Both in real life and on screen, the issue has been handled poorly.
Photo of Terry Crews via Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
This article originally appeared on VICE US
In 1980, we saw Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead in 9 to 5 declaring to her grabby, sexist boss Franklin Hart, Jr., “I am your employee and, as such, I expect to be treated with certain things called DIGNITY and EQUALITY and RESPECT!” It was radical to see an image like that of a woman in a stereotypically docile role as the secretary stand up to her male superior, but more importantly, it was empowering.
9 to 5 captures what it’s like to work in an overwhelmingly toxic and male environment, as well as to be fed up to the point where you don’t care whether you lose your job. Striking back in a dramatic way that will catch and hold your aggressors’ attention is what audiences—some of them victims of workplace harassment themselves—connect with onscreen, and that’s what they deserve to see as we celebrate the “silence breakers” who have banded together this year to expose that same ugly truth that has polluted Hollywood and beyond for years.
It’s also an interesting movie to revisit while reflecting on the images we’ve seen of men dominating women in film and on TV. It also makes me wonder where those types of images are as we consider adult male victims of sexual harassment. The issue is important to consider now especially, as actor Terry Crews’s case against WME agent Adam Venit—who Crews accused of groping him, lies mostly dormant (Crews is still suing him for sexual assault).
The example that most immediately to my mind is Horrible Bosses, the 2011 comedy that’s similar to 9 to 5 in that its characters seek revenge against their insufferable managers. But when Dale’s (Charlie Day) boss Dr. Harris (Jennifer Aniston) sexually harasses him—including an instance of drugging—it’s supposed to be hilarious. Of the three main characters, his situation is supposed to be ironic, one that you’re not actually supposed to feel sorry about because it’s between a woman who looks like Aniston and a man who looks like Day. How could that be sexual harassment?
We’re provoked to condemn the molestation of male children by their preachers, parents, or another adult, as evidenced in works of art such as Ray Donovan, Doubt, Spotlight, Red Hook Summer, and Antwone Fisher. But when it comes to adult male victims, there’s hesitation followed by an impulse to either disregard, poke fun at, or completely discount the issue.
Most recently, there was the scathing dramedy Search Party, which somewhat awkwardly included a storyline featuring reporter Julian (Brandon Michael Hall) being sent inappropriate sexts by his superior, fierce political candidate boss Mary Ferguson (J. Smith Cameron). Julian’s so troubled by Mary’s harassment that he tries to confront her about it, but she minimizes his concerns and manipulates him into feeling like he’s the crazy one. To make matters worse, when he approaches his friend Dory (Alia Shawkat) about it, she instead thinks about how she could benefit from it. Though the show’s built a solid critical reputation for biting observations of narcissistic millennial behavior, relegating Julian’s storyline to B-plot status felt like a missed opportunity to meaningfully examine the issue that the storyline dealt with.
Just as there’s plenty of work to be done when it comes to addressing and handling instances of sexual misconduct in Hollywood across the gender spectrum, there’s also still much left to be desired when it comes to how Hollywood portrays stories centering on male adult victims of sexual assault. Hopefully, as we continue to talk about this issue and its gravity becomes clearer, we’ll see this handled in a more sensitive way that connects to who we are as an audience today—discerning, aware, and unafraid to hold Hollywood accountable. These are the images that come to define us as a culture, and we should be able to find ourselves in them as they are inspired by our own realities.
Follow Candice Frederick on Twitter.