JERUSALEM — When Sigal Avin, an American-Israeli writer and director, returned from the restroom to a meeting with a famous comedian many years ago, the room looked exactly the same as she had left it, she said on stage at this year’s INTV conference in Jerusalem — except for the fact that his “it” was out.
That formative experience with sexual harassment led Avin, who joined five other female Hollywood power players in a panel Monday at this year’s conference, to produce #thatsharassment, a six-part video series made in partnership with David Schwimmer.
Joining Avin in the panel, dubbed “Women Wonder What’s Next for Them?,” were “The Crown” producer Suzanne Mackie; entertainment lawyer Jeanne Newman; Lionsgate TV president Sandra Stern and Deadline’s international editor Nancy Tartaglione. The panel was moderated by Orly Adelson, president of Orly Adelson Productions.
While much of the conversation revolved around the future of women in Hollywood in the #metoo era, Newman noted that 20 years ago, the term “sexual harassment” didn’t even exist in her — or anyone’s lexicon.
“There’s been a complete sea change,” she said. Bringing to mind incidences when men would comment on her physical appearance or make sexualized comments to her in the workplace during the early years of her career, she admitted, “I wouldn’t even think that this was sexual harrassment. It would never have occurred to me to report that.”
Stern, who has been an industry fixture for decades, noted the inherent tension that exists in the wake of #metoo: This problem is widespread, but also difficult to diagnose and dangerously hard to quantify.
“I don’t think I know a single woman in Hollywood who hasn’t had inappropriate contact and inappropriate behavior, inappropriate touching,” she said, before noting that today in Hollywood, many men are left unsure of whether or not their behavior is kosher. The solution, she said, lies in simply hiring more women.
“There continues to be a bit of discomfort when there is a woman in the room,” she said. “But if you have more in the room, we wouldn’t be so scary.”
And what if men do feel uneasy in light of #TimesUp and #MeToo, and are worried to meet with a woman alone or have a closed-door conference?
“We were afraid for years! Be afraid. Don’t close the [office] door,” Avin said, to applause and laughter from the crowd.
The real solution is for women to not just speak up, but to support each other in order to tip the power balance that still exists across the industry, she added.
“Sexual harassment is just a symptom … it’s a symptom of power. It’s always somebody using his power over somebody that has less power,” she said. #Metoo is having its moment now, she added, because there is strength in numbers and social media has helped women realize that they are far from alone in their humiliating or terrifying experiences.
Moving forward, the key to capitalizing on the movement will be to push for true and lasting change in an industry that has long been off-kilter, said Stern. That means not just speaking up for women, but actually hiring them, promoting them, and paying them fairly.
“A really healthy outgrowth of the #metoo movement is it’s opened up the conversation beyond issues of physical harassment, to issues of equality — pay equality and opportunity,” she said. “If we create opportunity out of this moment, you’re going to find a real cadre of talent and experience.”