(and the Top 5 Things Women in Entertainment Say about Sexual Misconduct)
Preface: I'm prepared for criticism and threatening phone calls as a result of writing this, and I understand that I may be banned from walking into a few doors on Wilshire... at least for a little while.
“Congratulations. You five ladies no longer have to pretend like you’re attracted to Harvey Weinstein,” said Seth MacFarlane introducing nominees for best supporting actress at the 2013 Academy Awards.
Foreshadow! I have nothing to say directly about Weinstein or any of the allegations surrounding him. Is that because I have no right to do so, as I've never worked directly with him (but only with his employed agents)? Or is that because I'm scared that I will be shunned from lucrative business opportunities? In Hollywood, so many women are convinced that sexuality and sensuality have the power to influence decisions - from the hiring process to talent casting to rising up on the corporate totem pole.
That's because it's true. I’ve got to be honest: I’m one of those women, who shares with fellow entertainment industry females, the perception that we have to strategically use our allure to thrive in the business.
It's always at a Hollywood girls' dinner at table 13 of Craig's or during the attempt to hide out at a corner table at The Peninsula's Afternoon Tea hour (while waiting to see who gets kicked out of Avi Lerner's table down the corridor prior to his arrival) when I partake in quietly-spoken conversations about the behind-the-scenes synergy of the Hollywood workplace. Whether it be a "[Big Agency]," major studio, independent film business, or even a mom-and-pops unscripted television production company, every workplace has its stories - the anecdotes of sexual harassment or post-happy-hour forays into drugs - of how someone either became vulnerable and a victim of the madness, or trudged and dodged the uncomfortable, yet inevitable male-female interactions while doing business.
During one of our tea talks about abusive executives and clients, one friend (a male marriage and family therapist) said to me and to another female friend in the industry, "You don't have to tolerate verbal abuse and sexual harassment. It's not right. You have a choice."
"You don't get it. It's Hollywood. That's just the way it is."
That's because the other choice is to quit or get fired.
In 2013, I was in a meeting at EOne to negotiate a programming deal on behalf of a client. Three chairs at the conference table were filled by their team members, all of whom were male; and on the other side sat yours truly, my male client and his male interim talent manager. I recall the meeting vividly, as it was March 13 and my ESPN alert notified me that my future-ex-husband aka Danny Amendola was leaving me, I mean, St. Louis. Right after that moment, the then-VP of the department completely halted the business talk and made an excursion into a brief one-way conversation with me, during which my innately sarcastic defensive mode turned on:
VP: Mary Beth, what are you?
MB: I'm a publicist.
VP: I know that, but like, what are you? Chinese? Asian and white?
MB: Filipino. (rolling my eyes with a smirk)
VP: Mmm, mm, mmm. I'd love to have a piece of that.
MB: (smiling) Allen, let's finish this deal and we can talk about it later.
And the meeting promptly resumed.
Then there are the occasional blunt words spit by the ego-driven, on-his-way-up-in-the-industry male, "Join me in my hotel room?"
My usual response: "You have two choices. You can either f*ck me, or you can f*ck with me and make money."
The smart ones choose the latter. (The first time I gave those options to a man was an attempt to blow off Rich Dollaz at Ryan Leslie's BET Awards afterparty in 2009.)
Somewhere in my inbox I'll find an e-mail written by a then-Alchemy film distribution exec. Within, he had written that he had been envisioning that I'd "...take his hand and walk him into the bedroom [and passionately lay with him]."
Via e-mail? Seriously?
We, women - we talk. We discuss our questionable experiences involving males and how we are in fear of jeopardizing our clientele, colleague relationships and career tracks, we contemplate and, unfortunately, we stop right there and do nothing more.
Here are the Top 5 paraphrased statements I've heard from professional and executive women in Hollywood regarding sexual harassment and misconduct:
1. If a man harasses you, strategically use it against him.
2. Get over it. Sexual harassment is part of working in Hollywood.
3. If you report being sexually harassed by a top executive, sure you can try to make some money through a settlement, which is our way of blackmail. But then you'll be blacklisted and won't be able to work in the industry again.
4. Don't give in. Just smile, keep your mouth shut and move on.
5. You've got do what you've got to do.
My male colleagues have even told me, "Mary Beth, flaunt what you've got, bat your eyes, be sweet and strong. Just flirt a little - not too much, but just enough."
Having mentored college students and new grads, predominantly young women, in public relations within the realms of sports and entertainment, I’ve made it clear with my (female) interns:
“If your boss or another male senior executive comes on to you sexually or in a way that just doesn't feel right, you don’t have to sleep with him to get what you want. Use his corporate credit card to feed him because he can’t talk or verbally abuse you when his mouth is full. Never blatantly reject him. Just respectfully respond to him with your glossed-up lips and postpone his flirtation with, 'Very funny, boss. Let's finish this project and then I'll find a solution for you.' And get him an escort in the meantime.”
Was this poor advice on my part? In a way, I am prolonging the use and abuse of women when suggesting escort services. Or am I just being realistic and rational for these young women just trying to make it? As I mentioned, I always tell my female apprentices that they don't have to sleep their way to the top (just get the man f*cked by someone else).
Note: Yes, I mentioned names. Get over it. I have no intention of suing anyone or tainting reputations. Just stating facts. Old ones. I'll buy you a drink when I see you at La Scala.
UPDATE as of Oct. 12, 2017: Below are responses I have received privately regarding this article.