Depictions of sexual harassment culture in historical films

Posted in Sexual Harassment on January 10, 2014

Although we are now 14 just years into the 21st century, it seems as though an increasing number of television shows and movies are set in the middle and late decades of the 20th century. Those of us who were alive during those times and can compare fictional accounts to our own memories. Sometimes movies and shows get it right, and other times they are way off.

Of course, the supposed accuracy of any time-period recreation may depend on one’s personal experiences. In a recent review of the Martin Scorsese film “The Wolf Wall Street,” author Joanne Lipman notes that the film lacks an important perspective: women who worked in finance and financial reporting during the 1980s. Lipman also notes that although the film depicts the over-the-top absurdity of the era, it fails to adequately capture the sexual harassment culture that she and other women faced on a daily basis.

Lipman was a rookie reporter for the Wall Street Journal during the 1980s. To be sure, Wall Street probably had the most outrageous and inappropriate office environments of the day. Still, the 1980s were not so long ago. Yet this was a time before concepts like “political correctness” and even before the term “sexual harassment” came into widespread use.

Although employment laws and workplace protections have very much improved over the last three decades, women still face rampant sexual harassment in fields that are highly competitive and male-dominated. To some, the “boys club” atmosphere of Wall Street is not so different from the culture of venture capitalism in Silicon Valley.

Perhaps movies and television shows set in the recent past are ultimately a good thing – as long as they strive for accuracy. By showing the societal problems as well as the triumphs, they remind us of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.


Source: TIME, “What The Wolf of Wall Street Is Missing: The Women,” Joanne Lipman, Dec. 30, 2013