With all the “Me Too” messages being posted over the past few days, a lot of men (myself included) wonder what the next steps are, what we can do. Here’s an instance that happened almost 20 years ago, where I really do believe that the whole group who saw harassment happening came together and took action in a way that had an effect, and may give some lessons.
Years ago, I was involved in a production in which a director took it upon himself to make one of our actresses’ lives utter hell. Through badgering, humiliation, and outright terror, he made a volunteer activity horrible for her, and it was noticed in the cast. Not at first, and the actress in question wasn’t inclined to want to cause “trouble” by making a lot of noise about it, but once some of us started to notice this happening, it went the way many of these things go. First rumors, then behind-the-scenes discussions, then a few careful questions of the actress who we thought was being harmed. She confirmed what was happening, and many of us hung around the periphery, seeing what was happening and just getting those extra sets of eyes and ears on things that unfortunately tend not to be believed right away without corroboration.
After that, we told the director outright to cut it out. He was a belligerent old….well, he’s no longer with us, but no love lost with many of us, I’ll say. He didn’t see any error in his ways and told us so, ramping up his threats against the actress, saying he’d replace her if she continued to displease him.
We all gathered and went to our Board of Directors and told them, in no uncertain terms, that if this continued, the play was, as far as we were concerned, over. We would walk out, we would tell other actors that this theater didn’t handle abuse in any significant way, and they would most likely not have a production to fill in for us. Luckily, the BOD believed what we said, removed the director from any significant interactions with the actress (and, honestly, the production in general) and we were able to keep going.
It wasn’t a perfect solution, but the lessons I learned are thus:
- If you see something happening, pay attention and get trusted people to pay attention with you. There is power in numbers, and far too often, we’re asked for corroboration of the things that happen to people, so even if you’re “just” a witness, that can be very helpful.
- Being present can serve as somewhat of a buffer when sketchy things are happening. If you suspect someone isn’t comfortable or may be in jeopardy from being alone with someone abusive, just hanging out can sometimes help, especially if it’s a lot of you.
- There will always be risk in reporting these things. You have to be willing to take on some of that risk yourself, because asking the victim of abuse to take on the risk is unfair. Saying, “I see something happening, and it’s making ME uncomfortable” can take some of the onus off of the person who is already putting up with a lot to “do something” about something they didn’t start.
- The risk may mean you’ll have to give consequences to those in power. “I will say what’s happening here” is a promise that is often exactly what abusers and those who may be tempted to sweep abuse under the rug want to avoid most.
This isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s something, I think. Much better than saying nothing and hoping that the abuse clears up on its own, or that it’s not as big a deal as you thought.
I’d love to hear from people to know if this is helpful or not.
Take action. Take a stand. Be better. I’m certainly going to try.