A dive into Schwimmer's take on sexual harrassment

CW: This column discusses sexual assault and sexual harassment.

In light of our interview with Dr. Bianca Fileborn, lecturer in Criminology at the University of New South Wales, we felt it was important to discuss the topic of sexual harassment. Since last year, issues regarding disrespect towards women have come to the foreground. Hundreds of women from all fields of work have come forward detailing their experience of sexual harassment. Sadly, it’s safe to assume that as women, we have all had our own experience with sexual harassment or at least acknowledged an instance where we have felt uncomfortable. However, acknowledging the feeling that you are uncomfortable may not be straight forward.

Despite some of Ross Geller’s problematic moments in Friends, (e.g that scene in particular where Ross practically forces Rachel to choose between her dream job in Paris and him… so romantic?) David Schwimmer has been an advocate for sexual assault prevention since the 90’s. Schwimmer collaborated with Israeli filmmaker and writer, Sigal Avin to produce That’s Harassment. It features six short films addressing multiple occasions, mainly in a working environment where sexual harassment can happen. In a Rolling Stone interview, Avin states that she wanted to capture the moment where the energy shifts for a woman and she knows something is happening.

As a person aspiring to work in the creative industries, “The Photographer” is a harrowing depiction that shows sexual harassment is not exclusively a two-person ordeal. At first, this segment depicts a male photographer and a female model at a photoshoot. As the shoot progresses, the model is forced to publicly masturbate as the film reveals there is a whole crew behind them watching this ordeal happen. This short film, along with others in this series opens the discussion to the complexities of working in the creative industries.

“The Coworker” entails an occurrence in a hospitality environment. It shows a male co-worker training a female co-worker before she begins her first shift at a bar. Despite the industry, a number of women who have worked in a regular part-time or full-time job have experienced this type of behaviour at some point.

Watching all the That’s Harassment short films, it’s evident it made me feel uncomfortable recognising the behaviour even though “nothing” happens.

As apart of the New York Times article on the short film collection, a panel of experts that work in combating harassment annotated the script for “The Coworker” looking closely at how harassment happens and tactics used by perpetrators (link to the full article can be accessed below). One behaviour that expert, Robert Eckstein, pointed out was a common technique by starting with “inappropriate but relatively benign comments”. Eckstein elaborates that these kinds of comments allows for the perpetrator to claim they were just joking. As well as, gauging to see what other comments they are able to get away with. In an article for Cosmopolitan, Emmy Rossum, actress in “The Politician” describes the subtlety of sexual harassment.

“It [sexual harassment] can be just bringing up a sexual topic where it’s not intended. I’ve had experiences where I’ve felt uncomfortable, where a man was telling me in the workplace about his sexual relationship with his wife or with his girlfriend. And in a way, you rationalize it in your head: Well, they couldn’t have been trying to make me uncomfortable because they’re clearly talking about their relationship with their partner. But men don’t introduce the idea of sex into the conversation if [they’re] not trying to see if there’s an opening there.”

Personally, I am guilty of letting comments like this slide on multiple occasions despite the fact they made me clearly uncomfortable. Rawski adds that, ‘letting it slide’ comes from the fear that many women have of being ostracised by the work group for rebutting against a comment. I recognise this fear within myself as I try to remain as neutral as possible in a workplace. Unfortunately, for some women, allowing this type of behaviour to continue is to try and maintain their job. Evidently, it is inexcusable to continue to allow this to happen in work environments and everyday life in general.

There is still a long way to go when it comes to affecting change and progressing to stand up for yourself and others against sexual harassment. Admitting is the first step. This current shift in society acknowledging that this happens everywhere is the first of many steps. For myself, these short films and looking at sexual harassment in the face validates the fact that particular passing comments to me were inappropriate, and a person’s demeanor towards me was inappropriate. For me, recognising these inappropriate behaviours that have previously happened to me, is the first step.

Side note: Despite these short films depicting male/female occurences of sexual harassment, it is important to recognise that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, from anyone. However, it is still vital to acknowledge that men sexually harassing women is an issue. Due to the unfolding of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, you can simply Google ‘sexual harassment’ and find many examples of men sexually harassing women.

If you have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment and need help such as information and counselling, please contact 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732 or visit their website at https://www.1800respect.org.au/.

Mentioned articles:

Rolling Stones, “Inside David Schwimmer's New Sexual Harassment PSAs” by Elisabeth Garber- Paul: https://rol.st/2HMYdMG

The New York Times, “David Schwimmer Made Six Short Films About Sexual Harassment. We Annotate One of Them” by Claire Cain Miller: https://nyti.ms/2Gg4NHT

Cosmopolitan, “Cynthia Nixon and Emmy Rossum Give Advice on Handling Sexual Harassment in Hollywood” by Peggy Truong: https://bit.ly/2Juuci3


About the Writer:

Blanca is our Editorial Manager at Maidenhair Press who helps with the behind-the-scenes of the magazine. She also sometimes dabbles in writing. She is currently a university student at QUT and in her spare time loves watching movies.

A little word from Blanca:

I know this is a rather serious writing piece to introduce myself to the magazine, this is also quite personal for me but hello! Since our interview with Dr. Fileborn, it was important for us to discuss this issue as it’s become prevalent due to recent events. Personally, this was also an important topic to discuss as it was a reflection on my own experiences and how I can move forward and improve on standing up for myself and others. I’m looking forward to expanding my writing and writing more pieces for the magazine in the future.