Holy smokes, Batman!
And not in a funny way. This week, I’ve been struggling to put into words just what precisely it is that makes Trump’s Access Hollywood video so disturbing.
In a way, The Guardian has it right when they say that the “worst” thing about the video is the moment that Trump meets Arianne Zucker for the first time. This thunderbolt flip-switch, from crass, objectifying “locker room talk” (which gives the very phrase a terrifyingly sinister new meaning) to a seemingly innocuous greeting, is something that has kept me up at night. Her friendliness comes across as naiveté, her attempts to “flirt” away the lewd comments comes across as simply uncomfortable.
The moment that a woman is put into this type of situation is the moment that our society has failed us.
“How about a little hug for the Donald?” Billy Bush asks her, after hysterically laughing to Trump’s comment that he kisses women when he sees them, “I don’t even wait.” This sickening one-two step, from disrespecting her behind her back to making her a laughingstock as they heighten the joke by manipulating her to her unsuspecting face, is the most base, degrading possible situation.
Society has failed woman long before getting to the point where she must handle a situation like this. It starts in back rooms, playing out in a public sphere through manipulative backhanding and ostensibly flattering comments meant to force a woman to feed into situations that ultimately make her objectify herself. Zucker is forced to laugh at comments about her beauty, a reaction that is meant to show her gratitude for the flattering comments to a room full of spectators who are standing by while she is forced onto this demented pedestal. In a moment of impressive professionalism, she responds that she will have to “take the Fifth” when asked which man she would choose to date (read: fuck).
I work in the entertainment industry, and I’m used to this. Which is why I couldn’t help but react with an outrage that was tinged with complete, total understanding.
My father, a lawyer, had debriefed me nearly since birth on professional etiquette, in a Baby Mozart-like fashion. Kindergarten papers were handed in with all of the letters facing the same way. No backward R’s for me. In high school, college applications were battered to death with spell-check. Reading my cover letters, a potential employer may have automatically pictured me writing with a quill, my hair tied up in the most conservative of buns. The office was a place where gossip was left behind, and work ethic was shoved to the forefront. Or so I thought.
The “movie biz,” I soon came to find out, works differently.
Nearly from the start, I was blindsided by the discrepancy between the professional world I had envisioned and the world of HOLLYWOOD.
Most of my jobs, perhaps because of my desire to work in the “action” movie space, were at male-dominated companies. I have never had a female boss. I’ve only had one male boss that’s respected me.
Just out of college, I clung tightly to the belief that my boss would always be right, and to serve him was my ultimate mission. As an assistant, my entire job revolved around keeping my boss happy. It is a strange atmosphere, serving a man rather than a larger company, and can be fatal.
It started with comments about my dating life. Uncomfortable, sure, but perhaps it was a way for my boss to get to know me. I was, after all, walking his dog and making sure his lattes were non-fat, double-shot, extra-hot. I would laugh and regale him with my escapades as a 22 year old living in Los Angeles. Trust me, I had plenty of fodder. I tried to keep it light, but the questions got more prying. I had already opened the can of worms, I decided, by playing along, and thus I owed him this information. How else could I jump the picketed fence into the “boys club?”
My boss then moved on to comments about my body parts. Still struggling to come into my own, too young to know the warning signs, and perhaps too easily validated by what I thought were flattering comments about my beauty, I fed into this behavior. With no way to claw my way out of the hole I believed I had singlehandedly dug, I began ignoring the instant messages sent from across the room. Began finding chores to do (which, for the female assistants, consisted of cleaning the company kitchen and ordering lunch – no female in the company had risen above mid-level).
When it came time to bring another assistant on, I scoured the assistant email panels for suitable matches. Being raised as I was, I placed the most capable looking resumes at the top. Impressive schools, good work history, interesting cover letters. Most of the would-be assistants were dismissed at the door by the bosses, later described as “too ugly” or “too fat” to grace the halls of our hallowed workplace. Finally, the girl my boss deemed a “suitable candidate” walked in. She was beautiful. And he uncharacteristically decided to interview her himself. By the time they walked back through the double doors of the conference room, she was hired.
And I was fired.
I was devastated. Like a woman dumped by her first lover, I begged for an explanation. What had I done wrong? Was I too slow at responding to emails? Had I left too many crumbs on the table? The timing was bizarre, and the idea of being insufficient as an assistant almost laughable. (It often becomes painfully obvious when an assistant is failing at his job, so firings out of the blue are rare.) Looking back, this still makes my neck hot. I didn’t understand that the whole situation was wrong. Despite my attempts, I was never given an explanation as to what had caused my swift demise.
My father returned from his trip to Israel the next day.
To find me unemployed and tear-stricken.
His first question, of course, was why? I told him that I didn’t know. In his world, actions have reasons, and reasons should be given for actions.
I told my father that perhaps my discourse with my boss was to blame.
Trust me, there is nothing more embarrassing than having to dig through months of lewd email and message exchanges, and press that forward button onto your father.
I had become one of those women, I admitted to myself while curled under the covers in my shared bedroom under the 10 freeway, making plans to run out of Los Angeles and apply to law school in Timbuktu.
The kind who doesn’t get her way and cries “sexual harassment.”
My father didn’t see it that way. He saw it as an example of a young woman, desperate to please her boss, being placed in an uncomfortable situation, and doing her best to diffuse it.
But he wasn’t going to come to my rescue.
Instead, he told me to handle it like an adult and on my own. To call up the boss who had fired me (the same perpetrator of the assistant hiring deliberation.) I told him my story, all too cognizant of the fact that it still sounded like a whiny girl who was coming clean too late.
His response? “That’s Hollywood, babe.”
The rest gets worse before it gets better, but suffice it to say that I learned a lot. About the unfortunate realities of our workplace society.
Trump is right, of course, when he says, “when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.” You can bet that Zucker’s job that day was to ensure that the “star” was happy, because he was extremely powerful and important to the network. Even when it necessitated that she play along. And that young girl, responding to a boss with extreme power over her, is just another story among millions of stories.