As a white man in the restaurant and entertainment industries, I too have experienced sexual harassment. Compared to what women face every day, it’s like a drop of rain in a hurricane.
As a Male I can’t imagine what it is like to be a Female in this world. I can put on a dress, put on some fake lady parts, makeup, a sweet wig, killer lashes and get a fabulous mani/pedi — all of which sounds like a great way to kick off a spectacular weekend — but I can never put on the experience of birth-to-now as a female. And as a white male I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a non-white person of any gender in this world. Nothing could ever give me that birth-to-now experience necessary to fully understand what life as a non-white male is truly like.
So what can I speak to from my own experience?
The problem before us, as I see it, is human beings in positions of power who’ve been told and believe the power they wield is absolute. They’ve been told and believe they’re not only free to, but actually expected to, abuse that power in any way they see fit to get whatever they desire.
Most of these humans in power happen to be Men In Power. Let’s call them the MIP.
I am an actor, writer, director, musician. I’ve been in the entertainment business in one or more of those disciplines for almost 30 years. Yes, as the cliché goes, I also waited tables and bartended along the way. I’ve also edited, worked as a production assistant, gotten coffee for everyone. You name it: if it was a job related to the entertainment industry, I probably did it. And even as a male, my ass and other naughty bits are no stranger to unwanted gropes, grabs, slaps and squeezes from human beings who held positions of power over me, mostly of the MIP variety.
Early ’90s, I lived in New York City. Jobs I held at various times were waiter, bartender, comedy club phone reservation taker and comedy club manager. All those gigs paid the bills while I was busy writing, producing, acting in and directing a series of one-act plays off-Broadway. Off-off-Broadway. Way off-off-Broadway. The basement theater at the Village Gate, to give you some locale precision. I was in my early 20s, and producing original material at a super-cool joint in the Village was a dream come true.
I also bartended and waited tables at a popular chain restaurant. It’s safe to estimate that at least once a week I was offered “a bigger tip” from a customer if I would, to save time and subtlety, have sex with them after my shift. I am excluding any normal flirting situations here, as in women or men under 30 who did not appear to be in positions of power in their day jobs who were just throwing flirtation out there, like respectful humans do. Almost all the propositions that were clearly business deals, an exchange of sex for money or gifts, came from over-40 white males, usually in business suits. The Gordon Gekko look was hot then. Imagine that look on men who ran the gambit in physical shape and size from Danny Devito to Michael Douglas to John Candy. There was also one over-40 female — imagine that same Gordon Gekko look on a 45-year-old Meryl Streep — who gave me the proposition of sex for money and a new designer suit.
In all these situations I declined the offer in my most humble “I’m flattered, but I’m seeing someone” fashion. This deterred about 5% of customers suggesting sex-for-money hookups. The other 95% would persist and raise their offer, sometimes naming an actual dollar amount. None of them, including the female, were swayed by the fact that I claimed to be a man who was spoken for. In fact, most of them would attack my imaginary significant other, claiming she was clearly not satisfying me. That I looked like I needed a release. Some of the offers, especially the high-dollar amounts, were tempting. Luckily, my gut reaction was always disgust. Even the woman, whom I initially found very attractive, became quite ugly in my eyes once she shifted from flirting to objectifying me as a commodity that could be bought and sold if she were to offer the right price. It was at this moment — when the normal human interaction of flirtation shifted into a power play — that I would drop off the check and ask my manager to please finish dealing with the customer.
My managers during these instances were a female over 30 we’ll call Lady M and a male over 40 we’ll call J Man. I would simply tell one of them that my customer was being incredibly rude and could they please handle closing them out? I did not care about making a tip at this point; I was done dealing with them.
Lady M would always handle these situations without question. She was about 5’6”, 160 pounds, short hair, tough. The customers would almost always leave an excessive tip in these situations, sometimes up to a 100% gratuity. Was this an apology? Hush money? A last-ditch invitation for me to make more money if I would succumb to their bidding and meet with them after working hours? Who knows?
J Man’s reaction when I would request that he handle an offending customer was very different from Lady M’s. He would usually joke that I was being a big pussy, that I was scared to make a few extra bucks, I was a prude, what was wrong with me? Was I scared of giving blow jobs? These were all comments said jokingly to make light of the situation. It was J Man reacting as a “real man” would in our society. I was fine with it.
Interestingly, if a female waitress or bartender had a similar situation with a customer who had crossed the line, I noticed a difference in their reactions. Lady M would ask for specifics, process it, almost as if the details were fuel. She would say nothing to the Server after receiving these details; then she would quietly approach the customer and drop off the check. If the customer would question what happened to their server, Lady M would respond, full snark, that she was their server now. The offending customer would almost always quickly pay the check and then wait to try to spot the server they had offended under the implication they would be offering an apology. If they did manage to find the server they would indeed apologize. But then, every time without fail, they would quickly give the server one last shot at accepting whatever it was they were offering if they would have sex with them. At this point Lady M would swoop in like a lightning bolt and the customer would sprint away.
J Man would not let the server who had been propositioned give him any details. He didn’t need to hear it. He would instantly approach the offending customer’s table with the check and present it, full chested, almost challenging — the classic alpha male ape. J Man was 4’11” in heeled boots and weighed 100 pounds if he was retaining water that day. Imagine a mid-40s Michael J. Fox who drank a bottle of scotch every weekend since he was 15. J Man was also loud. Brooklyn loud. The customers would mostly cower, embarrassed, quickly pay the check and leave as fast as they could, attempting to hide the fact that they were running away. But it was crystal clear that they were. They had no power over the manager. Only the server.
I am aware that my reaction to these situations was not like that of the “typical” male. Other male servers would take the same alpha ape posturing J Man did, sometimes playing the “Are you a f—-t?” card which almost always led to the same pay-and-flee response from the customer. However, there were a few male servers who would accept the offer. This was over a decade before Facebook, so I have not stayed connected to any of them. I still think of them, though. One in particular. He was attractive by anyone’s standards. All smiles. A genuine pleasure at work or while chatting over post-work cocktails. He could elevate anyone’s mood by simply being his wonderful self. Let’s call him Q.
The MIP in question was dining with his assistant. He was not a Wall Street MIP. He was more of the aging man who was clearly incredibly wealthy, probably inherited it. Diamond rings, Rolex watches. I know I am making a judgment without knowing the full details of his life, just painting the picture as it appeared to me.
I only saw him in the restaurant the one time. The time he asked Q to go home with him and then paid his $68 check with five $100 bills. About two hours later, when Q’s shift ended, a limo pulled up out front. Quietly, unlike Q, he left and got into the waiting car. Q called in sick for his next two shifts and never offered any details about his night with the MIP. He also never seemed the same to me after that night. It was like a piece of him went missing. That could totally be my perception. I could be projecting. But other servers definitely felt the same. After that night, Q seemed to have gone from a generally happy person to a mostly sad person. The event was not a secret. Every coworker he shared a shift with knew about his mystery night with the MIP. Q quit his job about three months later.
To say there was never an incident where a female server left with a MIP would be false. It happened a lot. One of the female servers, let’s call her Girl 6, did it on the regular. She had no issues with it. It was her MO. No judgment. She worked it; she got what she wanted. She was going on her third year as a server when I left the job. I don’t think she had much ambition beyond waiting tables, and she seemed to be a genuinely happy person.
My managers, Lady M and J Man, were exceptions to the rule. In other serving jobs I held in New York, Austin and Los Angeles, management’s response to these occurrences was almost always disgust, directed at me, for even thinking this was a problem they had to deal with. Sometimes they refused and would tell me to “Nut up” or something along the lines of “You’re a man, right? It’s part of the job.” When female servers would have situations with these customers, they were almost always told to ignore them. “It’s part of your job.” And they were sometimes threatened with being fired if they didn’t deal with it themselves.
That was the big takeaway for my fellow servers and me.
the way it is.
While managing the comedy club in NYC, I dealt with a lot of big shots in the entertainment business. This was at the beginning of the Seinfeld explosion. Tons of agents and managers would come to the club to discover the next big comic they could build a sitcom around. As a manager I would personally interact with these bigwigs. A few were interested in the plays I was producing and acting in — some genuinely interested, some courtesy interested. Some were only there for the free drinks. One agent in particular would say, “I’m just here to f–k as many waitresses as I can.” A lot of the waitresses were aspiring actresses. He expressed great interest in their acting, telling each and every one of them how talented he thought she was. Though he never signed any of them, he was true to his words and did sleep with as many of them as he could.
A few agents actually came to see some of the plays I produced. One agent made it clear he was very interested in me. At first he truly seemed to want to help with my entertainment career. It quickly became clear he was interested only in accessing my nether regions. Let’s call him Mister K.
Mister K pretended he wanted to help move my career to the next level. He complimented my work on all fronts: the writing, the directing and especially the acting! I was destined for great things. He wanted to sign me. That is, after I went to a hotel with him for an evening. He told me that was the only way I could get from the unsigned-next-big-thing I was to the signed-next-big-thing I wanted to be.
He insisted I was making a big mistake and that accepting his offer was the best thing I could do for my career. He gave the hard sell, stating that this would not simply be a wham-bam-thank-you-Mister-K situation. There would be wining and dining, a nine-course meal, $200 bottles of champagne, massages, bathing and, of course, all the sex. This experience would be great for my craft as well. I would be able to draw on my evening with Mister K for the rest of my life!
Again, I declined.
I have repeatedly thought about my decision, saying no to Mister K, over the past 25 years. It has resurfaced over and over again as I’ve scraped and clawed my way through a business that’s run mostly by the MIP. I have wondered, “What if?” What if I’d said yes? What if I’d taken his offer, the wining-dining, all the sexing, and had then been signed? Mister K was a real-deal agent at a big-deal agency. He had successful clients. Clients with careers like the one I wanted. What if I’d sucked it up, possibly literally, for that one night and gotten signed, my career suddenly fast-tracked because I let Mister K have his way with me?
Did the amount of sex I would give away for the promise of success and wealth outweigh the amount of dignity I would never get back?
That’s how the business works, isn’t it? Everyone has heard of the casting couch. It’s normal. That’s just the way it is out there in the real world. I think about this. Had I said yes to Mister K, what would I say when faced with the next step of furthering my career? There were a lot of MIP with eons more big-shot money and power than Mister K would ever have. Would that have become the way I lived my life? Would I be OK with it, like Girl 6, or would it have changed me the way I perceived it had changed Q?
When these thoughts come to my mind, I think of the women I’ve known. Mister K was a blip on my radar. A moment in my life that has repeated through other MIP a handful of times over my career. I’ve been on hundreds of auditions. Worked very hard to get where I am. Booked some great roles along the way. Been a part of some incredibly rewarding productions. I’d say over the past 27 years, I’ve been offered the moon and the stars by successful directors, producers, agents, managers and actors in exchange for having sex with them, in total, about 10 times.
My female friends in the entertainment business have had a similar experience.
The gigantic difference?
All the jobs they book, meetings they take, rungs they climb on the ladder of success — they have all told me the same horrifying and tragic tale. They have to deal with MIP sexually harassing them in some way or another almost every time. Most of their professional life is spent dealing with sexual harassment, groping, fondling, belittling, being told they are fat, old, worthless, unf–kworthy, and being threatened that they will never work in this town again if they don’t put out for it.
I would say about 3% of my career has been spent dealing with humans in power abusing their status to get me to sleep with them or do a favor for them for whatever promises they were making. That’s a very small percentage of my time, and even that much is unacceptable.
Women deal with this every day.
In every industry.
Hell, women deal with the possibility of being sexually harassed or assaulted whenever they walk down the street.
And yet this is what everyone seems to consider the norm. This behavior is revolting. It is unacceptable.
So. How do I, as a man, help to stop it? My gut says unite — every man, woman and child. But especially the men. We have allowed our fellow men to behave treacherously when it comes to women. We must be vigilant. We must be vocal. When someone is dehumanized, sexualized, treated like a piece of property in front of us, we need to call it out immediately and end it. We must not accept this behavior as the norm. And, yes, at the risk of losing our friends and our jobs, we must stand up to the abuse of power. Anyone who uses their social status or position of power to force their will on others must be told in no uncertain terms that their behavior will not be allowed.
None of this will be easy because, sadly, the abuse of power is rampant. It is everywhere. It has been tolerated, accepted and ignored far too long. We have to fight it with every molecule in our bodies, or it will not only continue; it will get worse. The wave of change is happening now, and we must catch it before it dies.
To pull a moment from when movies exist at their best, we must stand tall, staffs in had, and go full Gandalf on these pathetic humans, shouting loudly at the edge of the flaming pit, “Go back to the shadow! You shall not pass! You have no power here!” I know this is a scene from a fantasy. But taking an epic stand is the only way to destroy the epic mistake of allowing MIP to convince society we should just excuse their evil behavior as the status quo. The next time, whether it happens to you personally or to someone you are with, do it: Stand tall. Stand strong. And say it loud like the magical being you are, “You have no power here!”
The post Say It Loud to the Abusers: You Have No Power Here! appeared first on Crixeo.