Jessica Walters’ mistreatment exemplifies a larger cultural issue

Jessica Walters’ mistreatment exemplifies a larger cultural issue

Jessica Walters’ mistreatment exemplifies a larger cultural issue
June 09
10:00 2018

In lieu of the sexual harassment allegations that have stormed Hollywood and politics, I’ve noticed an absence of dialogue regarding other manifestations of the larger rape culture that America is grappling with.

Nothing encapsulates these nuances better than the recent interview the “Arrested Development” cast gave the New York Times.

The initially and perpetually successful show’s newest season will be brought back to the screen this year on Netflix, after its last rebirth in 2013. Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Jessica Walters, Alia Shawkat, and Jeffrey Tambor, all heavyweights in television and comedy, are making their way back to the beloved show. It’s been nominated for more than one hundred awards, and has won more than half of those.

A show this loved and successful has a lot to lose if a harsh truth like harassment becomes public the wrong way. The cast spoke in a tone-deaf and complicit manner about Tambor’s aggressive behavior in order to downplay it and make it seem normal.

In the interview, Walters, a well-respected and experienced actress, recounts being verbally harassed on set by Tambor, who played her on-screen husband. She is brought to tears discussing how the incident affected her and how she is now just barely beginning to forgive Tambor. Though the harassment in question was not sexual (of which Tambor has also been accused of), it says something about the realities of the work environment for women.

The brunt of the issue is the way in which the other male cast members, particularly Bateman, handled this conversation. Bateman sets up a poorly-crafted and, truthfully, offensive excuse to fall back on by implying some people in Hollywood just work “intensely.” It seems that Tambor had no issue sacrificing a woman’s comfort, trust and respect to attain his creative agency.

This interview is an example of the ways in which men can be complicit with those who perpetuate harassment and other violence against women. Bateman perceives a man’s ego and comfort as more important than a woman’s — a woman who was so affected by the man’s abuse that speaking about it even years later still drives her to tears. This is rape culture at work. You don’t have to participate in the actual harassing or assaulting to contribute to the greater culture. Complacency drives rape culture just as well.

Walters also states in the interview that in 50 years of acting work, she had never encountered such behavior before. But that doesn’t mean other women haven’t had to navigate these dangerous waters at some point in their careers, if not throughout their whole careers. This issue is finally being talked about as more and more women come together to try and re-mold the unhealthy work culture they’ve been forced to smile and remain cordial through.

Bateman has since apologized, which is a great start. In times when women are sharing the harassment or abuse they’ve dealt with, they should be able to do so without being silenced or undermined just because the harasser is a well-respected veteran or talented actor.

It’s disappointing to learn that one of my favorite shows handled abuse so poorly. It’s beginning to feel like nothing is safe for women, and it is our job to change that. It starts by holding everyone, even those who we admire, accountable.

Featured Illustration by Allison Shuckman

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Maritza Ramos

Maritza Ramos

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