In Thursday night's episode of Great News, viewers were presented with a narrative that exists but that we rarely see on television — that of a powerful, female employer harassing her male employees. Great News displayed sexual harassment in the workplace the same way too often seen in real life — met with skepticism. When several male employees of Diana St. Tropez (Tina Fey) are told by her to bend down slowly to pick up pens, to dance in exchange for new camera equipment, and to seductively eat a banana, they are told that there's no way Diana is intentionally acting inappropriately toward them. The disbelief they encounter is fierce, and it highlights how ridiculous it is that women are met with the same doubt in real life.
Katie: "Even if Diana made you guys uncomfortable, what were you doing in her office? In the middle of the day? Alone?"
"Are you saying that we asked for it?"
Katie: "No, no no no, I'm saying ... what were you wearing?"
The fact that Katie asked men these questions is the joke. It's absurd and it gets a chuckle. But female accusers are often met with the same exact questions when reporting real-life harassment, and that's not funny. Great News uses this scene to highlight the insane double standards of reactions between male victims and female victims. Why is it hilarious to ask this grown man what he was wearing when he was harassed? Why is it commonplace for people to use the exact same words to speak to a woman about her experiences?
The way people speak to women about sexual harassment is notably ridiculous only when it's presented as a way someone would speak to a man, which is a problem. It's just as insane to ask a woman those questions, and that's what Great News draws attention to, when framing the issue in this way. Fey's character tries to explain away her behavior as "locker room talk," even though she's not in a locker room, she's at work with her employee. (Or, in Donald Trump's case, on a bus bragging about grabbing women.) Plus, that kind of behavior is never appropriate, no matter where you are.
Another important issue the episode highlighted is that the men weren't taken seriously when reporting inappropriate behavior by a female superior. There's a harmful myth in our culture that there's no way a man can receive unwanted sexual advances, because men are always craving sex. In one episode of Glee, Ryder admitted to his friends that his teenage babysitter molested him when he was a kid. He's met with confusion by more than one of his friends because why would he complain about that? That's every guy's dream!
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the teacher in the room promises to report the behavior but never tells the kids that this is absolutely assault, no matter your gender or the perpetrator's gender. This kind of portrayal of men as sexual animals who are ready to go at it at any time contributes to the culture of toxic masculinity.
Men absolutely can be on the receiving end of harassment, and to pretend otherwise is severely misguided. In 2016, 17 percent of all sexual harassment claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were filed by men. And that's just the men who come forward. How many men are made to feel uncomfortable by a male or female superior but don't come forward out of fear that it somehow takes away from their masculinity or that they'll be laughed at or not believed or made to feel like they wanted it?
Just this week, Terry Crews, an actor and former linebacker in the NFL, came forward this week to claim that he has been on the receiving end of unwanted advances and touching.
He alleges that a high level Hollywood executive approached him at a Hollywood function and groped him. Though he spoke about it, he said he didn't go further with reporting it at the time because he didn't want to be ostracized by the industry.
And, late Wednesday night, another actor said similar things have happened to him. James Van Der Beek of Dawson's Creek fame came forward on Twitter with allegations of his own.
Both actors used their experiences as a jumping point as to why we should believe women who come forward and accuse powerful men of assault. If it can happen to them as men, usually perceived as stronger, of course women are also targets — and every victim deserves to be believed no matter their gender of the gender of the perpetrator.
The Great News writers certainly couldn't have known that this week would be such a huge one in terms of the conversation around sexual harassment, but their episode has served as an interesting backdrop nonetheless — and by propelling the conversation about gender and harassment forward, the episode serves to prove that a victim's clothes or behavior or gender is never an excuse for not believing them.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.