Nearly 500 actresses in Norway have signed a petitition complaining of sexual harassment on the job, with many of them anonymously sharing details of the harassment and assaults they’ve suffered personally. The petition is the latest in a wave of complaints from women working in the media, academia and business in Norway, set off by the international #Metoo-campaign launched after the public shaming of a Hollywood producer.
Initial reports suggested that Norwegian women probably hadn’t been as subject to sexual harassment and assaults, given Norway’s long traditions stressing gender equality. But it didn’t take long before some women started speaking up and revealing what they’d been through, recently as well as years ago. Among those signing the petition made public on Friday are locally famous actresses including Ane Dahl Torp, Henriette Steenstrup, Laila Goody, Pia Tjelta and Mari Maurstad.
It’s all led to widespread soul-searching within various branches, not least the media, where stories of male journalists harassing or even attacking female colleagues began emerging at some of the country’s largest newspapers and at both TV2 and NRK. Most of the cases have been anonymous and the male assailants have not been publicly identified, but several have been fired from their jobs and media outlets are scrambling to set up better routines for women to report abuse and assaults.
One complainer’s character ‘killed off’
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Friday that now fully 487 actresses in Norwegian theater, film and TV have come forward with their complaints and accounts of sexual harassment at work. Hanne Tømta, chief of the National Theater in Oslo, later told NRK that she thought it was “terrible” to read all the stories that have been suppressed over the years, often because the women didn’t dare report assaults by directors, other actors or men in positions of authority, for fear their careers would be ruined. One woman wrote about how she’d been assaulted at work and reported it, only to learn a few days later that the character she was playing had been “killed off” in the script.
Another woman wrote about how she had a role in which she was raped by an older man. The scene was played out and the director ended it, but the actor, in front of several of Norway’s most well-known actors and instructors, continued “raping” her. All the others merely laughed, at his audacity and her humiliation.
“I’m trying to take this all in, both the huge quanity of reports and also incidents that are pure assaults and criminal acts,” Tømta told NRK. She admitted she also has been a victim of sexual harassment “and I didn’t report it either, so I understand very well these women’s stories. Today I’m more subjected to power plays and put-downs, based on general gender discrimination.”
‘Not very surprised’
Knut Alfsen, leader of the labour organization representing Norwegian actors and actresses, said he was “unfortunately not very surprised” by all the complaints in the new campaign. “I’ve been working with these cases for awhile, and this shows the extent of the problem,” Alfsen told NRK. “It’s really bad.”
Both Alfsen and Tømta, along with most other leaders, are encouraging women to report assaults or inappropriate behaviour by male colleagues. “Folks have to begin to speak up,” Alfsen said, while Tømta claimed that “no employee of the National Theater should accept harassment at the workplace. It’s not right.”
The women, meanwhile, are demanding that employers in the acting field stop protecting or employing male actors known for having harassed or assaulted female colleagues. They also want establishment of a system where employees can report incidents of sexual harassment without fear of reprisal.
Tømta said she thinks it’s “fantastic” that “skeletons are starting to come out of the closet.” Several male actors were admitting they’d witnessed harassment or even attacks without speaking up or stopping them. Some said many men “should be very nervous right now” about how they’ve behaved in the past. Actor Jon Øigarden also said it was “important and correct that all this is coming out in the open.”
Linda Hofstad Helleland, Norway’s government minister in charge of culture and sports, said she found it “painful” to read all the accounts of harrasment. “I understand that many have kept this to themselves for a long time, and I think they’re brave to sign the petition and that their stories are coming out,” Helleland told NRK. “We need a public debate on what we can do to keep this from happening.”