Thank You Ashley Judd: Politically Incorrect (but true) Advice From A Guy On Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment: sex·u·al ha·rass·ment_noun_harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.

My wife and I were out with another couple a few weeks ago when the whole ‘sexual harassment thing’ came up. My question to the group: If we universally agree that the actions of guys like Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, etc..are terrible and unacceptable in civilized society, why are they so common? Is it a mental illness? Is it rage i.e. the smart but not so good looking guys in high school are ‘getting back’ at the ‘popular’ cheerleader types now that they are the ones with the ‘power’? What do I tell my three sons (19-17-14)?

The two women in our group work in the field of behavioral health (adult psych/adolescent
psych/chemical dependency) at a large hospital. The male is a very social, likable, successful real estate agent who was married for 15 years before becoming single and then dating our female friend exclusively for eight years. For thirty minutes I listened to what I respectfully believed were boilerplate, politically correct overviews of the situation, nothing overly insightful.

The next morning I said to myself , “I’m going to write down a guy’s guy, politically incorrect (but true) overview of the situation as I see it.” I am not a professional therapist. I am not a social psychologist. Why do I feel qualified? A lot of ‘real world’ experience.

I have been witness to, heard about and or participated in thousands of social interactions (castings/bars/restaurants/nightclubs/job sites/on trips/whatever….) in the ‘sex sells’ fashion industry for +20 years in NYC, both as a model and a successful business owner that serves the industry to this day.

I have personally sat down at the computer on a daily basis for years laying out cards/headshots/retouching with literally hundreds/thousands of individual models/actors/photographers/stylists from dozens of agencies for 15-30 minutes in a recurring fashion every month or two whenever that individual got together enough new material to justify making a new composite card or wanted something retouched.

This went on as long as their careers lasted. In addition, before the entire business flipped over to the internet and phones became more or less obsolete, I spoke with agents from multiple agencies on a daily basis about printing, retouching, B.S’d, engaged in small talk, gossip, etc…I also went out socially three or four nights a week for years, running into many of these same individuals in bars and nightclubs.

As you get to know one another, you get past the ‘small talk’ and into the ‘medium talk’ – and my relationships weere sort of like how a hairdresser or trainer gets to know their clients personal lives very very well over time. Common subjects that came up: 1) Did you do anything interesting over the weekend? 2) Who are you dating/How is your family? 3) Any good stories?

I heard all sorts of crazy stories about sex, sexual harassment, creepy/manipulative ‘gatekeepers,’ etc, and because the vast majority of my clients are much better than average in the looks department (by definition) I feel this greatly accelerated the overall number of sexually harassing situations (assuming a correlation between good looks, sex appeal and sexual harassment).

Bottom line, there is a self evident ‘general pattern’ of behavior that is common in the industry (and apparently many others). Note, I am a 51 year old, straight, white, university educated male who dated extensively for years before progressing to marriage (at 30) and three children. Although hardly a ‘saint’ by any stretch of the word – I have always been very respectful towards women and have always kept it professional with my clients. I fully acknowledge that I have obviously had different sexual harassment issues/situations than those of the fairer sex. That being said, I have a seen and lived the same social situations from the ‘other’ side and hopefully can add a different light on the matter. This is my personal, unemotional, logical, ‘big brother’/only good intentions, real-world perspective from someone who has heard variations of the same handful of stories ad nauseum.

CORE ISSUE:

This isn’t rocket science (and it applies to businesses other than modeling and acting). When you have established ‘gatekeeping’ decision makers, producers, directors, photographers, art directors, clients, agents, investors, that mingle on a daily basis with very beautiful, very young, very naive, (often times) very broke kids from all over the world, who in many cases speak minimal English, you have a recipe for disaster.

Best intentions aside – there are too many situations and opportunities where things can ‘fall off the rails’ from a morality standpoint which is why it so often does. You can substitute many other businesses and job titles, there are many similarities that share the same dynamics (i.e., new kid in town from Kansas looking for their first job in the big city).

What is creepy behavior? How does this guy get away with saying or doing ___when this guy doesn’t? How do we mitigate the creepy behavior? How do we handle it as a society? Why is sexual harassment so frequent?


This is how I think the best way to deal with the daily, ‘garden variety’ harassment issues:

NON-BUSINESS SOCIAL SITUATIONS: HARVEY WEINSTEIN (UGLY) VS WARREN BEATTY (HANDSOME). WE ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. A few of my model friends over the years weren’t just ‘model’ handsome but ‘special’ handsome, looks where women would literally throw themselves at these guys – and I’m not talking once in awhile, but +90% of the time.

One night I remember two beautiful German girls coming up to us in NYC and one made it very apparent that she was very interested in my buddy. This was great, but as mentioned, this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, the night was young, we had other places to go, not wanting to get ‘held up’ so early. They exchanged numbers, and we went on our way.

As she was walking away he called out “F*ck you later” (instead of ‘see you later’) – and although I did a double take (which takes a lot) – lets just say she wasn’t offended in the least (and they did end up f*cking later). When out of earshot, I said to him “Dude – ‘f*ck you later? Are you kidding me?” to which he faux coyly ‘shrugged.’ The point of the story: if 99.9999 percent of the men in the world said that to this particular girl, there was a very good chance she would have:

1) “F*ck me later? How about you go f*ck yourself now.”
2) slap the guy
3) declare ‘some creepy guy is sexually harassing me’ to the owner/bouncers and that offender needs to be kicked out.

Truth, there is a fine line between ‘unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks’ and wanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.’ In this case – the beautiful girl was very receptive to an objectively obscene remark, the only thing that kept it from being offensive to her?  The guy who said it.

The question is, how does a guy objectively know ‘what will work’ on a woman without potentially being offensive or potentially harassing them?

MEN:
1) You don’t know until you initiate an interaction.
2) You may frequently get rejected, shot down in flames, slapped or have a drink thrown in your face,  that is just the way that it is.

Failures in these situations are very important for successful future interactions. As with most things, 90% of success is ‘showing up.’ Practice makes perfect. Bottom line, don’t take no’s personally, be persistent, be respectful, be smart. Most important, know your limitations (because we are not created equal).

PART OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT: Many of us at some point in our lives are/were sexual beings. It is part of the human condition to crave physical and or sexual contact. Approaching a woman is a very awkward thing for many men. That being said, for the women (and some men) it is part of the social contract, ‘comes with the territory’ that you will be on the receiving end of a certain amount of ‘unwanted’ attention while out patiently waiting for ‘wanted’ attention.

When the wrong guy inevitably ‘hits on you’ – although it can be annoying – unless it is ‘over the line’ women cannot be so quick to be ‘offended’ or you risk making a difficult and awkward situation for a man something truly untenable, i.e., guys will be too terrified to ask anyone out.

Example of ‘going too far’: this actress a few weeks ago…Does anyone really think that wheelchair bound 93-year-old President HW Bush had sexual assault on his mind when he pinched her butt? Technically, perhaps – but in the real world – absolutely not. 1) He might have Alzheimer’s. 2) Although getting pinched on the ass by an old man is not an ideal situation – in the big picture – big deal!

The actress is an adult who has been around the block and most definitely should have dealt with something like this privately, not holding a press conference. Often you just need a ‘thick skin’ and try to deal with the situation without ‘crying wolf’ (unless there really is a wolf, that crosses an objective line).

 It’s not just women that have to deal with this kind of thing. Kevin Spacey homosexual harassment aside – I am a very straight, attractive 6’2” 200 pound, physically fit guy and these things have happened to me too. I’ve personally had (and all by women I had just met, and it didn’t matter whatsoever if I was single or married at the time); my crotch grabbed, been offered drinks if I will kiss them, given room keys, offered cash to pinch my ass, asked if I wanted to see their tits, asked if I wanted a BJ in the bathroom, asked to guess if they were wearing panties or not, asked to feel a woman’s breasts and then guess is they were real, etc… – dozens if not hundreds of ‘sexually nuanced’ situations and some by objectively beautiful women.

How does an adult handle these things if they come from someone you want nothing to do with? Call the police? Call their agent? Call their husband?

No. Use your social IQ/social skills and deal with the situation. As individuals (women especially) we all must develop the wherewithal to handle these situations without being overly offended or with anyone getting arrested unless they really crossed the line.

To be clear, getting grabbed on the crotch was way over the line, but a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model can get away with these things in most cases while most others can’t. Bottom line, we are sexual creatures and these things happening come with the territory.

Keep it fun and keep it healthy and have a thick skin unless someone ‘crosses the line.’

PERSISTENCE VS HARASSMENT: In a guy’s defense, persistence often pays, and we cannot always wait for the woman to make the first move. How many times have you heard the ‘how we got married’ story: “I asked her out 20x over a year before she finally said yes.”

Someone asking someone else out multiple times to repeated no’s could be designated as a ‘stalker’ or accused of’sexual harassment.’ The reality is often the one doing the asking truly believes that they are simply dealing with someone ‘playing hard to get’.

ADVICE: Women: Don’t say potentially hopeful things like ‘I have a boyfriend’ or “I’m busy that night’ or “(fill in the blank)” excuse. It is best to be direct, “I’m flattered, but I have no interest.” Men: Even if you believe her ‘no’ really means yes, which it often does, you always err on the side of caution. If a woman says no – it is no, you must act accordingly.KEEP YOUR SEXUAL HABITS X RATED, NOT SILENCE OF THE LAMBS ‘TWISTED.’

Sex should be intimate, exciting and fun for all involved. You should feel butterflies in your stomach when you think of a sexual partner, not nauseousness, anger or twisted thoughts; Louis CK and his ‘fetish/’no one got hurt, and he asked ‘first’ masturbation issues.

Keep it healthy. If you don’t – the original gut feeling of nauseousness will only get worse with time. If you have an obscure fetish of some kind – hire a professional who will keep their mouth shut.

DRUGS/ALCOHOL:

It has been said that these things are the social lubricant that has driven humankind forward for centuries. Although true, and while it is nice to take the edge off once in awhile, you don’t want to go too far and make decisions you will deeply regret later. I would say that the vast majority of sexual harassment and or assaults in this country took place while one or both parties involved were under the influence of something. Always keep your wits about you.

WORKPLACE HARASSMENT: “She has slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie.” Betty Davis on Joan Crawford. If true, why would Joan Crawford do this?

WOMEN MUST RESPECT THEMSELVES FIRST AND FOREMOST BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T THE MEN SURELY WON’T

Reality is, guys like Weinstein have had literally hundreds of attractive aspiring actresses say to him over the years “Come to the bathroom and I will f*ck you for a part in your next movie – I promise not to tell…”

If you are a physically repulsive man and obviously intelligent enough to know, he would never hook up with one of these girls if he were a dry cleaner or taxi driver. I can see where you may fall down the rabbit hole or morality AND have a very low, objectified opinion of women in general because so many are willing to provide sexual favors in exchange for simply being on set so they can ‘maybe’ get noticed.


You can see how these guys may even grow to have a core disrespect and even hatred for women in general because so many will go down that dark road. If the actor has set the bar so low that they are willing to f*ck someone in order to be a nonspeaking ‘extra,’ you can see why these guys treat them as disposable nonhumans.

QUANDARY: A nonspeaking role as an extra in a bar scene that requires a ‘hot chick’ in a movie still requires a casting. From an actor’s standpoint, I understand that ‘getting your foot in the door’ is important. It’s the acting equivalent of taking an entry-level job at any business.

Issue:If you are the casting agent and all of the girls that showed up to the casting are objectively beautiful – and no one really has to act other than just stand there and be ‘hot’ – it doesn’t matter which one you pick. So what do you do?

A: You choose the ‘hottest’ actress that has a twinkle in her eye (not the one with a crazy look in her eye). All the aspiring actresses know this so they ‘turn up the dial’; unbutton an extra button, be a little more flirtatious with the decision makers, be ‘just the right amount of dirty,’ etc… hoping to get noticed.

Quandry: What if they actually do get noticed because they were the ones to trigger a basic instinct in the decision maker – then what? Although objectively wrong, the decision maker may decide to ask the actress out to ‘talk about the script’ or a speaking part in another project coming up. Things fall apart from there.

Solution for Women: 1) Men, in general, have a very difficult time saying ‘no’ to a beautiful woman – so for the woman, never ‘go there’ if you want to be a professional ‘anything’ (other than a hooker).
2) If you are willing to exchange sexual favors in exchange for a job – you start a male decision maker down a very dark road of objectifying women to the point where they end up like ‘soulless’ Weinstein or O’Reilly.

Solution for Men: Never, ever, ever ‘go there’ in a professional environment. Too many things can go wrong. When things inevitably go South, in addition to having to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and having to admit to yourself that you are an asshole, in the end, everyone will find out what you did (i.e. your girlfriend, your wife, your children, your coworker’s, your parents, your agents) and you really don’t want to be ‘that guy.’ Proof, look at what is happening in Hollywood today.

WHEN SOMEONE CROSSES THE LINE: There is no gray area here. You have to call it out and let the chips fall where they may. Wanted sexual attention vs. unwanted sexual attention is very subjective, solely determined by the recipient. At the same time, both as an individual and as a society, if flirting goes into the realm of unhealthy, creepy, criminal behavior: soliciting minors, aggressive/forced/unsolicited physical contact, threats, promises of work if you do X, rape etc.: The victims must speak out, and society must crack down hard.

If we collectively allow it, these abusers are going to keep doing it, again and again, all the while going further and further down that dark path.

Remember, men are not born disrespectful towards women. It is a learned behavior that must be nipped in the bud early, the earlier the better for all parties.

POSITIVES OF 2017 ENLIGHTENMENT: This type of behavior has been the elephant in the room for centuries if not longer and seeing all these dominos fall is a great thing in many ways. More than a few careers are being rightfully destroyed but is it for the greater good?

NEGATIVES: Companies are going to be less apt to hire women for fear of future career threatening and expensive workplace sexual harassment accusations. Men will be less likely to interact on a flirtatious level out of fear of being declared a sexual harasser. This will net to fewer women being asked on dates, more online dating, less face to face interaction, less love, less marriage, a continuing downward spiral in birth rates and ultimately, loneliness in old age (no family). What makes this issue so complicated?

1) SUBJECTIVITY. In a woman’s mind, all men fall somewhere between Warren Beatty and Harvey Weinstein on their infinitely subjective ‘ladies man’ vs. ‘harasser’ scale, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
2) PHYSIOLOGY: Never forget, we are half a chromosome away from being chimpanzees and we have come a long way in this department over the last few thousand years. Although we have a ways to go, always realize we also have come a long way too, and change doesn’t happen overnight.
3) WILDCARDS: Throw cash (too much or too little), drugs, alcohol, naivety, home problems, past sexual abuse in early childhood, fetishes, magnetic personalities, different cultures/religions/backgrounds, etc.… you have a HUGE mess.

We just have to keep at it.

Thank you, Ashley Judd. You should win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Photo Credit: zenjazzygeek Flickr via Compfight cc



Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker was born in Baltimore and spent his childhood in Seattle and Whidbey Island WA. When Michael left his childhood behind, he became a fashion model and later a digital and retouch professional, while living in Paris and NYC. Michael is alumni of Washington State University, University of London and Seattle University. Michael lives with the love of his life, their three sons, two chihuahuas and a German Shepard. He still makes time for his favorite hobbies; photography, snowboarding, movie watching, boating, exercise, politics, reading, fishing (Masters Boat Captains License) and finding the right whiskey or bottle of wine.

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