In recent weeks, the floodgates have opened on stories of sexual harassment in the workplace. The Harvey Weinstein scandal was the trigger, but the tales of groping, leering and intimidation have come thick and fast from all industries – from restaurants to advertising, theatre to publishing, fashion to media and banking.
Now, Anna Faris has joined the ranks of women speaking out about their experiences of sexual harassment at work. During an episode of her podcast Unqualified, she said that she was groped by an unnamed director when she was just starting out in her career.
Faris, who got her first film role when she was 20 years old, said that the director “slapped [her] ass” on set.
“I was doing a scene where I was on a ladder and I was supposed to be taking books off a shelf and he slapped my ass in front of the crew so hard,” she explained.
She said that she had been so shocked that she didn’t know how to react.
“All I could do was giggle,” she recalled. “I remember looking around and I remember seeing the crew members, [and] being like, ‘Wait, what are you going to do about that? That seemed weird.’”
However, when the crew members didn’t react, Faris said she “dismissed” the incident.
“I was like, ‘Well, this isn’t a thing. Like, it’s not that big of a deal. Buck up, Faris. Like, just giggle,’” she said. “But it made me feel small. He wouldn’t have done that to the lead male.”
Many women learn to ‘laugh off’ sexual harassment as a defence mechanism, observed Faris – but this is problematic.
“We’re conditioned to giggle,” she said. “But also, if we were to do anything else, we’d be labelled a bitch or difficult. That would be the best of circumstances.”
“I guess what I do is laugh,” she continued. “It puts everyone at ease. That’s the defence mode you go into.”
Faris added that the same director told her agent that one of the reasons she was hired was that she had “great legs”.
“Listen, that’s a f***ing great compliment,” she said. “I like my legs. But that sort of informed my whole experience with that whole project. I don’t think the male lead got hired because he had great legs. Therefore I felt like I’m hired because of these elements – not because of [talent].”
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In speaking about the difficulties of responding to sexual harassment in the moment, Faris touches upon an important point. Often, harassment is so shocking that it causes the women (and men) who experience it to clam up or freeze.
Alternatively, we grin and bear it, out of a desire not to ‘make a scene’, or to show that we can ‘take a joke’.
But this “self-defence mechanism” – as Faris describes it – can later be used against us. It’s frustratingly common to encounter people who question why sexual harassment victims don’t simply speak out at the time of the incident, ignoring the many, many reasons why a woman might feel incapable of doing so, particularly at work.
Hopefully, however, the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace will lead to more people feeling able to challenge their harassers and discuss their experiences. And with any luck, it will also cause those same harassers to realise that in this brave, post-Weinstein world, their behaviour will no longer be tolerated.
Images: Rex Features