From Mad Men to Ines Sainz…We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby?
September 14, 2010[caption id="attachment_10093" align="alignleft" width="186" caption="Picture from SI.com"][/caption] This week’s episode of Mad Men was replete with cringe-worthy incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace. I imagine that many of the popular AMC series’ viewers breathed a sigh of relief at the show’s end, thinking something to the tune of, “Wow, things were so bad back then.” Viewers likely felt a surge of pity for Joan and Peggy, the fictional foremothers of female workers, who were forced to endure daily humiliations and indignities as they struggled to break into what was still a boys’ club. Good thing that’s all in the past. Right? Apparently not. Any of us Mad Men watchers who were celebrating the 50 years of progress for women in the workplace had our party cut short by reports of the sexual harassment of TV reporter Ines Sainz at Saturday’s Jets practice. Ms. Sainz, attempting to interview Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, was subjected to thrown footballs, jeers, catcalls, and an environment she described as “uncomfortable” for both herself and her colleagues. Just when we may have felt eons away from Joan and Peggy’s world, this story reminds us that for many women – whether they be on the sidelines or in the boardroom – harassment and hostility are still the reality at work. The victim-blaming response of many media outlets is most troubling. On a positive note, Ms. Sainz’ story has been picked up by news outlets across the country, giving voice to an incident that was at one time too commonplace to make headlines. Yet the coverage itself has centered on the outfit Ms. Sainz wore to the interview and whether or not she, as they (still?) say, “asked for it.” News of the harassment is liberally peppered with descriptive adjectives clearly meant to temper our outrage, such as “hot reporter,” “pin-up girl,” “Bootylicious” or “chick.” CNN highlighted some of the more memorable comments left by readers, which by and large echoed the sentiment that Ms. Sainz deserved – and enjoyed and benefited from – the harassment because of her tight clothing. Those who cringed watching Mad Men’s Joan be told that she did nothing at work other than walk around looking like she was “trying to get raped” should be having a déjà vu moment right about now. Women have been voicing differing opinions on the incident, revealing the complexity of the issue. Ms. Sainz herself has given a mixed-bag of statements, saying both that women “deserve to be treated with respect” and, later, that she “wasn’t offended” by the comments and sees no need for the players to be punished. Her comments have sparked the ire of fellow female journalists, who feel that she is excusing the behavior and allowing it to continue unchecked. In yet another Mad Men parallel, we see a female professional attempting to navigate the power dynamics of a male-dominated world – she must be attractive but not too attractive, assertive but not too assertive, stand up for herself and yet not make waves. It’s easy to see how Ms. Sainz could feel stuck in a lose-lose situation. Here’s one thing we have that Joan and Peggy didn’t – outlets for speaking up and taking action on incidents of sexual harassment. Take to your Twitter and Facebook accounts and continue spreading the word that disrespect in the workplace will not be tolerated, nor will insensitive and sexist media coverage that only serves to compound the harassment. All women have the right to feel safe no matter what they wear, so you can Hollaback! and report sexual harassment wherever you see it.