happen in real life. But it did happen, and there is pain in acknowledging that it isn’t fiction.
“The exact words that are said in the clip, ‘Look who came to say hello,’ all that [happened to me]. I knew it was weird, but it took me a couple of years to understand how humiliating it was and that I was harassed,” Avin explained in an interview with Cosmopolitan.
Think about the word Avin used just then: Humiliating.
In each video, a man crosses a line that leaves the woman uncomfortable and demoralized, attempting to make it through the interaction without bruising the man’s ego, jeopardizing her career, or both. In “The Politician,” Emmy Rossum plays a reporter interviewing a male political figure. When he begins to reach out and touch her, suggesting they get something to eat, Rossum is clearly mortified as she attempts to remain calm and keep the interview on track. By the time the politician agrees to answer more of her questions, the dynamic in the room has shifted; by making Rossum feel unsafe and uncomfortable, the politician attempted to assert power over her, and her final interview question doesn’t hit as hard as her earlier ones.
“The reality [is that] this kind of harassment takes place in the workplace, in a professional environment. And that means it’s about power,” Avin said. “The problem is that people don’t step forward or say something if they’re witnessing it because of fear of retaliation.”
I have never been sexually harassed at work. I have, however, had to figure out how to spurn advances from men while sparing their ego, and that in and of itself is a demoralizing and discomforting task, one which has reduced me to giving out fake phone numbers or making up a fictional boyfriend instead of just telling the truth.
Like almost every other woman I know, I’d been raised to feel like their pride was more important than my comfort.
One of my biggest hopes for the men who watch these videos is that they don’t just shrug their shoulders and pass off these forms of harassment as something they’d never do. This happens to women, every damn day, and it’s not just the outright “scumbags” carrying out the offenses.
Schwimmer spoke about a situation in which one of the actors he worked with, a man who is “sensitive, modern, one of the good guys,” realized he might have been harassing women on set.
“When he’s on a film set on a show, he sometimes will hug women on the crew and he realized that maybe he shouldn’t be doing that. It suddenly made him think, he doesn’t hug the men on the crew,” Schwimmer recounted.
“There’s a power dynamic in play, he realized. They may not have the choice, necessarily. They have to go through with the hug.”
There is no easy fix to this problem, but we can’t be silent. Our comfort and safety are not second to someone else’s ego.
Here are three things we can do to push back against harassment:
1. Call it out
If another person did something, verbally or physically, to make you feel uncomfortable, say so, and say so immediately. You don’t have to start shouting or go on a long-winded rant if that’s not your style: A simple “that wasn’t funny,” or “you’re making me uncomfortable right now, could you please stop?” will often suffice.
For Emmy Rossum, this even goes for off-hand comments and pet names.
“I push back in a proper way and ask for the respect that I give to other people. If someone’s like, ‘Oh, hey, baby, on that line…’ I say, ‘Oh no, I prefer Emmy,’” she said.
2. Don’t be complicit
In “The Photographer,” Anna Van Camp plays a rookie model at a photoshoot, doing her best to save face while being blatantly harassed by her photographer. As the camera pans, it’s revealed that there are a dozen or so people on set, standing by and watching as the harassment takes place, but doing nothing.
Don’t be complicit in harassment if you see it happening to someone you know. Step up to say “not appropriate” when necessary. If someone opens up to you about their experiences being harassed, believe them, full stop, and be there to offer appropriate support.
3. Report it
Taking a trip over to Human Resources is never easy. Like many of the women in the videos, so many people suffer harassment in silence due to fear of retribution at work. However, you’re a human being who in no way deserves to be harassed, at any time, for any reason. If you’re being harassed in a work environment, you should not be made to feel helpless and alone. File the complaint.