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Earlier this year, authors Sophie Hennekam and Dawn Bennett concluded their study, ‘sexual harassment in the creative industries…’ by suggesting that “a tolerance of sexual harassment among female creative workers” is shaped by many factors, such as, the “competition for work, industry culture, gendered power relations and the importance of informal networks.”
Furthermore, the report suggests that “by rationalizing sexual harassment as a normal phenomenon, female workers might internalize the view that such interactions are part of [a] broader, accepted sociocultural behaviour, thus sustaining the culture.” Unsurprisingly, this conclusion is shown in the current revelations of women’s accounts of sexual harassment within the entertainment industry. And is used as the reason behind the longstanding silence, to not voice their ordeals, until now.
Emerging after an avalanche of actresses detailed their inappropriate encounters with Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein – spanning over a period of two decades – numerous women (and men) have taken to social media to express their own experiences via hashtags; #metoo and #myjobshouldnotincludeabuse.
…times when allegations have indeed been brought forth, perpetrators in high-powered positions are protected by equally powerful associates and the victim is sued with a defamation lawsuit…
Hesitation to speak up
In many social media posts, women have addressed their hesitation to ‘speak up,’ for the fear of losing career opportunities or because they didn’t want to spark a negative image of themselves at work. As a means of copying, some simply accepted the idea that such behaviour was a ‘normal’ part of the industry. This perception was often reinforced by people in senior positions, turning a blind eye, when they witnessed or heard of acts of indecency. This, perhaps answers the repeatedly asked question, ‘why didn’t anyone speak up?’
What’s more, times when allegations have indeed been brought forth to the public, perpetrators in high-powered positions are protected by equally powerful associates and the victim sued in a defamation lawsuit. Or shunned from the conversation altogether and seized of any future prospects of ‘making it’ in the industry. Thus, further underpinning the ideology that sexual harassment is a normalised aspect of day to day life. Especially for young models in creative industries such as fashion.
A continuing act
Over the past week, countless articles have been posted on news platforms, discussing the reasons why fashion photographer, Terry Richardson continued to work on lucrative fashion projects. Despite the industry’s knowledge of his alleged sexual misconduct with models, trailing back seven years, and beyond, when Jamie Peck wrote a candid story of the “negative encounter” she had with Richardson.
Indeed, major corporations like Condé Nast International have in recent days discontinued their working relationships with Richardson. On 23rd October 2017, Daily Telegraph reported that James Woolhouse, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Condé Nast International, instructed the company’s “country presidents,” to terminate existing and future collaborations with the photographer. A company statement later issued on 27 October 2017, reinstated the idea that Condé Nast expected, “all employees, freelance contributors, and others…to act appropriately.”
However, many industry professionals argue that these actions are a little too late and simply reactions to the increased pressure, companies are currently under, to straighten their sexual harassment policies in the wake of Weinstein’s scandal.
Looking to the future
Nevertheless, fashion designers like Prabal Gurung have acknowledged that these events are, in fact, an opportunity to create effective change in the industry.
In a recent post on Instagram, Prabal writes, “It is important that we hold everyone accountable who worked with Terry Richardson. Not to shame them, but to understand the intention & motive behind their decision to turn a blind eye to his horrific actions. Clearly, they cannot say they didn’t know because we all knew.” He continues by encouraging people in the industry to ask themselves and each other, how we can “build stronger communities,” how we “fostered” such a “hostile environment” and “why…we continue to follow a herd mentality even when we know better?”
These inspirational, thought-provoking questions echo Hennekam and Bennett’s insights on how creative industries can resolve and prevent sexual harassment. According to the report, “effective sexual harassment prevention requires action at the individual, educational, sectoral and governmental levels, beginning with the message that clear sexual harassment is never acceptable.”
Therefore, regardless of what any particular culture, work-related or personally, demands of us, it remains our responsibility and right to ‘speak up’ and continue ‘speaking up’ when we experience behaviour that are of an inappropriate nature or back us into an uncomfortable corner. If anything, hashtags like #metoo are somewhat evidence that times are headed in the right direction. With a click of a second, previously voiceless stories can gain support and momentum, impacting positive change in their stride.
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