The slew of recent allegations against Joss Whedon from women of Buffy and Angel, shows he created and directed, are heartbreaking. Actor Charisma Carpenter’s brave statement set off a chain reaction, with others following suit including Amber Benson and Michelle Trachtenberg, who was a teenager at the time. As Buffy writer Marti Noxon wrote, these women deserve to be heard. (Whedon has not responded.)
It’s significant that Carpenter’s statement was in support of Ray Fisher, a Black actor who spoke out against Whedon for his alleged behavior on the set of Justice League. It is, yet again, people of color and women leading the way in calling out injustices.
Numerous men from Buffy and Angel have, rightfully, expressed support for their former colleagues. As soon as Carpenter shared her story, I particularly wanted to hear from David Boreanaz who, as number one on the call sheet at Angel, certainly had power.
His only statement, in response to Carpenter on Twitter (no longer visible publicly), was “I am here for you to listen and support you. Proud of your strength.” She thanked him, adding, “I know you’re there for me.” Actor Anthony Stewart Head, meanwhile, told iTV that he felt “gutted” and had “been up most of the night, just running through my memories, thinking, ‘What did I miss?'” Noting that he felt like “a father figure” on the Buffy set, Head added, “I would hope that someone would come to me and say, ‘I’m struggling, I just had a horrible conversation.'” The allegations made him wonder, “How on earth did I not know this was going on?”
That’s a question people in all sorts of professions ask themselves when allegations come to light. It’s very common to be oblivious. Few people have had training on how to be conscious of the power dynamics around them, and how to spot possible abuses of that power. And since white men are used to seeing people like themselves in power, they may be even less attuned to signs of troubling power dynamics.
A few years ago, I was asked by Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s The Representation Project to be a signatory to #AskMoreOfHim, along with Hollywood names like David Schwimmer and David Arquette. In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, our letter called on fellow men to take action “to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.”
Having left CNN to work on issues involving gender equality, I consult and speak regularly to all sorts of businesses and organizations. I discuss ways to change policies and cultures to weed out sexism and other bad behaviors, and establish a more level playing field. I meet regularly with men who genuinely want to improve their workplaces.
But many don’t realize what’s going on around them, don’t know how to change it, or are too afraid to say anything.
This moment can serve as an important wake-up call, in Hollywood and beyond. Men — particularly white men who have power — can and should do more to end abusive behavior in any and all workplaces. Carpenter has written previously about how to be an ally when someone comes forward with their story, no matter how many years have passed. Noxon and fellow writer Kater Gordon wrote last year about structural reforms to protect writers from toxic showrunners.
Here, now, are some steps men can take to help eradicate toxic workplace behaviors.
–Ensure safe avenues for reporting. Before you enter any new work environment including a set, ask what the process is for reporting problematic behavior and what measures are in place to ensure that no one will be punished for filing a report. Be an ally from the start. (I speak from experience, having had no safe way to report sexual harassment early on in my career.)
–Tell colleagues you’ve got their back. From day one, inform colleagues that you’re committed to ensuring a comfortable work environment that helps everyone do their best work. They should know that if they have a problem, they can come to you and you’ll do all you can.
–Be on the lookout. Even after you’ve made clear where you stand, many people will still keep these struggles to themselves out of fear. Observe the way people interact, especially when there’s a power imbalance. Spot troubling behaviors. If you see anything problematic or questionable, talk with each of the people involved.
–Speak out. When a colleague is mistreated in front of you, call out the bad behavior in the moment. Walk the walk.
Yes, doing these things involves some risk and takes courage. Sometimes you have to harness your inner superhero to fight the good fight. For this, you can take inspiration from the courage of people who have returned to traumatic environments day after day, and still delivered excellent work.
Josh Levs is a consultant, activist, former journalist for NPR and CNN, and the author of All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together. He partners with Dove Men+Care on efforts to end stereotypes and empower men as caregivers.