By: Glynis Neely
This may seem strange to say in context of the subject matter, but I feel blessed. I’ve never been violently, sexually assaulted, but I have experienced physical and emotional harassment from men throughout my life. When I was younger, I never paid too much attention because it wasn’t directly affecting my life in ways I noticed. As I got older, I increasingly realized how ubiquitous the experience was for so many of the women I knew and would never know. I have since been catcalled dozens of times, witnessed more than my fair share of public masturbation, and was once made so uncomfortable by a stranger’s stare on the London tube that my friends and I ran out at the next stop. And yet, nothing else has stuck with me so intensely as an experience I had several years ago while working on a TV shoot.
When I was in college, I thought I wanted to work in the film business (the jury is still out on that), so I began by interning in New York City at a production company. I was often tasked with research, but I honed my skills and really enjoyed working for the people I did. The atmosphere was fun and relaxed, but everyone clearly took pride in his or her work. Every day was usually different, and I met a lot of interesting people. So I was thrilled when they offered me a full time job with the company after I graduated college.
Two weeks after graduation, I was immediately put to work on a casting project that required me to make cold calls across the country. As any telemarketer can tell you, cold-calling strangers all day is a great way to get easily bored by your job. Once the summer ended I was more than eager to work on a different project.
That fall, I was offered a chance to be a production assistant for an episode of a new TV show the company was going to produce. The small team would consist of two producers, a co-producer and me. One producer, let’s call him Kevin, was very close to the project as not only a producer but also the host; this was his passion. The other producer, Donald, had a background in sports television, but he was going to be the one heading our team. Our co-producer, a woman named Christine, trained me for the position and from the beginning always had my back.
For the first few weeks in the office, our team worked fine together. We showed up and worked in our respective lanes for the weeks of prep leading up to the shoot, which would last for two weeks on the road. We originally decided I was going to be the one staying behind helping the crew from the office, but when it came time for the shoot, it was decided that I should be the one to go on the trip and Christine stay behind instead. I was incredibly nervous, but decided I needed to do this for myself. I wanted to prove I could handle my first on location shoot, so I showed up fully prepared.
A few weeks later we hit the road and even before meeting up with the rest of the crew in Ohio I knew I was going to be the minority; I was the only woman on the trip and I will admit I had my guard up. Once we got to our hotel in Ohio, we met the DP Kieran and the media guy Matt, both very easy to get along with, and set up a game plan for the shooting schedule starting the next day. We went out for dinner that night and had a great time.
For the first few days we worked long hours and then went out for dinner and drinks every night. I got along with everyone, but I could sense the tension in the group between the producers; it was becoming increasingly clear that they did not like each other. And since Donald was my direct boss, I had to work more closely with him on everything.
One night during the first week we went out for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. Like the rest of the chain’s locations, this one was packed with as many TV’s as they could fit with a different sports game on each. The table we were seated at was a giant triangle and I ended up at the point of the table sitting directly next to Donald.
Everything was fine at first, until the guys started throwing back drinks. Kevin, Matt and Kieran were mesmerized by the sports all around them and seemed to lose interest in all conversation. Donald, however, had not. He started up a conversation with me about my life and it almost immediately steered into uncomfortable territory as he asked probing questions about my love life. As desperately as I did not want to talk about the subject, I felt obligated to at least answer his questions without giving him too many personal details.
He continued to prod, the men around us still unaware, and then as I turned away to try and start a conversation with Kieran, Donald put his hand on my thigh. All the color drained from my face, but I instinctively moved my leg away. His hand stayed there as he just looked at me, and then slowly moved it away. No one around me noticed, so I immediately tried to forget it had happened.
I made sure to keep my distance and not give him any ideas, but it wasn’t easy working with him all day after that. There were several blow-ups that followed in Kentucky, but I tried not to take him so seriously. Then one day during the second week, when we were supposed to have a day off, Kevin and I decided to visit one of our interviewees for a preemptive chat. While I was speaking to the mother, my phone started ringing. I left the room to take the call and was greeted by Donald screaming at me about the material we were getting.
He was incredibly furious, but I told him we would deal with it and hung up. I told Kevin about the call and he told me not to worry, so we headed back to have dinner with the crew. Immediately after sitting down, I could tell Donald was still mad. Suddenly he blew up in the middle of the restaurant and blamed me for a missed opportunity with the family that day. He continued on his tirade until Kevin intervened and they went outside and talked it out.
When they got back to the table, I assumed everything was back to normal. We finished dinner and headed to the hotel. By the time I got back to my room, it was about 10 PM and I was exhausted. I thought my long ‘day off’ was finally behind me, but it turned out it wasn’t over yet. As I sat down on my bed and took off my shoes, my phone started to ring.
I looked and saw it was Donald. I hesitated, but ultimately picked up; I know I didn’t want to wake up to his ranting and raving. He was yelling into the phone before I even picked up.
“…Get over here right now. We have to talk about today.”
I tried to protest, but he wouldn’t have any of it and condescendingly told me again to get going. He hung up. I slipped my shoes back on and shuffled to the door. I walked down the hallway with my head hung so low; every part of me was screaming to go back to my room, but I kept walking. When I knocked on the door he told me to come in and I could hear the resentment in his voice. I walked in and he told me to have a seat. I walked to the corner chair and sat down, bracing myself for the tirade.
“What the fuck happened today?!” he yelled at me, not wasting any time.
I could see so much vitriol in his eyes it made me uneasy and I didn’t even want to answer, but I sheepishly said I didn’t know. He continued to yell and shout, the embodiment of anger just hurling insults my way. And despite remembering exactly how I felt in that moment, an awful mixture of shame and exhaustion and fury, I couldn’t tell you what he ranted about for the next forty-five minutes. I was so numb to it I didn’t realize I was crying until the expression on his face softened.
As soon as he saw my tears, he was apologizing for keeping me so late. He gave me a tissue and told me to head to bed. I don’t think I could’ve left there quicker. I went back to my room and stood in the shower for such a long time listening to Rebelution and taking deep breaths. I watched a couple episodes of Family Guy to wind myself down and dozed off sometime past midnight.
Every day on the road from then on was longer than I could sometimes handle. I had to visit his room more than once after that to type his emails because he couldn’t be bothered to compose them himself. As the trip went on he became increasingly tempestuous and I never felt comfortable in his presence. He frequently blew up about the smallest things as he and Kevin continued to not get along.
Luckily, we made it back to New York without any more incidents on the trip, but from then on Donald was incredibly hands-off with the entire project, which worked fine for the rest of us. His attitude never improved, which was on full display one afternoon during an outburst towards Christine, which she put a stop to immediately. Afterwards, she told me to never let anyone speak down to me like that. I still cherish that advice, I only wish she had told me that a few weeks before.
Years later I was working on a shoot and struck up a conversation with a female producer. We were sharing stories about the business and I regaled her with the story about my experience with this producer. She contorted her face and then asked me seriously if his name was Donald. I nodded yes. She started laughing; she knew him and had worked with him before on shoot years before. She knew exactly the type of behavior I was talking about. While I hated that he made life hell for this woman too, I found comfort knowing that someone else, who was far more experienced than me, also had an experience like mine and was able to overcome it.
Aside from telling my boss that he was an unprofessional and unrepentant jerk, and she should probably not hire him again, I didn’t tell anyone about my experience until now. I wish I had spoken up at the time, but I just didn’t feel like it was worth reporting. I understand the decision to not say something even though every part of you is telling you it’s not right. But by opening up and talking about it, if you can, you might open the doors for someone else to stand up and also make that brave choice.