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How the Film Industry Shaped the Definition of Sexual Harassment

How the Film Industry Shaped the Definition of Sexual Harassment


How has the film industry influenced sexual harassment?

Recently, I read an article about Rose McGowan’s claim that Adam Sandler requested her to wear a “black (or dark) form-fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push-up bras encouraged).” Sandler retorted that he was unaware of the memo and blamed the casting director for sending it to McGowan.


Rose McGowan alleged victim of sexual harassment

McGowan laughed at the memo saying that she was “more offended by the fact that it went through so many people’s hands and nobody red flagged it.” Is that all that offended her? Was there a purpose to wearing that type of clothing for casting?!? Her implications against Adam Sandler ultimately led to her agent firing her.

McGowan refers to this event as sexist, which in part that is true, but does it also border on the definition of sexual harassment? According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) it does. Not to make this part ultra-boring, but the EEOC constitutes sexual harassment when it interferes with an individual’s work by using verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Hollywood’s Historical Role in Defining Sexual Harassment


Tippi Hedren spoke out about Alfred Hitchcock

So much of Hollywood influences society’s perceptions about important topics like civil rights, legalization of marijuana, etc. Yet, it is unclear how much influence the entertainment industry has had on identifying sexual harassment. Here are some ideas of how the film industry has shaped the definition of sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment certainly isn’t new to the film industry, and acting is a type of job that is more susceptible to sexual harassment since the actors are promoted to “sell sex.” However, several decades ago sexual harassment wasn’t even a topic to discuss. For example, Tippi Hedren (one of Hitchcock’s most prominent actresses) held onto information about Hitchcock’s incessant sexual harassment for over a decade. A few years after Hedren revealed the information, the Supreme Court developed the definition of sexual harassment and made it illegal.


John Travolta has been in the tabloids for his advances…

As time went on the definition of sexual harassment became broader to encompass incidents like females harassing males, same-sex harassment (Travolta you can stop singing “You’re the One that I Want.” You want them all—We get it.), and even political figures were found guilty. While the film industry seemed to help expand the definition of sexual harassment, many producers still used sexual harassment as a form of comedy in their films/shows. It would take up too much space to try to list examples of these films/shows.

In summation, awareness and recognition of sexual harassment still has a way to go. Verbal statements and gestures are still not brought up frequently in the media; consequently, it isn’t talked about in our daily lives. And more disturbingly, sexual harassment is used as humorous scenes in some films/shows. Celebrities need to feel free to bring up their concerns of sexual harassment without feeling judgment or castigated in order for citizens to feel comfortable.


Sexual Harassment has been depicted as humorous

What will it take for this to happen?

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