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Sexual Harassment and How To Handle It

Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation of unwelcome or inappropriate sexual advances? This is a subject that is rarely talked about in our industry and I want to bring it out into the open so we can create a dialogue concerning this subject. Also, to let those to whom this has happened know you are not alone and lastly to help you understand what might have helped trigger such a situation and how to best deal with it. Know that this predatory practice is done by both men and women. It can also be labeled sexual harassment.

Most of us are not equipped mentally, physically, or psychologically to deal with a situation concerning unwanted and unexpected sexual advances. Often when one is inexperienced in being part of this professional opera world, we find ourselves working with perhaps an amazing conductor, stage director, coach or colleagues that we respect on every level and revere. We are thrilled when we are singled out in public or private by them as being especially talented and we might even seek out and let that person know how much we enjoying working with them, how musical they are and what wonderful and generous colleagues they are. This can also turn into flirting. (I have to say, I love to flirt myself even to this day, but because I have had enough experience dealing with this situation, I know when to back off and let the other person know it is strictly “flirting” and nothing else.) When one doesn’t have this experience, it is easy to give your power away to this icon because you trust that they have your best interest at heart. And because we as performers often have to immediately engage our emotions in what we do, it can seem like we are simply being engaged in a love fest of appreciating each other’s talent, integrity, ability, etc.

There are those out there that for whatever reason, needing power, getting their ego stroked, are lonely and need love, and/or respect, will go over the line and create a situation that you may not know how to deal with. It’s an old story and I can say from my own experience, when this unwanted and inappropriate behavior happens for the first few times, it is hard to know what to do about it. You don’t want this person to turn on you and make life difficult, and you don’t have the words to tell them that they have made a mistake without feeling like you are ruining all your chances at furthering your career. However, you do have the right to say “STOP”. You can let the other person know that your intentions where not to lead them on, but you were simply, in a professional way, trying to convey your deepest respect and appreciation for their talent and help in expanding your ideas about expressing your artistic self. Ask them to please leave or you leave, close the door or go to a space where you can be alone, safe, breathe and give yourself time to recoup. Call your mentor, your teacher, a good friend, your Mother, immediately. Talk it through with someone whom you trust and respect. You have done nothing wrong. Most times, how you have behaved has been misinterpreted or manipulated, even if you flirted a bit. This is an opportunity for you to grow up professionally, stand your ground, and come out creating a win-win situation.

"You should not have taken advantage of my sensibility to steal into my affections without my consent."
- Alexander Hamilton

If you don’t take control and your power back you might experience paralyzing feelings of stress, humiliation, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, shame, guilt, and even sleeplessness and nightmares. So whatever you do, do not avoid, hide or feel less than who you are at your core the following day. The other person has misbehaved and taken advantage, not you. Take your power back because you are not a victim. Make sure you greet them making eye contact the next day in a professional manner like any other colleague. You can still compliment them if it is appropriate, but make sure they understand that you know what game they are playing and that it is over. And when the game is called, it is over, trust me. If you don’t feel safe around this person, make sure you have another colleague with you when you interact. If you don’t deal with it right then and reclaim your power, the outcome of your performance might be compromised.

No one has the right to intimidate or harass. Often those that have carefully cultivated a restrained and respectable image on the surface, when alone with their target, change their demeanor which leaves one unnerved and feeling like a victim because you are put in a sudden compromising position, which is their intent. This is how harassment works. It comes unexpectedly and without warning. Armed with this information, know you may or may not come up against this type of situation this time, but know it is out there and a real possibility. No matter what you have coming up this summer and from hence forward, remember what we talked about here so you are able to use these new ideas, tools, and actions to make the most of your experience and continue to move forward as you present and represent your Personal Brand at every new turn in the road.

Enjoy the journey and keep me in the loop.
Avanti, and ciao until next time. Carol

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