This is a tough topic to write about without sounding whiny, but I’m going to anyways. It seems like an open and closed concept, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that there are layers of nuance that I have to unpack.
We’ve all seen the stories in the news, and they go like this: wronged party speaks out, half of America thinks the party is inspiring and brave, half of America thinks the party wants attention and thinks they should toughen up, because they should have responded differently at the time. Nothing new, except that people are speaking out loudly, and in many places.
If you’re like me, these stories start to permeate your consciousness and make you question every personal and professional relationship you’ve ever had: “Did she harass me? If I said that now, would it be considered harassment? If I hadn’t been harassed, would I be where I am now? How many relationships are harmful to me? Should I speak out or report this? Am I harming anyone?” Sobering stuff indeed.
Many of us who work on Broadway are required to attend harassment workshops in order to continue working with particular theatre organizations. They are all similar, and they are hour-long discussions that go over the different Federal, State, and Theatre laws that apply to harassment, the difficulty in knowing whom to report to if there is a complaint, the legal definitions of “harassment”, the lesson that you can harass people without meaning to do so, even if you’re not in the workplace, and they end with two or three scenarios that we evaluate. It’s so formulaic that it seems tedious and simplified: any functioning human would know all of this, so why are we here?
And yet, when we really look, it seems like harassment is all around us. Is there any one of us that doesn’t lift our eyebrows when a musician is berating another? Do we perversely enjoy talking down to our colleagues or telling our peers not to call a certain musician? Could we end up in a time where bragging about our work or conspiring to cut a musician out of our immediate scene could also be called “harassment”? To complicate this further, the arts are subjective, which means that we can always fall back on the old “well, they didn’t really fit in here” argument. It feels like a grey area in a grey area, and it’s difficult to tell where all of it starts and stops.
The only way I can make sense of all of this is to look at the future with utopian eyes. I’m a musician straight out of school, and I’ve never had a teacher say “No one would think you’re this good by looking at you”, or “You dress too feminine, I can’t imagine the amount of work that’s cost you”. I imagine being called for my first pick-up orchestra concert and I’ve always been treated with respect. People around me assume that I’ve been called because someone must know I can play well. I can speak to people around me with respect because I’ve never known any other way.
In my heart of hearts, I hope this is a confusing mountain that we’re traveling over and never looking back. I hope that the youngest of us can look forward to careers in which we operate like civilized people, and not like a culture of giants that exist to trample each other. I hope that the rest of us can let go of those painful experiences and memories that have defined our work ethic, but ultimately created a vicious cycle. Let’s move on, be respectful, and behave. And if you have something to report, do it in a safe but clear way that will help the next generation eradicate those painful experiences for good.