We’ve all heard of the directors couch, and given the current discussions on sexual harassment in the work place, I thought I should share my story.
I got my training wheels on sexual harassment at a very young age. Following graduation from college, I took a job working at an elite literary agency in Beverly Hills as an assistant to one of the agents. Part of my job was to listen on calls so I could take notes on the conversation and basically do the job my boss was supposed to do.
99% of the time when women in the work force came up, there would always be comments like “Would you do her? I heard she has a nice rack.” It could be a head of a studio, a producer, a manager at another agency, or a show runner, if it was a female, the discussion would always include some crass sexual remark that would make me sick but, I needed a job and as much as I had to swallow my disgust, I kept my head down and did the work. I learned to dress down and frumpy to avoid being a target. I also learned very quickly that in the entertainment business sexual harassment was accepted, almost expected, and ramped.
I even had a gay friend that was also an assistant and would tell me about the “pink line.” The pink line were gay assistants that wanted to get ahead in the industry so if the opportunity became available to attend a party and rub elbows with the higher ups, they would go, but it came with a cost. If you were a part of the pink line you were expected to partaking in sexual affairs with other men who were gay, but not out of the closet, so it was a hush hush world.
My boss and I had a buddy buddy relationship so I was never a target. Then one day I was sitting at my desk minding my own business and one of the partners of the agency ran up to me, pulled up his shirt, pounded on his chest like a gorilla and said, “Feel these abs.” I kept my eyes on the computer and said something along the lines of “That’s ok, I’m cool. He then proceeded to continue his harassing and said, “Can I see your bush?” I just kept typing and said no and thankfully he retreated.
Shortly after that episode one of the girls in the mailroom was groped by another partner in the agency. Little did I know she had been building a case for sexual harassment and would outright flirt with partners which sadly some would say she asked for it. But the groping was the final straw for her, and she hired lawyers to go after the perpetrators.
I remember the moment the partners received the letter from the lawyers they called everyone into the conference room to have a discussion about sexual harassment and said if anyone had a complaint or problems to address them, now was the time. People knew I had been harassed so eyes were on me, but I just sat there. Then the gorilla partner turned to me and said, “Erica, do you have anything you want to say?” “Nope.” I knew if I said anything my reputation in town would be tainted, and I would lose my job.
The woman who got groped ended up settling out of court. She got $ 250,000 and a plane ticket to her home back on an island in Hawaii and was told never to return for she’d be dead in this town.
Years later I ended up leaving the industry and switched gears into mental health and writing. Then one day one of my bosses from my past contacted me after reading my book Inside the Insane. He said he wanted to develop it into a television series. So we met for coffee to discuss the project, and everything seemed normal. He had great ideas and enthusiasm which was cool. Soon after he emailed me to follow up with the project and wrot,e “Are you willing to do anything and everything it takes to get this thing made?” I immediately fired back, “If you are talking about sex or anything sexual whatsoever, then no.”
I never heard from him again.