Since the beginning of October, sexual misconduct allegations against prominent men in Hollywood and other industries have emerged nearly every day. It's no secret that men wield most of the power in the worlds of entertainment, business, media, and, well, pretty much every other industry. And over the weekend, Natalie Portman addressed the issue at Vulture Festival L.A.
Portman pointed out that a major issue in Hollywood is that there aren't many women on film sets, especially in leadership roles. For example, women represented just 7% of the directors of 2016's top 250 films, according to a report released by the San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. The same report noted that 17% of executive producers and 24% of producers were women.
"Usually you walk into a movie as the only woman, and you’re often the only woman on set. It’s very rare to have female crew members apart from hair, makeup, and wardrobe — the very stereotypical departments for women to be in — and I think women experience this in a lot of industries," Portman said, as reported by Vulture. "If you do get the opportunity to work, you’re often the only woman in the room. I hear this from friends of mine who are lawyers, business people, writers on shows."
The Oscar winner speculated that, in Hollywood, isolating women from one another may have been a tactic to prevent women from forming bonds and confiding in one another about the abuse they'd endured. Portman also noted that, because she entered the industry at such a young age, she didn't recognize certain actions as being inappropriate. When she initially heard the reports, Portman counted herself lucky that she hadn't been targeted. But upon reflecting on her many years as an actress, she realized that although she's never been assaulted, she has been subjected to inappropriate treatment.
"I went from thinking I don’t have a story to thinking, Oh wait, I have 100 stories. And I think a lot of people are having these reckonings with themselves, of things that we just took for granted as like, this is part of the process," Portman said.
She recounted an event in which a producer invited her on his private plane. "I showed up and it was just the two of us, and one bed was made on the plane. Nothing happened, I was not assaulted. I said: ‘This doesn’t make me feel comfortable,’ and that was respected. But that was super not okay, you know?"
Portman's words sound eerily similar to those of childhood sexual abuse victims. Aly Raisman recently shared that although she'd been sexually abused for years by the USA Gymnastics team doctor, she didn't recognize the behavior as abuse until very recently. Both Portman and Raisman were professional children in industries where, unfortunately, inappropriate conduct was "part of the process," as Portman put it.
Although there's no simple or easy solution to reducing workplace sexual harassment, we need to start with making sure there are more women in the room and more women in leadership roles. As Joann S. Lublin wrote in The Atlantic last year, men are in control of corporate America. "In workplaces largely led by men, sexual harassment remains pervasive up and down the corporate hierarchy. It is not likely to disappear until more women move into the management suite," Lublin wrote.
Lublin's piece was published a year before the Hollywood allegations began to emerge, so we need to recognize that this is an issue across all industries (which Portman correctly pointed out). In June, Forbes reported that women had made a major step forward: 32 women CEOs were on the Fortune 500 list, the highest number ever. So, women now have 6.4% representation on the list.
Men need to step up as allies and be held accountable for their actions (or, in some cases, their inaction). But in Hollywood, government, media, and beyond, sexual harassment will likely remain prevalent until women are equally represented in leadership roles.