#MeToo and Weinstein - the advertising edition

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 19 October 2017
Rosie Baker AdNews editor

The Weinstein scandal is having a monumental impact beyond the film industry. More women in Hollywood are speaking up each day and the allegations seem to be getting worse - if that’s possible.

The #MeToo movement has emerged as a way for others to share their experiences, show solidarity, and also display just how common it is.

My Facebook news feed and other social platforms are distressingly full of women, and men, posting the #MeToo hashtag that asks people to copy and paste it if they too have an experience of sexual harassment, or abuse, at the hands of another.

Since it emerged, I'm sure I'm not alone in having this thought: that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein isn't the only one. And Hollywood isn't the only place it’s a problem.

Read: Is there a Weinstein of advertising? Cindy Gallop is calling for names

Taylor Swift winning her high profile court case last month against 51-year old radio host David Mueller is just one example of the same kind of thing occurring in the music business.

You can be sure that Weinstein and Mueller have equivalents in law, in fashion, in government and certainly in advertising and media. And Cindy Gallop is calling for names.

The Agency Circle survey results from earlier this year revealed that 42% of people in the advertising industry had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in their career and two-thirds have seen it disguised in jokes.

That is shameful. Clemenger has also issued a follow up survey to find out more and tackle it. You can contact The Agency Circle to get the survey if you want to really do something in your agency. 

Two years ago I worked with SheSays on a survey into sexism and harassment in the workplace for this article ‘Mad men, stonewalled women’.

I promised to keep the personal responses out of the press and anonymous, but it made for grim reading. The most jarring was a young female creative explicitly told she wouldn't be getting a job in an agency if she didn't have sex with the ECD at the time. This kind of thing happens in advertising, and it’s happened in Australia. If it's still happening, who are the perpetrators, and what can we do about it?

Careers are held to ransom for those that don't go along with it. For those that succumb, often they are harassed, abused and controlled. Is the outcome much better?

Let's not forget that sexual harassment and abuse is by no means restricted to the workplace. For a lot of women it's something they experience from a young age. In the playground, in the street, cat-calling, inappropriate touches and unsolicited attention are often a part of day-to-day life. The response for most is to grow a thicker skin. To turn off. To shut up and get on with it. But what if instead of that, we take a stand like these women in Hollwood and lobby for change?

It’s seems as though most women, and some men, have a story - or many. For me, there was something in my younger years I won't get into, and in my first real job when I moved to London to get my foot in the door of publishing. It was known that one of the senior male execs was something of a creep. He was a figure that was renowned among the young women I started working with and quickly proved himself to be everything the rumours suggested.

It seemed a recurring coincidence that whenever there was an urgent need for the file copies and magazine filing to be done, magazines stacked and reordered on ceiling high shelves, I happened to be wearing a skirt to the office that day.

Is it monstrous? No, it sounds farcical in the face of some of the stories I’ve heard, but is it offensive and demeaning that someone who was my superior thought it was amusing for a 20-year old office junior to be kneeling down, bending over and climbing a stepladder to reach high shelves all while wearing a skirt? All under his watchful eye? Yes.

Even more offensive that he shared his ‘clever plot’ with the other ‘lads’ on the team. One of whom decided to do the right thing and tell me that our boss was a jerk. Did I tell his boss? No. Did he continue to creep on young women in the workplace? Probably.

Luckily for me he was more an immature loser than a dangerous predator, but that’s not always the case. He left me wary of what else would come my way, and gave me my first bitter taste of sexism and power play in the workplace.

Making light of it
Like the Weinstein scandal, the rumours were the subject of jokes for years, so I was saddened last week at the ACRAs, the radio industry's annual awards event, when long-time on-air host Kate Langbroek, a stalwart of radio, thought it was OK to make a joke about it on stage.

I wasn't recording, or taking notes, so this isn't a direct quote, but the gist of it was: ‘I’ve slaved away for years in radio to get where I am, I wish someone had told me there had been an easier way to get to the top’.

The implication being, if you're willing to sleep with someone powerful like Weinstein if they can rocket power your career in this world, then that’s fine. It was a joke. I’m certain she doesn't condone that, or Harvey Weinstein, and I’m sure in her career in radio she’s see plenty of things go on that shouldn't. Langbroek is a respected figure in broadcast. A figure many aspiring women in radio look up to but I found the joke distasteful and it didn't get a laugh out of me.

Rumours, whispers and inevitable truths
I’ve had many conversations about this issue since the Weinstein scandal broke. There are names that have come up in conversation more than once. There are whispers, rumours, speculation and more.

This New York Times article that outlines how its reporters have broken not one, but three, serious stories around high-level sexual harassment this year, begins: “It starts with a whisper. A prominent man has used his wealth and power to harass or abuse a woman — or worse — and then to intimidate her, or to buy her silence.

"As several reporters at The New York Times have learned this year, it rarely ends with a single woman, a single whisper.”

I imagine the rumours I have heard are not merely whispers. The whispers you’ve heard probably aren't either. And I know there are some legal conversations being had.

Flushing it out
Cindy Gallop is right. This is a moment that the advertising industry should use to flush out nasty elements.To make a stand like those women in Hollywood have and I hope that it gives women in this industry the confidence to do so.

I also think AdNews has a responsibility to do something, if something needs to be done.

I’m not saying AdNews will name names, but I’m not saying we won’t - if there is enough evidence that comes to the fore.

You can bet that if we get to a point where there is overwhelming evidence and allegations that need to be brought to light, we’ll do that, and we’ll do it properly. It isn’t about a witch hunt. It’s about women coming forward and reporting what they know and what they have experienced and a better, more respectful, more successful industry will follow.

Several conversations have turned to the responsibility that everyone has and the guilt of being complicit.

It appears in Hollywood that everyone knew to some degree that Weinstein’s reputation wasn't smoke without fire. If there is similar thing in Australian advertising, and we have all sat by and let it go on, we're all guilty.

If anyone can flush out some names in the ad industry, it’s Cindy Gallop. I’d like to ask anyone that has an experience to share and the confidence to take some action to contact AdNews. We won’t publish rumours, but we will investigate.

In this same New York Times article, it outlines that the journalists' findings “were bolstered not just by testimony but by legal documents and company records”.

We’ll take the same approach. I’d urge anyone to come forward, in complete confidence to me at AdNews (rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au). Or, contact Cindy Gallop. You could also contact the team at SheSays, SWIMM or The Agency Circle. All those organisations have an active interest in equality, and improving the industry so should be able to help, if you don't want to talk to the press directly.

But the important thing is accountability, and it's time to end the silence.

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