Most Female Screenwriters Have Been Sexually Harassed

The Writers Guild of America West building. (Andy Nystrom/Flickr Creative Commons)

In a survey of its members, the Writers Guild of America West found that 64 percent of women who responded were sexually harassed at some point in their career. That compares to 11 percent of the men who responded.

That information came out in a recently released memo that had previously been sent from the guild's board to its members, dated May 22, initially reported by Deadline Hollywood. It was timed to go out as writers' rooms started up on both new and returning shows.

A significant amount of the harassment experienced by writers happens in the writers' room, according to the memo. However, writers in the survey also experienced harassment in other professional meetings.

"Those of you who shared the story of an incident of harassment have given us a sobering, first-person insight into the conditions that make addressing the issue both essential and urgent," the board said in its memo.

The Guild acknowledged that it's not going to be solved overnight.

"The reality is that this problem is too difficult, too long-standing, and too deeply rooted to yield a quick fix," the memo reads.

They proposed holding a series of conversations with members about standards for a successful, harassment-free writing room.

"These standards would enable all the writers in the room to fully participate, rather than being alienated by treatment no one should have to experience," the board said in its memo.

It also pointed to the industrywide Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, which is chaired by Anita Hill.

"Its committees are starting to do their work and the Commission will be generating best practices and seeking to create a reporting mechanism for industrywide adoption," the memo reads.

The guild's board tried to allay concerns about a California Supreme Court decision that is, according to the guild, mistakenly used to justify inappropriate behavior. The so-called "Friends decision" had to do with the use of sexual language in the writers' room on Friends, where a writers' assistant who was fired sued over what was talked about in the room — but lost her case.

"The decision acknowledges that the creative environment of a writers' room may come with crude talk. However, the decision does not permit such talk to be aimed at an individual in the room," the guild's board said in the memo. "Indeed, it acknowledges that objectionable talk may, in some circumstances, be enough to create a hostile work environment."

Beyond those who directly experienced it, many others had witnessed harassment.

Those who've experienced harassment or have questions were encouraged to call a guild representative, as well as listing the studio offices where harassment can be reported.

You can read the full memo below:

May 22, 2018

Dear Fellow Member,

This email is an update on the Guild's work to ensure a safe and fair workplace for all WGAW writers. It is also timed to be a reminder, as many writers' rooms start up in the coming months, of the room culture we are trying to achieve.

First, thank you to everyone who responded to the sexual harassment survey. The Board and staff take seriously our pledge to keep your responses confidential. Our study showed results similar to other published studies: 64% of female writers who responded reported that they had experienced sexual harassment sometime in their career; 11% of male writers had. Many more writers have witnessed harassment. Those of you who shared the story of an incident of harassment have given us a sobering, first-person insight into the conditions that make addressing the issue both essential and urgent.

The survey indicates that a significant amount of the harassment writers experience occurs in the writers' room. While the Guild is not the employer, that does not exclude us from also addressing this as a union. We are exploring the possibility of a series of member conversations about standards for a successful writing room. By proscribing sexual and other harassment among writers, these standards would enable all the writers in the room to fully participate, rather than being alienated by treatment no one should have to experience. These conversations would also address situations that arise for screenwriters, MOW writers and series writers in professional meeting settings.

Please know that your survey responses are serving the vital purpose of informing and motivating our search for ways to eliminate sexual harassment and assault, and, indeed, harassment of all types, from the professional lives of writers and those who work with them. For those of you who have experienced harassment, but did not share an account, be assured that the many stories we have received represent a broad array of experiences.

We want to reiterate that the Guild is ready to be your advisor and advocate if you experience harassment. As we first offered in our December email, you can call Guild representative Shelagh Wagener at 323-782-4185 if you experience harassment or have a question. We will help you figure out the legal landscape and go with you, if you want us to, should you choose to file a report. Click here for more information. Also, we have gathered a list of the offices at each studio where you can report harassment. You can find it here.

Many survey respondents report that the Friends decision by the California Supreme Court is mistakenly used to justify inappropriate behavior in the workplace. The decision acknowledges that the creative environment of a writers' room may come with crude talk. However, the decision does not permit such talk to be aimed at an individual in the room. Indeed, it acknowledges that objectionable talk may, in some circumstances, be enough to create a hostile work environment. You can read more about that here.

The Guild continues to be represented on the industry's Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, chaired by Anita Hill. Its committees are starting to do their work and the Commission will be generating best practices and seeking to create a reporting mechanism for industrywide adoption.

As we stated when we sent you the guiding principles for the guild in this area, we aim to ensure a respectful culture with zero tolerance for bullying, harassment and assault; we want a culture which enables victims to speak up in a safe way that takes their experiences seriously. Your employer should investigate such claims thoroughly and with transparency. There should be due process for alleged offenders, and proportionate consequences for guilty offenders. You can view our complete January statement of principles here.

The reality is that this problem is too difficult, too long-standing, and too deeply rooted to yield a quick fix. Be assured that we are working every day to determine and implement a full array of responses that will be necessary to eradicate bullying, harassment, and assault in the writing workplace in Hollywood.

Sincerely,

WGAW Board of Directors


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