The model and activist shines a light on an important issue.
It's been more than five years since model and activist Cameron Russell filmed her breakthrough TED Talk, "Looks aren't everything. Believe me, I'm a model."
Russell is a model who has consistently used her platform to advocate for topics she's passionate about, such as gender, race, and climate change. She's also one of the founders of Model Mafia, an ever-growing network of models fighting for more equitable and less exploitative working conditions.
In the wake of the ongoing assault and harassment scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein, and the ever-present issue of sexual harassment in the workforce — which, according to a 2015 survey, 1 in 3 women in the U.S. workforce have experienced — Russell decided to once again use her following and position to call attention to an important, if unpleasant, topic.
Russell launched the #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse campaign on social media, asking for stories about sexual harassment in the modeling world. The responses were eye-opening.
Similar to how actress Alyssa Milano's viral "Me Too" tweet and the internet's powerful response put a spotlight on just how widespread assault and harassment are, Russell's campaign put the focus on how rampant this is within the world of modeling, specifically. Models sent Russell their all-too-common horror stories, and she shared them on her Instagram profile.
Stories of young women, some of whom were underage, being coerced into situations beyond their comfort zones filled the page.
Stories of photographers asking inappropriate questions about the models' sex lives popped up multiple times.
There were even some stories that demonstrated how models were made to fear for their physical safety while at work.
How and why does this happen? For one, harassment is often normalized in the workspace, allowing predators to continue the behaviors without punishment.
A personal story from Russell shows how that happens. On Instagram, Russell explains the time she saw the definition of sexual harassment on a labor law poster, saying that it looked "like [her] job description." (emphasis added.)
"When I got home and looked up the definition online, it was so spot on it felt like someone who knew us ... and of course they did. Sexual harassment is unacceptably commonplace. I sat down to try to make a list of my own experiences. Non consensual kisses, spanks, gropes, and pinches. Failing to provide adequate changing space, shaming in response to requests for adequate changing space. Bullying by editors, photographers, stylists, and clients to go topless or nude. Publishing nudity after contractually agreeing not to. Non consensual massage. Inappropriate emails, text messages, and phone calls. Pressure while underage to consume alcohol. Being directed to 'pretend like I'm your boyfriend.' Being forced to sleep at the photographer's home rather than provided a hotel. Having my job threatened if I don't participate. Being called difficult, feminist, virgin, diva when speaking up or saying no. Being unclear about boundaries because so many boundaries have been crossed. I lose count. And this is only what's easy to share, what's as commonplace as 9am call times, fittings, and lunch."
Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for H&M.
No job should include abuse. No matter the industry. And it's past time to start taking claims of workplace harassment seriously.
Highlighting acts of normalized harassment, such as those shared by Russell, is a great start. It helps us all understand the devastating effects of these actions that go excused on a much-too-regular basis.
Setting firm boundaries and letting other people who've been harassed or assaulted understand that they're not alone is a step toward stopping it in the future. It's a step toward a culture that will no longer tolerate these actions.