When I was 16 years old, I got a job as a waitress in a restaurant that served alcohol. In order to work around the state’s alcohol laws (which prohibited anyone under the age of 19 from carrying and serving booze), the manager who hired me said he would have other staff members deliver my alcohol orders.
I was grateful. There was only one other staff member similar accommodations were being made for, and this was a good job that promised amazing tips. In fact, within just a month, I was making more money than any of my high school friends.
So I didn’t say a word when that same manager (a married man in his late 40s) began flirting with me on a regular basis. I didn’t speak up when he showed me preferential treatment in shift scheduling. I didn’t object when he commented on how pretty I was, or how working with me brightened up his whole day. I even allowed him to start offering me hugs at the beginning and end of every shift.
I learned quickly that this was part of the game. That accepting some level of flirtation from male supervisors was the price I had to pay if I wanted to work in the restaurant industry.
It was a lesson I took with me through the next 10 years, as various lines were crossed by more than a few male supervisors in the bars and restaurants I spent my time working in.
I made good tips. I paid my bills. I had jobs I didn’t hate, where my friends could come hang out while I worked. Weren’t unwanted advances a small price to pay?
I was reminded of all this when I came across Amber Tamblyn’s op ed in The New York Times this weekend. It was titled, “I’m Done With Not Being Believed,” and if I’m being honest, it made me want to stand up and cheer.
“What I have experienced as an actress working in a business whose business is to objectify women is frightening,” Tamblyn writes.
But it’s not just Hollywood this happens in. It’s not just actresses who face this. As I read her honest words about risk consideration, I found myself nodding along:
“Every day, women across the country consider the risks,” she writes. “That is our day job and our night shift. We have a diploma in risk consideration. Consider that skirt. Consider that dark alley. Consider questioning your boss. Consider what your daughter will think of you. Consider what your mother will think of what your daughter will think of you. Consider how it will be twisted and used against you in a court of law. Consider whether you did, perhaps, really ask for it. Consider your weight. Consider dieting. Consider agelessness. Consider silence.”
We all know that being the woman who accuses a man of sexual harassment brands us. Whether that’s meant to be the case or not is irrelevant. It happens. We lose credibility in our jobs. We become the woman who is too “uptight” or “rigid” to work with. We are no longer viewed as “fun” (which we all know is the label even grown women are meant to have if they hope to receive any acknowledgement in a room full of men), and are instead cast off as too much trouble to be bothered with.
Tamblyn goes on to describe the multiple instances of harassment she’s faced throughout her career. Instances I know I could relate to, and I’m sure countless other women can, as well. And not just the instances of harassment, but also the instances of not being believed.
Like the time she mustered all her courage to tell a producer about the crew member harassing her on set. A crew member who, after she ended a flirtation, was showing up to her apartment unannounced, going through her trailer when she wasn’t there, and shooting her “dagger” looks on set.
“The producer listened,” Tamblyn writes. “Then he said, ‘Well, there are two sides to every story.'”
But as she later learned, “there are not two sides to every story” — at least not for women in America who come forward with stories of harassment, abuse and sexual assault.
“Women do not get to have a side,” writes Tamblyn. “They get to have an interrogation.”
The actress recently made headlines after coming to the defense of her actor and friend Armie Hammer, who wound up in a Twitter debate with fellow actor James Woods about the “appropriateness” of dating someone underage. While Woods criticized Hammer’s latest film — which features a relationship between a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old — Hammer pointed out what he perceived to be a hypocrisy, since Woods is known for dating much younger women (one of whom was just 19).
“In an instant, I was reminded of a memory from when I was 16,” writes Tamblyn. “Mr. Woods attempted to pick me and a friend up when we were at Mel’s diner in Hollywood, seeing if we wanted to go to Las Vegas with him that very night. I informed him of my age, to which he said, ‘Even better.’ I told this story publicly as a way to back up the claim that Mr. Woods was, indeed, a hypocrite. Mr. Woods called my account a lie.”
It was at that moment that Tamblyn decided she was “done.” Done being quiet. Done letting these men get away with their games of manipulation and line-crossing. Done “playing the credentials game,” as she puts it — forever weighing the clout these men may hold over her. Because as she puts it, “We are learning that the more we open our mouths, the more we become a choir. And the more we are a choir, the more the tune is forced to change.”
And you know what? That’s something I want to be a part of. Not only for myself, but for my daughter. A little girl who is 4 years old today, but who will be 16 tomorrow.
A little girl who I hope and pray will live in a world where she knows she is permitted to speak up far sooner than I ever did.
So I’m joining the choir. Won’t you?