I’m a Lucky One
I consider myself to be truly, unbelievably lucky that I haven’t been the victim of sexual assault. A person is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds in the U.S. (that’s 570 experiencers of sexual violence daily). The chances of me being a possible target were strong. But, so far, I haven’t.
I have, however, been on the receiving end of countless subtle acts (and many not-so) of sexism and sexually harassment. In my professional life, the sexual harassment has come from superiors, contemporaries, peers, junior staff, donors, audience, you name it–all by men. I’ve been told how nice it is to sit by me, work at a particular organization, attend a meeting I’m in– because of my appearance (“those boots” “that hair” “your behind”). At events, how nice looking I am in that moment has been emphasized between those with positional power (what I’m wearing compliments my fill-in-the-blank) instead of the quality of my contribution to the event or organization. I’ve been told male colleagues enjoy working for me because (example) “I’m so little and cute”, or people will listen to me over someone else for similar positive-appearance based reasons. I’ve also been informed, candidly, people will never take me serious because (example) I’m so “young looking”—I should think about dressing more maturely.
(And let’s not even start into the evaluation feedback I received about how I am “too passionate” about my ideas and people find my “strong presence” or “strong personality” “intimidating” so I need to find a way to make myself more “compatible” “palatable” “friendly” to other members of senior management. I digress. Back to the point.)
Out in the world about 90% of the time I walk anywhere in I am whistled at, honked at, verbally cat called, or sexually propositioned by strangers. At least once a trip, often more.
I know I’m speaking in vague terms, neither naming names of people or organizations but it’s because what I experienced, and continue to, is essentially a shit-ton of microaggressions and run of the mill sexism. Not to dismiss that, not at all, but 1) it is not physical sexual assault; 2) the incidents were one more instance in a long line. Back then, I didn’t know what to say in those moments. Or I wasn’t aware enough of the inappropriateness to say something. Or I was afraid to. Or I was conditioned to actually think it was alright.
Which is the trouble with “validating objectification,” being affirmed and rewarded for your appearance. It feels disgustingly good. It’s nice to be complimented. I’ve strongly identified as female, but for the first 12 years of my life was often mistaken for a boy because of my haircut and body shape. I desperately wanted long luxurious (blonde) hair. When I got older and my body did not maintain its thin, lithe childhood build… I developed a standard set of body issues which I’m still trying to work through. But that’s for another time. And as sick as it is, there are times that I’ve not only appreciated the positive reinforcement for my looks, I’ve welcomed it. Sigh. #itscomplicated
Intersection of “EDI” and “#MeToo”
Last week I became aware of the exchange between playwright Monica Byrne and American Theatre Magazine about reporting on sexual violence in the industry. Late in 2017, Diep Tran, senior editor at ATM, posted an open invitation: would anyone speak with her openly or anonymously about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment in the theatre community for an ATM article she was writing. Around 100 individuals ended up reaching out.
The rest can be tracked here:
- American Theatre Magazine article “UnMuffling a Culture of Silence” by Diep Tran (online Dec 6, 2017)
- Another ATM article by Diep Tran “What Happens After Me Too” (online Dec 13 2017)
- Teresa Eyring’s note to the field in ATM “Times up for Theatre Too” (online Feb 2018)
- Monica Byrne’s response “A Case Study of How the Machinery of Enablement Works in American Theatre” (online March 28, 2018)
- ATM reply “A Note to the Field” from Rob Weinert-Kendt, editor-in-chief of ATM, and Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG (online April 3, 2018)
- Byrne’s response “My Response to TCG and American Theatre Magazine” (online April 10, 2018)
Then on April 26, Byrne tweeted many TCG member theatres, including the company I lead, dog & pony dc: (TCG, Theatre Communications Group, is national service organization for non-profit theatres and the publisher of ATM)
My first thought was: fuck, I knew the man who assaulted Byrne. (In fact, his info was still saved in my phone; since deleted.)
My second thought was: fuck, how did I not know this?
Third thought: fuck, I’m lucky nothing like this has ever happened to me.
Fourth: If I take action like Byrne asks, am I risking—
Fifth: fuck, how could I ever even think something like that?!?
Sixth: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Cohorts
Seventh: What should I say and do?
Apologies to Monica Byrne for thought 4. Let’s write off 1, 2, 3, and 5… and go straight to the heart of it–#s 6 and 7.
I’m part of two “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Cohorts” as the leader of dog & pony dc. One is local, intimate; we are one of six participating companies. The other is national and has just shy of 20 participating companies; it is TCG’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Institute. Both cohorts are three-year programs that began around the same time. Year one there were many learnings in common. The greatest one, emphasized again and again is: the only way to stop systemic oppression is to interrupt and disrupt. Or, to cheekily co-opt another phrase, “if you see something, say something.”
If you see something (or know something) and don’t say something–you perpetuate systemic oppression through “ignoring,” aka neglect. Accepting that behaviors [racist, transphobic, cis-sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, classist, etc.] exist–identifying them but not taking action to stop them–is neglect. It is complicity. It is knowingly allowing the oppression to continue. It is literally being a part of the problem and not being a part of any solution.
Witnessing injustice, which is what Diep Tran did on behalf of American Theatre Magazine (and TCG), and then neglecting to take action seems against everything I am being taught by TCG in its EDI Institute.
I don’t write this as a critique of Ms. Tran. She’s a superlative journalist and human [full disclosure: a friend in the field]. I don’t know whose decision it was to report on the topic to begin with, nor to contain the article to surface level reporting.
Except I do. It was Mr. Weinert-Kendt and Ms. Eyring. They took responsibility and explained in “A Note to the Field”.
So, it is in fact two leaders who are reasoning why the national service organization they lead in should not support speaking out against injustice and oppression on behalf of victims of sexual violence in our industry…. But in another context that same national service organization is supporting me speaking out against injustice and oppression throughout my organization and the field. I should not conspire to perpetuate systemic oppression from my position, but they can pick and choose when and how they conspire from their positions?
Without TCG’s EDI Institute and involvement since 2014 in TCG’s “At the Intersections” work, I would not be as invested in supporting equity and justice in everything I do. I would not feel confident enough in my analysis skills and capacity to be always doing/trying to do “the work.” I would not have prioritized representation, reflection, affirmation, and healthy work environments even “over artistic quality.” I would not have wrestled with my White Fragility, my hearing identity, my cis-sexism so openly and aggressively. I would not be able to respond openly and strongly to the sexual harassment and sexism I regularly encounter.
I’m not applauding myself but rather celebrating TCG and artEquity (as well as the local cohort, Weissberg Foundation Fund for Diversity in Theatre…yay!): they gave me a clear sense of purpose, tools and resources, and the support from people I trust that the work will be hard but it’s vital to do… so get to it. The status quo can’t be maintained. We need to take action that seems sticky, risky, radical, “uncomfortable” in order to interrupt and disrupt. We can’t as a field, as an industry, as a national community, we can’t affect the kind of change we want on the country through our “product,” our art, unless we take responsibility for ourselves. We can’t compartmentalize, we can’t push the problem off for someone else to wrestle with when it overwhelmingly isn’t being touched.
I ask American Theatre Magazine and TCG to please witness as you promised to do. Please lead as you have promised to do. If you work at “the top,” I’ll continue working at “the bottom.” Together we can create change for a more healthy, just industry and community for everyone.
UPDATE: On May 10, 2018 “TCG and AT’s Next Steps: A Response to the Open Letter” by Rob Weinert-Kendt, editor-in-chief of ATM, and Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG was published online. In addition to other steps, TCG and ATM wrote they are:
…dedicating an American Theatre issue this fall to the theme of the #MeToo movement in our field in which we plan to focus on survivor stories, the best ways forward for our institutions, and the potential role of restorative justice in this work. And it will not be the last step we take.
Leave a Reply