I started my career in film production when there were almost no women on the set. The few I met were great but that’s another story. One night, soon after I’d broken in, I was with the crew in a bar after the shoot. Out of nowhere, the sound man put his hand on the inside of my thigh and tried to fondle his way up. “Get you fucking hand off of me,” I said. Even in my mid-20s, I had the confidence to stand up to him because I knew he didn’t have power over me.
But recognizing power, alone, wouldn’t have given me that confidence. I also knew I had the receipts, in my case, confirmation of my value. I knew this because the director on my very first shoot took the time to explain it. After the job ended he pulled me aside and said some version of, “You’re good but you’re also cute and you’re going to get hit on. You don’t have to.”
A few years later I was copywriter, working in advertising agencies. Women in creative (me and the four others I knew) were routinely demeaned, ignored or gaslit. Not so much grabbing and groping, but plenty of touching and sniffing. All-in-all, the things we now talk about when we talk about MeToo.
When the Harvey Weinstein allegations exploded in the fall of 2017 I hadn’t thought about my MeToo for a long time. I was thrilled that a new generation of women said, “Enough.” But I was soon taken aback when some asked, scornfully, why we put up with it. They didn’t understand: There was no one to go to. We were too busy trying to do good work and dodge the worst sleaze.
I spent the first news cycles of MeToo sorting it out by myself. Six weeks in, the night of “Al Franken must resign,” I had a “Wait! What?” moment. I called my best friend, fellow writer from advertising. We called it badvertising, for the behavior and bullshit we had to endure.
“Weinstein? Sure. Franken? Not sure.” Was all of it – gaslighting to rape – of a piece? We’d both earned less for equal or better work. And the higher we got, the more we faced men who tried to erode our self confidence and self esteem. Comments and signals to say we didn’t have it. That we weren’t the kind who could lead, that people didn’t like us. There was no “get your fucking hand off of me” way to respond.
So many issues, we were confused. Should we feel shame? Why didn’t millennials get it? How should we factor in education and white privilege?
After a while we started to laugh, recalling things so trivial we’d forgotten them for decades: “Remember what it was like to walk into a client meeting?” she asked. “There was always the guy who held the door ‘for the ladies.’ He’d guide you through with his hand on your back, run it down your spine and try to grab your butt if you didn’t scurry in the room fast enough.”
Only after tallying the indignities did we remember the men who didn’t grope, demean or derail. Along the way we both worked for and with men – every bit as powerful and egotistical – who saw our potential, pointed out our value, told us we could, gave us a chance. Men who made a huge difference.
We hoped, as MeToo evolved, there would be room for degrees of awfulness, for context and due process. But we understood it would take time.
Time. That was our answer: Our MeToo stories were of an era. It was OK for us to feel bad about the Senator, a man who (sorry millennials) “wasn’t as bad.” Maybe he was the kind who might get it and share it. Some men are bound to figure out how, and we need them, too.
But timing matters. Like every movement, MeToo’s defining spirit was unformed in the fall of 2017. Al Franken hit the news on a week when things were heating up. It was OK to feel a little bad about him. But not totally bad. Today, a year and a half later, an alleged sniffer made big news. MeToo is still becoming. I don’t have it sorted out. In the meantime I’m saying “thanks” to the men who didn’t.