Sexual Harassment in Hollywood. The #MeToo movement. These bi-lines have been consistently in the news and on my mind. When the Harvey Weinstein case broke a few months ago, no one seemed surprised. It couldn’t get any MORE stereotypical. Obese, unattractive narcissist studio executive taking advantage of his power, making or breaking careers and causing lasting emotional and physical damage to women and men in his wake. Then others started to make news, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Larry Nassar, Prairie Home Companion legend Garrison Keillor, even the news anchor Matt Lauer blew into a firestorm. From the ashes, the #MeToo movement started its own blaze. Women coming out of the shadows telling hard to tell stories, lighting the darkness they have been living in and giving a voice to the silent. I couldn’t keep track of all the #MeToo hashtags on walls on Facebook. I found myself getting really angry, to the point I had to assess what was really going on with my emotions. I had to start thinking and face my own experiences, events that happened that I’ve either pushed away, laughed off, or denied. Mine were not the extent of most of the brave people that have come forward, but they were enough, enough for me not to trust and question myself for a number of years and they were and are mine to remember.
Anxiety is my middle name, but raising a daughter in this town has kicked it up a notch. All parents want to protect their children; I’m not a special parent. I just read the news and it terrifies me for her future. Growing up in Eagle Rock, we had local perverts but I still walked home from school at nine years old. However, I was very sheltered. Especially when it came to boys. I do have three brothers, but they barely spoke to me and I was pretty naive. Sure, I kissed boys in high school, kissing wasn’t the problem, but I was petrified of sex. Being brought up Catholic and being told “don’t have sex, it’s a sin before marriage” over and over again seeped into the crevices of my brain. When I was fifteen, my mom left me alone with my “boyfriend”. She trusted me. She had every right to, she knew she put the fear of God into me. I never even let him touch my boob when he tried a few times that night. Luckily, he was not a creep. He just tried a few times and when I shut him down, we went downstairs and played a game of pool. I think he left with blue balls. Suffice it to say, we broke up soon after. Whatever that means at fifteen.
Once I started college it was a whole new world, an expanded world including meeting men. Not horny teenage boys, but men in their twenties and thirties I thought were mature. Again, need I remind you that I was sheltered? These men were not just horny, they operated in a different way; more than just trying to get in my bra. It was more calculated. An actress at the time, it never occurred to me that men would not tell me they were married or that a man old enough to be my grandfather would want to kiss me, other than on the cheek. When I started working as an actress, it went to a whole new level. One time a talent agent from one of the largest agencies came to see me in a show. A show that was getting some press and it was the first show to really get some attention. He called me in for a meeting with him. I pull up to a swanky address on Sunset Blvd and entered the elevator to exit at the top penthouse. All walls were windows. I remember thinking “this is it, I am finally where I am supposed to be, someone has recognized my talent and I am at the right place at the right time”. I was taken into a conference room. When I met him in the room, it was weird; he asked me personal questions, if I had a boyfriend, etc. The last question he asked was if is I would go out with him. I was in shock, but somehow I had enough sense to politely decline and get the hell out of there. I left the office feeling deflated, humiliated, and most of all crushed.
I was dense, it took me longer than most to learn and luckily I came out intact, although I sadly became cynical as I went on auditions and acted in plays with men. I always felt they wanted something from me. In the end. I sabotaged myself further down the line little by little, missing auditions, ghosting my agent and eventually quitting. Why should I put myself in these types of situations and would the cost be too high? I had grown weary of what I thought was a “game”, of always being on, looking sexy at every audition. I was over it.
As an young attractive woman, not only did I have it come at me on the business side, but on the personal side as well. Times have not changed. Recently, a young photographer wrote an article about her date/wrestling match with Aziz Ansari. This has been attracting major attention from both sides of the fence. In defense of Mr. Ansari, the Atlantic writer, Caitlin Flannigan, called the women’s account of her experience “3000 words of revenge porn”. Boy, do I have more than 3,000 words for every mauling session I’ve experienced. This particular incident has divided people in the #metoo movement, worried that the story is weakening the voices. But I see it differently. The woman who went on the “bad date” with Mr. Ansari and published it, was using her voice to highlight awareness to women who have not had the training or innate knowledge on how to react to unwanted advances. Mr Ansari is learning the hard way that being a celebrity does not shield you from being characterized as an aggressive a-hole. I do believe behavior is being looked at now and it will constitute a different mode of operandi to interact with one another in social situations. No one can navigate these waters perfectly, but if we keep speaking up, using our voices when circumstances are uncomfortable, change will happen.
As for my daughter, I know I can’t shield her from life, but when she is older, I can share my experiences. What is happening now with the #MeToo, for both men and women, may make the path less harrowing for her to navigate. I have spoken with parents of boys that will teach them respect and how to respect courtship. The Monica Torres Dictionary™ defines courtship as the act, process, or recipe for getting lucky. I will advise her to listen to her inner voice and always have boundaries.
One important point I hope to convey is there is no room for shame. Things happen and mistakes are made in the moment. We’ve all grudgingly sucked an unwanted penis at one time. (Come on, don’t leave me hanging here this is all of us, right?) But not beating one’s self over it, loving yourself, learning and moving on is key. It’s easier said than done, but maybe if I say it to her over and over enough it will enter the crevices of her mind. It’s empowering that women and men are coming out and discussing their experiences openly. If all is right with the world, perpetrators will be going to jail and men and women will narrow the communication gap. I can hope can’t I?