Why I Don’t Owe Anyone My Sexual Harassment Story

Millions of women and men spoke up against sexual harassment as part of the #MeToo movement. But director Sarah Moshman, for one, is not naming names.

We have to call these people out so they don’t do this to anyone else. There have to be real consequences for these actions. Believe Women. I wholeheartedly agree with all of these statements, and yet I can’t bring myself to name names when it comes to my own sexual harassment experiences in the workplace. I worked in television for several years and had to personally deal with lewd behavior, disgusting comments, groping and what I am now coming to learn is called a “hostile work environment.” Up until very recently, I thought that was just the price we pay as women in the workplace. When I did try to report some of these behaviors when they happened or shortly thereafter, I didn’t get so much as a blink even from my female bosses. I was conditioned to believe this was normal when you worked in film and TV. I needed to “take a joke,” “lighten up,” or just not worry about it. So I didn’t. I buried these experiences deep in myself, in a box marked “For Later.”

To be clear, I bow down to the bravery and courage that it takes to even type the words #MeToo, let alone the risk and fear that comes with calling out a person, a company or an industry that has upheld this behavior for years, sometimes decades. And I have said to many women over the years that speaking up is important, if not vital, to the equality of women in the workplace. Hypocritical? Yes, maybe. But I think what’s most important about #MeToo is that we are finally admitting that this happens to most women at work and it doesn’t have to be this way anymore. We are not alone in our experiences. I don’t want to win my own battle anymore; I need us all to win the war.

As a filmmaker, the amount of stories there are to shine a light on during this sexual harassment crisis is staggering. But not long ago, this wasn’t the case. In August 2017, I started doing research about a documentary I was planning to make about sexual harassment, sparked by my own haunting experiences of harassment, and the fact that the birth of my daughter was just a few months away. As I reached out to women through Facebook, meetup groups and Lean In circles, I got a lot of resistance and messages stating that they were not interested in talking about their experiences on camera, or that this didn’t happen as frequently as I imagined. Regardless, I found some experts to speak on the subject and some incredibly gracious and brave women to share their stories with me. At eight months pregnant, on October 4, 2017, I started shooting Nevertheless with a small film crew. On October 5, just one day later, everything shifted when the Weinstein story broke. It’s safe to say that, since then, the conversation around harassment and assault has not only been amplified, but the general attitude of women in this country has almost overnight switched from “That’s just how it is” to “Time’s Up.” These are the kinds of watershed moments that filmmakers dream about.

Sarah Moshman shooting Nevertheless while 9 months pregnant.

I keep coming back to the men. I can’t tell you how many events I go to, panels I sit on and screenings I attend, where we are all preaching to the choir. Women inspiring women to be more aware of women’s issues. But harassment isn’t a women’s issue. Neither is assault. These are men’s issues that women feel the need to solve.

My greatest challenge with Nevertheless (which I’m currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter) will be to encourage men to take part in this film, to sit in the audience and to feel empathy. To check their privilege at the door and hopefully come out of the theater with a better understanding of their role in the solution. I want us all to sit at the table and come to an agreement about what is appropriate behavior in the workplace.

The films I make, such as The Empowerment Project and Losing Sight of Shore, are about the empowerment of women and showcasing strong female role models on screen. But both of those films were made prior to our current administration. It feels urgent now to use my skills as a filmmaker to make something that can spark important conversations about harassment that could lead to real change. It’s time to resist. It’s time for me to find my voice that I didn’t have in the workplace. It’s time to help other women speak up for the rest of us.

So I won’t be calling out the names of my perpetrators publicly anytime soon. In my view, that’s not what this movement is about. That seems like it gives more power and attention to the harassers. To me, this is not about the people who harass us, it’s the system that needs to be fixed so that this behavior simply isn’t tolerated. I’m not interested in identifying individuals or a companies that are guilty, I’m interested in tools and solutions for us all to move forward. I’m interested in sparking dialogues about how we are all responsible for our workplace cultures, from interns to the C-Suite executives, and everyone in between. We all have the power to make this right.

Sarah Moshman is an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and director-producer of the films The Empowerment Project (available on Hulu), Losing Sight of Shore (currently on Netflix) and the upcoming Nevertheless, which she is now crowdfunding on Kickstarter. Sarah is dedicated to telling stories that uplift, inform and inspire as well as showcase strong female role models on screen. (Image by Brandon Kidd.)