David Schwimmer is mostly known for his goofy role as Ross in the popular sitcom Friends. What many people may not know is that he is also an outspoken activist against sexual harassment. The actor recently launched a project to expose the subtler instances of sexual harassment that often go under the radar.
Schwimmer teamed up with director Sigal Avin to create short films that depict sexual harassment from the point of view of a complicit spectator. He appears in this series of films along with Cynthia Nixon, Bobby Cannavale, Emmy Rossum, Noah Emmerich, and others. The videos were released as a part of the campaign, “That’s Harassment,” which was created as part of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The films are especially chilling because they depict scenes without violence, or the blatant examples of what people often think of as sexual harassment. The title, “That’s Harassment,” is indicative of the often-ignored gray area that Schwimmer and Avin wanted to draw attention to and condemn in the films. As each scene fades to black, the hashtag #ThatsHarassment appears on the screen. The series has moments that leave victims questioning if they have been harassed, and then follows up with an explicit statement that they have been. This very act of acknowledgment grants victims the voice that they have often been denied.
Avin wrote one of the scenes based on her own experience of harassment, which she says wounded her for many years. She said, “I wrote the first script, which was something that happened to me around 18 years ago that I didn’t even realize was sexual harassment. I was wondering, what does sexual harassment even mean?” The script aims to answer that question by broadening the accepted definition of sexual harassment. The problem with the current attitude is that it leaves young girls to question whether what they experienced is harassment or not. Avin specifically wanted to focus on these gray areas, which she hoped would give victims courage to speak out “when they realize, oh, that’s it.”
One of the scenes features a young model posing for a photographer in a room full of people. The photographer speaks in a crass and disrespectful way to the young girl and insists that she touches herself under her jeans. When the camera pans to the crowd of people watching behind the photographer, their implicit guilt is also clear in the shot. This specific scene indicates how problematic the blurred definition of sexual harassment is. Schwimmer commented on this video, saying, “It shows the complicit nature of all of the bystanders, the culture of sexual harassment that we continue to allow.” Whether these instances of sexual harassment are allowed because people are unsure of what harassment is or because our culture says they are okay is unclear, but either way Schwimmer wants to point out the guilt of being a bystander.
Another video shows a physician touching a female patient complaining of a headache under the pretense of demonstrating a self-exam. These videos and more are featured on the Facebook page of That’s Harassment. By showing these uncomfortable and troubling scenes in a video, Schwimmer and his team are bringing visibility to the subtle instances of sexual harassment that go unaddressed. By sharing the Facebook page and videos, we can bring even more visibility to this subject, which needs to be discussed before it can be resolved.
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