Wine, Whine, and Not Weinstein

Written By Diana Whitten

This month, a group of Utah women working in film met at the invitation of the Utah Film Commission to exchange stories and solidarity in the wake of the Weinstein scandal, and to brainstorm how to move the perpetual conversation about gender parity in film into action. The evening was in answer to women across the industry feeling triggered and fired up by the undeniable pervasiveness of sexual harassment and abuse at work, and overwhelmed by the burden of how to heal it. It was an evening of sobering stories and frustrated laughter, complete with a little despair and a dose of empowerment.

Most of us had participated in the gently heartbreaking #metoo campaign. In demonstrating that harassment and abuse are ubiquitous, the campaign was a collective refusal of the gaslighting Weinstein employed to contain his transgressions, and moreover of the gaslighting that women experience at the societal level. Ultimately, a choir of corroborated stories, by women, is what trumped Weinstein – despite all of his wealth, influence, and non-disclosures. A consequence of #metoo, indeed of all the fallout since Weinstein, is that women, and many men, are reexamining their own stories of harassment and abuse under a new light of validity.

The New York Times recently reported on women’s “whisper networks” – an age-old tradition of women sharing information and support, often subversively. It described a Bear Stearns happy hour where women meet regularly to exchange tips on salary negotiation and avoiding rape at the workplace. The modern “whisper network” is online: BetterBrave offers an online guide to dealing with sexual harassment at work, and online forums like SheWorx and Tech Lady Mafia offer support for harassment victims in tech. A tech initiative called Project Callisto allows victims who report abuse to maintain anonymity while corroborating with other victims of the same predator; it is available for schools and corporations. The film industry might take a cue from women in tech, who are commanding their medium to reinvent the timeless model of women’s “whisper networks” to create, maintain, and harness solidarity.

As women in film, what tools do we have?

Last week, 9 Angry Women sat around a table, asking ourselves this question. Among the 9 were representatives from government and education, actors, and creatives – all different skill sets. Everyone there had a story, ranging from humiliation and harassment to much worse; and everyone there was trying to figure out how to change that narrative.

The Utah Film Commission has since announced it will post the state of Utah’s workplace harassment policy on its website, which requires work environments be free from discrimination and harassment based on race, religion, color, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation.  Productions filming in state will be requested to either share their production’s policy or adopt the state’s policy if they don’t already have one. The Commission is encouraging cast and crew to use the Utah Film Commission as a resource regarding questions or concerns about workplace safety.

Meanwhile, Women in Film announced the launch of a sexual harassment hotline to manage the deluge of calls coming in. Entertainment lawyers are working to eradicate the use of non-disclosures to hide harassment and abuse. USC’s Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative is building on data it has collected to create resources like an A-list Equity Rider and the Just Add Five Campaign – both attempts to create more parity on screen. Film Fatales is dedicated to supporting diverse female film directors behind the camera, who in turn hire more women and minorities in pipeline crew jobs while moving more female-helmed stories into the mainstream.

The approach to systemic change is multifaceted, and as we continue to ask ourselves what tools we hold, the most immediate action we can all take, on the ground, is to remember that we are our sisters’ keepers, with no need to whisper, and cannot allow this conversation to fade out again.

Contributing writer, Diana Whitten, writes, makes art, and directs film.