From the Memory Hole: Joey, Friends and Sexual Harrassment

Something that occurred to me the other day that seems relevant in our current climate: on Friends, Joey was a struggling actor doing crappy parts for several seasons. Finally he got his big break on Days of Our Lives. How did he get such a lucky break? A producer demanded he sleep with her and he did. That part ended up defining his character for the rest of the series really. He wasn’t a struggling actor anymore, just an actor.

At the time sleeping for the part was a laugh line. I wonder how it will be treated now?

And what about when he was getting measured for a pair of pants?

That’s just how they measure pants!

Probably the same. I don’t think a guy being sexually harassed by a hot woman is going to garner much outrage.

It happened more recently on The Big Bang Theory. Leonard sleeps with a rich widow for research donations.

In prison!

In all fairness, it was for a metric buttload of research donations.

If he consented, he consented. I mean, it’s a dick move to ask a skilled professional to perform sexual favors for financial gain, but if he said “sure, sounds like a deal”, that’s not rape or assault. Prostitution, maybe, depending on the jurisdiction.

Of course, if the producer said or implied the threat of “… or you’ll never work in this town again”, it’s no longer consensual.

Not to mention the guy wanting to check his unit to see if it was intact.

I dont think you understand how sexual harassment works. The situations Joey and Leonard found themselves in is textbook SA. The fact that some can joke about it, and others think its not outrageous is a major reason it continues to happen.


It’s also not OK to ask Joey.

Can you explain how it is textbook sexual harassment? For Joey, it seems like it would be sexual assault. For Leonard, how is it not just solicitation of sex for money? What makes it sexual harassment?

The fact that the woman had a position of power over Leonard.

According to the show summary, she was a rich donor. Is that a position of power over Leonard?

Technically, for TBBT, Rich Widow as going to give his department the money anyway. But she bragged about her sexual prowess (“How do you think I got such a rich husband?”) and Leonard was intrigued. Although, she did make a pass at him (“I took a shot.”) That would not play well in this climate.

For Friends, I just saw the episode where Phoebe’s brother Frank married his high school teacher. I don’t know if this was before or after Mary Kay Latourneau.

As LivingWell said, it’s about the power balance. I don’t recall the TBBT episode well enough to comment on it, but certainly, the position Joey was in made what the woman did an abuse of power.

Are you saying he didn’t really consent? Or something else?

I could agree with calling harassment. And I pointed out how it is wrong to make employment conditional upon sex, unless, you know, you’re a sex worker. But consensual sex is not assault. Even if one person is employed and the other isn’t. Even if one person has more money than the other. Even if one person offers money, gifts or favors in return for sex with the other. It might be illegal, it might be a jerk move, but the consent of the other party makes it not assault or rape.

And Rachel had an affair with her assistant AND lied to her boss about it.

That was a typo on my part. . .SH not SA.
ANY quid pro quo involving sex in the workplace is harassment, regardless of consent.

Well, just as a thought experiment, let’s reverse the genders in these situations.

Let’s imagine that instead of Joey being asked to sleep with a producer in order to get a job, it’s Rachel who is trying out for a job and her male prospective boss asks her to sleep with him in order to get the job.

Let’s say there’s an episode in which Phoebe recommends to Monica to go to a particular seamstress and that the seamstress ‘grabs her’ while taking measurements. Afterwards, Monica grills Phoebe about this and it turns out Phoebe has been grabbed that way repeatedly and led to believe that it’s a perfectly normal part of getting fitted for a dress.

Are these episode scenarios funny? Or are they shockingly insensitive? Is is OK for these storylines to get played for laughs? Is it OK to depict Rachel sleeping with her would-be boss to get the job and then make jokes about it? When Phoebe is made to realize how she’s been taken advantage of, can the episode include a goofy slow-reaction shot by Phoebe complete with the sound of audience laughing hysterically? How about a comical reaction shot by Monica at the dress shop when the seamstress is ‘measuring her’? Would the network ever allow episode such as these to be filmed, let alone aired?