In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, many professional women in advertising are sharing their stories in the #metoo hashtag spirit. One of my early work partners, asked me point blank in the office one day: "Would you sleep with someone for a job?" I stared back at him over our connected desks and replied: "Sure, as long as I get it in writing" then I mumble-added "... and I'll sue the motherfucker for all he's worth."
My partner never asked me questions like that again, and he wasn't my partner by the next Monday either, as I had left him.
My harsh reactions may have cost me jobs, I don't know, and frankly, I don't care to spend too much thought to worry whether or not my clear boundaries scare men in the office as I'm too busy working. But like every other woman, I have heard all the "she slept herself to that position" gossip, which usually stems from pure impotent jealousy, and I have seen the boss order champagne at noon when he hires a new PA.
The truth is this type of behaviour began long before I got into advertising, and is certainly not limited to show business.
My first jobs were not in advertising. Before college, I was a kallskänka, which is Swedish for "someone who only handles the cold foods." Back then, commercial kitchens were a very macho male domain unless you were a short chef or cold chef. The real proper chefs swore a lot, yelled a lot, and acted like firefighters while turning out a hundred perfect filét mignons. I may have been the gal who sliced & diced everything for them, but I was not allowed near their domain unless they needed help.
One day, a senior chef needed some assistance getting some lamb out of the freezer. I hated the freezer ever since the one time they locked me into it, and as I felt around they had a strategically placed condom filled with water frozen on the shelf where I needed to get something. They thought that was hilarious. I yelled: "I found the condom, and the shrimp I needed, open the (expletive) door, guys." They let me out. I didn't act upset or smile at the joke. I just calmly went to my station and continued working. In other words, I took the air out of the balloon. It's not as fun trying to laugh at a prank when the person being pranked doesn't give a shit.
But this day when the senior chef (who was fifty-two to my sixteen) asked me to help him with the lamb, was different. I followed and did as ordered. "Hold out your arms," he said. And then he put lamb racks on my open arms as if they were wood piles. After six or seven of them, he pinched one of the racks, looked me in the eye, and then pinched my ass. "Yeah, that's lamb alright!!" he said. I continued looking him straight in the eye and replied: "Yes it is! Same vintage as your daughter." He never once bothered me again and in fact turned paternal in defending me. No more getting locked in the freezer, ever.
Early one morning the hot kitchen phone rang, and I ran to answer it as the chefs weren't in yet. A woman asked about the ad seeking a chef that she'd seen in the paper that morning, I explained that I was just the cold chef and had no say in the matter but would take her number and hand it to the head chef when he arrived.
When the chefs arrived I left my station to give them the number, they took it, looked at it, read the name "Cecilia" out loud and looked at each other. Then they crumpled the paper up and threw it away. I protested but the head chef said "no woman can do this job, we lift heavy shit. Have you seen this pasta cooker? This is not a job for little girls like you." I snapped back: "You don't lift that, you just tip it over until it spills out like you do your drunk mom." If you've ever seen ice cover the walls, that's how chilled the room got, but they never spoke like that to me ever again. Sorry about not saving your number, Cecilia, but I did try, and I was just sixteen.
A couple of years later, it was all but impossible to get a creative job in advertising in London without a work partner. And I had just ditched mine for a rude question, so I travelled the world with my portfolio and soon landed work elsewhere instead. The first film that I created that made as far as the Cannes Lions was a cheesy execution for Carlsberg revolving around a date. I was very excited, I hoped this was the surefire lion-win that would properly launch my career. This ad depicted a failed date, where everything goes wrong but the date forgives the goofy guy until they finally toast. But then she discovers that he didn't serve her "our beer," which was Carlsberg's tagline. She then promptly kicks him in the balls. I thought that was a bit much, but Lars Busekist who was my partner on it laughed his head off, and so did our Creative Director, so that's what we did.
We had some fun teasing the competing brands with the "Lurifax" beer label, nodding to Faxe beer, but meaning "mischievous." I insisted on Esquivel on the music the track and am to this day chuffed that we did finally get that despite the usual drama in trying to secure first choice scores, as the director Stein Leikanger loved it as much as I did so we were very persistent. If you do not see the commercials below here, due to not using flash, please just click the links instead.
So, maybe not the best ad in the world, clearly, but it did make it to Cannes. It was slapstick humour that worked with the tagline. Wanna see which ad beat this Carlsberg ad out that year? I sulked as soon as I saw the name on the shortlist, with a Hollywood star in it, and that black and white super stylish art direction, it was a surefire win. Let's watch.
So Charlize Theron frolics at a fancy seaside restaurant with her older sugar daddy, and the one thing that can lure her away is a young man who steals booze and never takes his sunglasses off (a nod to Jean-Luc Godard.) In fact, he's so good at luring her with a careful flick of the lips that she walks away with her dress unravelling for each step, but she does not stop. Finally, as the audience is about to get the money shot of Charlene's upper ass and possibly private bits, the Martini logo obscures it.
While I'm glad a lot of people have been able to lighten their load in sharing stories of harassment and much much worse, I wonder where all of this leads us. Are we just watching a sordid confession reality show with past and present celebs? Sexism, sexual favours, harassment, inappropriate behaviour is clearly an issue in so many businesses and life situations, it's not relegated to only Hollywood, or only inside the often bizarre world of advertising and media.
Hell, twenty odd years ago the leader of the western world got a blowjob from his intern in the oval office. There are Mrs. Robinsons out there as well, in positions of power promising a leg up to those who will put out. The only place this will stop is with you. Stare your 52-year-old boss in the eye and snark back. We have boundaries at work and in life and the only way people will know where they are is if you draw that line in the sand.
You could, for example, say that you'll never have a one-on-one dinner alone with the opposite sex as a boundary. Let the world mock you if they want, they can go hang out with Harvey on a yacht in Cannes for all I care. Make an ad without Charlize Theron's ass in it, and hope to win.
In the end your integrity is worth more than all the money and fame in the world.