I am, what is in my industry considered a “sexy girl” – white, young, slightly underweight and pretty. You could now consider that this appearance brings numerous benefits along and admittedly I have cashed out on my genetic faith. But it also brings a legacy of male dominance and male sense of entitlement along. During the past years I have worked as a model across various countries and for a range of magazines and commercial clients. I cannot count the castings, go-sees and portfolio shoots I did and equally I cannot count the number of incidents where I was brougth into uncomfortable and inappropriate situations. Luckily I have been old enough to speak up for myself and to be able to manage the pressure that agents, booker, clients and photographers put on the girls and I am using the term “girls” consciously as girls in the age range of 15 – 21 years are often not as mature, confident and experienced to dare to contradict.
I have heard awful stories from models I have met along my way but I think I should stick with my own experiences, they might be not as “shocking”, but they clearly show how sexism and sexual harassment are part of the job description. Starting with every agency I ever have worked with stressing the importance that models have to be “uncomplicated” and not “difficult to work with”, obviously this also includes professional behaviour that should be self-evident, but it also contains the expectation that models cope with constant flirting and sexism of all male individuals involved.
I never did nude shootings. I choose not to. Sounds like a clear no?
Not so clear for a vast number of photographers. An especially absurd example, I had a casting for a book project in Cape Town. I beforehand made absolutely clear that I won’t shoot nudes, which seem to be ok. Once I arrived the photographer took polaroids of me in lingerie constantly making comments on how attracted he is to me and he tried to urge me to take naked polaroids with the creative explanation that he needs to see how my body falls!? I decided to left his studio when his tone increasingly got frustrated. On countless occasions I was asked to undress, not only during shooting but also at several castings. I was titled as prude. I had to justyfiy my decision countless times. Photographers and bookers asked me out on dates, touched me during shoots, asked me questions reading intimate happenings that clearly are non of their business, once a photographer asked me if I would consider staying at his hotel room otherwise he would not shoot me. During a test shoot a photographer hit on me until I felt urged to tell him that I do not appreciate that kind of attention – redundant to say that I haven’t never seen a single picture of that shooting. I have been signed by a major model agency in the US and went with my soon-to-be booker to the birthday party of a female booker of the men’s board. A few drinks later he made not very subtle suggestions of how he expects our collaboration to be. I chose to overhear it, afterwards he chose to not reply to my mails anymore. Clearly two choices I figured after a few weeks: First react to his advances and be trapped in a vicious cycle of sexual harassment, but work for a very renowned agency or second be difficult and write his (female) boss and hope for the best. I am proud to say that I had the courage to be a difficult sexy girl (in the normal world you would call that a modern woman) I wrote her and failed gloriously and finally terminated the contract.
But to be fair and honest it was easy for me I am in the comforatable situation of having a Plan B, a stable personal background and I was raised by an independent woman that taught be a different picture of women than those painted in the modelling industry. Most girls are too young, too far away from home and too dependent on this job to take the risk of being kicked out of their agency. Their respect for the “big names” is therefore comprehensible and men in the industry, clearly knowing that, are taking advantage of it to satisfy their sexual desires. It is a disaster. Not only for the girls suffering from the consequences of rape, sexism and sexual harassment, but also for those bookers and photographers I have met that are doing an amazing job and try to treat everybody as fair as possible. But to speak the ugly truth, it were not many.
The amazing Cameron Russell published a number of experiences models and other women employed in the fashion world made. And all this happens in 2017 – at the meantime Angela Merkel has been re-elected to ascend the throne of German politics. Susan Wojcicki CEO of youtube and mother of five children and Sheryl Sandberg chief operating officer are leaving their footprint in the technology world. These “extreme” cases of sexism do not only take place in the fashion and movie world, they are part of our everyday life, the life in our so called “modern” society.
I have recently read an article that stated that sexism in our daily life is a men-made problem and can therefore only be solved by men. In my opinion this is only one side of the story. If I think of my personal experiences apart from my job I have to admit that if somebody catches me off-guard I tend to “laugh” sexism away, unconsciously taking the diplomatic way as society is influencing women to feel the need to please. In quite a few situations I could have said that I do not accept the shown behaviour and I am sure that my male counterpart would have understood. But the other side of the story are those men who intentional and aggressively harass women. Like myself being at home alone, the door bell rings, I check the intercom system seeing that it is an UPS package delivery guy and open the door. He steps over the threshold literally into my flat and tells me how amazing I look and how very special I am. I felt threatened, signed and try to ignore him coming even closer and making unnecessary body contact. A few weeks later, same scenario but before he even could get started with his “Oh my god you are so…”. I interrupted him stating that I find his behaviour absolutely unacceptable and that I would complain. No idea to whom I even could complain but it clearly sounded impressive. Thinking that men are the problem and that only they can solve it seems not to be accurate? Not regarding my UPS guy, ever since the only thing I have received are absence-notification cards in my post box.
The enormous dimensions of this problem through all industries and age ranges really shocked me. It is a complex and complicated topic that would request complicated advice that I certainly cannot give. All I can say is, don’t be afraid to speak your mind, to stick with your decisions and never feel the need to justify them and don’t think it is your responsibility as a woman to please and if they call you difficult you know you are on the right track.