UN-BULLY-ABLE

[UPDATE: For a long time, this post sat, password protected, largely unread except by a few friends I shared it with. On November 30, 2017, on the heels of almost daily headlines about sexual assault or harassment accusations against famous men, I decided to publicly share my story of abuse by less famous men. This is just the most extreme of the many #MeToo stories I could tell from my time working as a lighting designer. There have been a few instances in academia too, but more subtle and fewer. The primary villain of the story now lives in upstate NY and has two daughters. I’m not naming him out of respect for their privacy, not his. The stage manager has since been working as a production electrician in NYC for decades. The producing artistic director moved to Hong Kong; I heard it was “under a cloud.” You may know these men. You may even be these men, but the likelihood is that you aren’t. There are far more men who would never rape a 16 year old girl than there those who would. But as my friend Diane Ragsdale commented when I posted this on facebook: “Through this collective chronicling of experiences the depth and breadth of the problem is being surfaced and I am so hopeful that, once surfaced, this beast can never be submerged again. For too long people have looked the other way or have failed to even recognize the kinds of experiences you and many others have had as the depraved, unconscionable abuses of power that they are.”]

Here’s the original post from 2013: 

I’m a big proponent of internships as experiential learning opportunities, when they are framed as such and time limited.   I’ve thought long and hard about sharing details of my own internship experience, especially as it had a very significant down side.  Joe Patti’s “Butts in Seats” blog today drew a connection between the discussion of internships in the performing arts and bullying. As my own children near the age that I was when I was a summer theatre intern and because I have already told this tale to the man I love, I feel it is time now to tell it publicly. I hope it’s of some use to students pursuing internships and, especially, to internship supervisors.

Joe:

For a long time I’ve been thinking about whether or not to go public with my story and your post gives me the platform for doing so. More than 30 years ago, I was an unpaid intern at a summer theatre while still a high school student. I swept the floor, gathered props, sorted gel, and coiled miles and miles of cable. Due to my skills at the latter and my interest in lighting, I was hired the following summer as a staff electrician, so my internship did indeed lead to a paying job.  As is sadly the case at some summer theatres, however, the interns were viewed as “fresh meat” (yes, I heard that phrase when I was promoted from intern to staff, and heard it subsequently at other places, which is why it is so very important to frame internships as teaching/learning experiences). Sexual harassment, sometimes leading to statutory rape, was accepted behavior. I was the victim of both. This was a long time ago, and we didn’t really call it bullying – we didn’t even call it sexual harassment – but it was both. And yes, statutory rape is still rape. 

That you can only remember one explicit incidence of bullying may result from the difference in our genders or the difference in our ages.  I experienced sexual harassment and bullying in the theatre for years following my internship – but I learned not to take it and to fight back. Here’s how:

The summer that I was a staff member (this was the summer between high school and college), my supervisor was no longer abusing me – he had moved on to that year’s “fresh meat” – but there was banter and innuendo that often crossed the line. One day, the stage manager for a show having its “out of town tryout” (that’s how long ago this was) was upset because I wouldn’t date him (“date” is a euphemism here for sex).  He said “Sometimes, you know, you’re really nice, and sometimes you’re just a fucking cunt.” That was the last straw. I stopped what I was doing (no doubt, coiling cable) and went to the producer’s office. I told him about the harassment. I’m ashamed to say that I did not tell him about the rape that occurred the year before, but in the close quarters of summer theatre, he had to have known.  I told him “I don’t get paid enough – nobody does – to take this kind of abuse.” I started to walk out when he doubled my salary and assured me I would only have to communicate with the stage manager over headset.  I stayed on and learned a lot about lighting. More importantly, I learned that a 17-year-old young woman does not have to take it. My whole being shifted in that moment. I realized that I could stand up for myself. To borrow form Sheryl Sandberg, I realized that I not only could “lean in,” I could “push back.”  In doing so, I created a persona that some people have since called “aggressive” (in men that’s just called “assertive”), or even unsociable (I don’t socialize with my students or my bosses), but I prefer to call it UNBULLYABLE. 

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, including its award-winning arts entrepreneurship program, Pave: http://pave.asu.edu The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of ASU. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix and "like" the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship at http://www.facebook.com/pages/pave-program-in-arts-entrepreneurship/386328970101 Find Pave's journal, Artivate, at http://artivate.org
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6 Responses to UN-BULLY-ABLE

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  5. The more you move the rocks, Linda, the less places the snakes have to hide. Good for you. I hope more women tell their stories–regardless of where they were, how old they were or in what profession or job title they held. And I hope it made them ALL more assertive!

    I wonder though if you think that you were, essentially, bribed to stay silent? I can’t imagine the theater manager thought he was doing the “right” thing, only the cover-his-ass expedient thing. My girlfriend and I were summer theater students at a major university when we were 16. She had an affair (yes, we would now call it rape) with the 30-year old out-of-town hot-shot director. My relationship was with a 20-year old college theater student. These were open secrets and no one said a word. Least of all, us. It seemed cool. But, we WERE children.
    And, by the way, never be ashamed of what happened to you or that you didn’t say anything about it. You were a child. It’s up to grown-ups to protect children–whether they’re summer theater interns or not.

    • lindaessig says:

      At the time, it didn’t feel like I was being bribed to be silent – as you note, I was a kid. It felt like, “Hey, I spoke up, and now I’m going to get twice the pay for doing this work I really love.” That was and continues to be the important takeaway. One thing I did catch on to later was that this whopping huge salary increase meant going from $75/wk to $150/wk, which he should have been paying me from the getgo, if not more.

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