Several months ago, I was joking backstage with a fellow female performer about all of the creepy things one of our male techs had done to us. We were exchanging tales of the relentless Facebook messages, the stolen hugs, the little maneuvers he made in order to touch us. We were both strong, loud feminists, and we had both posted "#metoo" on our Facebook timelines, but we were joking nonetheless, because as the #metoo movement has finally started really demonstrating, sexual harassment is a normal, daily occurrence for most women, and joking about it is as good (and as realistic) a coping mechanism as any.
This was not the first time we had joked about this issue. But this was the first time another male tech came up to us and said, "Are you talking about Matt (real name redacted)? Because you should really consider reporting him. He's been doing this for a long time, and nothing has ever been done."
We smiled at this well-meaning, innocent young man. We know he's been doing it for a long time, we replied. That's also how we know that reporting him won't do anything. People have reported him in the past, and he's still here, finding stealthy ways to touch our butts.
At the end of our shifts that day, me and the other woman (let's call her Jennifer) were called into the stage management office, where one of our wonderful female assistant stage managers encouraged us to write statements against that man, and to feel empowered to make a safe working environment for ourselves. She sent us home with statement forms and with her pleas that we "think about it."
Well, we did think about it. And we talked about it, with all of our other female performers. And we almost couldn't find a single girl who hadn't been harassed or somehow made uncomfortable by this man.
And Jennifer and I are strong, loud feminists.
So we submitted the statements.
The next day, Matt was escorted off property, suspended without pay until the issue could be examined.
Jennifer was brought in for questioning and meetings, as were several other women who had submitted statements. I heard nothing, but it seemed that the right actions were being taken, so I didn't worry too much about it.
And then he came back to work.
Without being disciplined.
I still heard nothing from HR.
So, I found a quiet corner in the basement of the Hyperion, and I drafted an email to HR. I drafted the email for myself, for the other women in my workplace who now felt confused and devalued and unsafe, for all of the women who feel silenced on a daily basis.
The following is that email. The names have been changed, but the anger has not.
My name is Anna Miles, and I am currently an AGVA performer in Frozen: Live at the Hyperion. You may recognize my name through the statement form I submitted against one of our techs, Matt Benowitz, in early January, and from Jennifer Andrews mentioning me during her interviews. If you don’t recognize my name, I would love to know whether or not you actually received my statement, and if not, speak with the Stage Manager I gave it to and our producer about why it never made it to HR. And if it never made it to HR, which I’m sure you’d agree is a very serious issue in and of itself, I will happily recount to you the facts about my interactions with Matt that I listed in the statement.
But regardless of why my statement was not followed up on, I feel I have not been given a chance to really have my voice be heard, so I decided to give myself that chance by writing this email.
Last night, I was informed by Jennifer (not by HR, our show's producer, or management, because again, I have had no one reach out to me even once about my statement through this whole process) that Matt would be allowed to return to work. Not just to work, but to our venue. I was also informed that Jennifer’s identity had been revealed to him. This morning, I walked into work, and was told he was here. Today. Already. My heart sank, and my stomach turned. I felt a wave of anxiety- the old anxiety I expressed in my original statement, which included spending every shift worried that he would seek me out and offer his usual unwelcome hug or greeting - but also a new, added anxiety; the anxiety that he knows who I am, that he knows who we all are, that he knows we spoke out against him, that he might retaliate somehow, and that this will make our working environment an even more hostile and unsafe one than it already is.
Had I been interviewed by HR, I would have told you that every single day before Matt was suspended, I woke up and worried whether or not he would be there. I worried that I would have to walk underneath his arm, inches from his body, again. I worried I would have to either compromise myself by smiling when he sought me out to say “hi” and “ask how I was doing”, or ignore him and deal with the backlash of “fine, just ignore me then.” I worried I would have to shrug off another hug, and I worried I would open my Facebook inbox to another lunch invitation that I would be forced to deal with during my work day. Had I been interviewed by HR, I would have said that I know all of this may sound harmless on the surface, that it could be brushed off as “someone being friendly.” But had I been interviewed by HR, I also would have said that Matt does not demonstrate this overly-attentive behavior with any of the men in the show, proving that he is selecting and targeting women to harass, with subtly sexual language and behavior, and not simply trying to “make friends.” I would have said that I do not have these same concerns with any of my other male coworkers, whether they be techs, costumers, management, or other performers, proving that there is an alternative way to behave with women while at work. I would have said that he is known, amongst techs, performers, costumers, and the hair and makeup team as a habitual sexual harasser, to the point that we are warning each other about him. I would have told you that the costumers tell new female dressers training on the show “not to buckle Matt’s belt for him” when he asks, because he always asked. And if I were then asked why these costumers did not submit statements, I would remind you what happened when us performers submitted statements- namely, nothing, except that at least one of our identities was revealed to Matt and our safety and privacy compromised.
Had I been interviewed by HR, I would tell you about how several of us have asked him to stop the behavior that makes us uncomfortable, and that he has apologized and stopped with the individual who talked to him, but simply moved on to another, new girl who hadn’t been warned yet. When Maggie Miller made her discomfort clear, he tried with Jennifer. When Jennifer made her discomfort clear, he tried with Megan Daniels. When Megan did the same, he moved on to me. He sends Facebook messages like “tell me if I ever bug you on here,” demonstrating that he understands he has crossed lines in the past. But he doesn’t stop his line-crossing behavior. He targets women, one after the other, thinking we won’t talk to each other, thinking that he is protected because its “nothing really serious.” I would have brought up that I’ve heard his ex-wife has a restraining order against him. I would admit that I don’t know if this is true, but I would express my hope that Disney would know, and would take a potential history of predatory behavior seriously when deciding to place him back in a position in which female performers are forced to get nearly naked in front of him, while he continues to pass behind us and whisper, “hi, how are you. Why didn’t you respond to my Facebook message?”
Had I been interviewed by HR, I would have said that having Matt in the building with us makes us feel stressed, uncomfortable, and unsafe. It makes an already unpredictable job feel even more unpredictable and out of our control. Had I been interviewed by HR, I would have said that having him back also makes us feel silenced and devalued. I would have said that it feels like eleven female voices are considered less valuable than one male voice.
But as you know, I was not interviewed by HR.
I am surprised that a decision has been made regarding this issue without following up on all of the complaints against him- I know for sure of at least one other female performer who submitted a statement and never heard from HR or my management. I don’t see how this decision can be complete and fully informed as long as this information is missing.
I am not, nor are any of the other women who have submitted statements about this issue, interested in simply getting someone fired for vengeance’s sake. I am interested in making my workplace, a workplace which I love deeply, a safer place for me and for the incredible women I work with. We do not deserve to dread going to work because a man won’t leave us alone. And I hope his behavior really will change- of course I do. But it would be devastating if instead the behavior escalated, and the company had the chance to remove him before that happened, but instead waited for the worst case scenario to occur before taking action.
It took a lot of convincing on the part of some other techs and some ASMs in our venue to get us to submit statements. We hadn’t done so because we assumed we would not get support or real help from the company. When Mark was suspended, we felt encouraged, and taken care of, and heard. Yesterday, our original suspicions were, heartbreakingly, confirmed.
Maybe he has been disciplined in a meaningful way. Maybe he has been given some specific education on how to behave around women. If this is true, it would be helpful for us to know. It would help us reconcile this if we knew what steps were being taken to actually correct the behavior, and it would help us believe that the company does take our concerns seriously and wants to help us feel safe at work. I would hope that his privacy wouldn’t be an issue in sharing with us this information, since Jennifer’s privacy (and as far a we know, all of our privacy) was not a concern in making sure he had a chance to tell his “side of the story.”
I appreciate you taking the time to read and digest this email. I appreciate the difficult job you have working for HR, and I appreciate the work you’ve done on this issue so far. But there are still pieces missing, pieces unheard. Maybe these pieces won’t make a difference. But also, maybe they will.