Teaching about the Context of Violence with the #ThatsHarrassment Video Series

Recently I have been writing up a book chapter on teaching in the #MeToo era, and this is one exercise that I do not have room to include in the chapter so I thought that I would post it here. In the chapter, I discuss the importance of situating violence not just as an act committed by individuals, but as emerging out of problems in institutions and problematic cultural stereotypes and narratives. I use this exercise to prepare for talking about power dynamics and violence in short fictions and nonfiction essays.

A useful resource is the series of films published on YouTube by director Sigal Levin for the hastag campaign #ThatsHarassment. In the film ‘The Boss,’ a boss (a white man played by David Schwimmer) and an employee (a black woman, Zazie Beetz) are working late in an office setting and the film works to show how certain kinds of manipulations of language enable the boss to force the employee to allow him to touch her earring, to hug, and kiss her goodbye despite her obvious discomfort.

#ThatsHarassment film “The Boss” – content warning for sexual harassment.

A key question to ask is, how does the power shift and change in the conversation? For example, the Boss’s language frames a narrative with him as a “nice guy,” who avoids the complaint of discomfort by discounting his employee’s experience: “Nothing happened.”

Issues in ‘The Boss’ that might be discussed could be workplace cultures, the dynamic between the characters as boss and employee, the dynamic of the boss as a white man and the black woman as his employee, consent, and the exploitation of gendered scripts of politeness.

Another question to put to the class might be why amongst the #ThatsHarrassment films, there are only examples of women being harassed by (probably) straight men, and there are no films about queer experiences of violence, highlighting the need for more writing and cultural production about violence from a queer perspective.