Mad Men. Furious Women.

By: Zoe Scaman

Far from dissipating over the last decade, misogyny in the ad industry has simply mutated into something insidious, invisible, lurking in the shadows. It’s time to fire up the floodlights.

(Throughout this piece, I’ve added in quotes from women who were brave enough to come forward and to share their stories with me. These quotes sit apart and are not woven into the narrative, but I think it’s critical that you can read their words and their experiences. All have asked to remain anonymous.)

When I was 18, I got my first job in an ad agency.

When I was 19, I was sexually assaulted by a client in an alleyway outside of my first big industry party. When he was done, he told me to stop being so hysterical. Out of fear and shame, I stayed silent.

When I was 20, I was hired by another ad agency. After I’d finished the interview, I heard the man who’d offered me the job go out into the office and say ‘hired a hot one, something decent to look at’, before they all started laughing.

When I was 24 I was sexually assaulted by a boss after he followed me into a toilet cubicle on a night out. The next morning, whilst sitting two metres away from me, he sent me an email to suggest we ‘forget about last night’ because he had a wife and kids, as if what had occurred was either consensual or mutual. It was neither. I told a few people but it was recommended that I not ‘kick up a fuss’ because ‘it wasn’t worth it’. That man went on to become a client at my next agency; I’d often hide and cry when he was in the building.

When I was 26 I found out that a male colleague was earning $20,000 more than I was. I raised it with the CEO he told me he ‘had a family’, then offered me a $2k raise and a list of additional responsibilities, which I was told would be ‘great for my CV’. I resigned.

When I was 28, I interviewed at an agency and was told in the meeting that they were disappointed that I didn’t possess a more ‘maternal energy’ as that was what they were looking for, for their team. They also suggested that I was ‘over confident’ and may want to ‘tone it down a bit’. I left in tears.

When I was 29, I got a job at a new agency and for my welcome drinks, they said they had somewhere special to take me. That ‘special place’ was a run-down seedy pub full of old men and barely adult strippers, wandering around in thongs rattling a pint glass, asking each punter for a pound to fund their next dance. I was disgusted. Throughout the night my new colleagues commented on the strippers bodies, as well as my own, suggesting we ‘compare tits’ and asking if my pubic hair ‘was shaped that way’ too. I laughed along, mortified and horrified, but desperate not to come across as a prude. I should have known that the daily working practices would unfold in a similar vein with overt misogyny and gaslighting making up a significant portion of my experience, which lasted only nine weeks before I ran for the hills. Subsequently, I erased any evidence that I’d ever worked there from my LinkedIn profile and CV. Many years later, other women from that same agency have contacted me to share their similar stories. The founder, unsurprisingly, continues to thrive and made tens of millions when they sold. The exact figure is known to many, because the day of the sale, he called for a celebration in the local pub, where he proceeded to show them all his bank balance.

When I was 30 I’d been freelancing at an agency for a week, when the CEO walked up to my desk with a lightbulb, he suggested I should try fitting it into my mouth, when I declined (with most of the agency watching) he laughed and said he was sure I’d gagged on worse. He’d go on to repeat this ‘prank’ and others like it, targeting only young women and enjoying the shocked reactions as he played to what he assumed was his adoring audience. In reality their nervous laughter stemmed not from amusement but from abhorrence.

When I was 32, I was subjected to over a year of psychological torment, working under a man whose self adulation required him to bully and belittle others, in order to maintain his perception of himself as sitting atop his golden pedestal. His cruelty and joy in crushing the confidence of those around him sent me into a year of therapy and also caused at least four others (that I’m aware of) to run aground. To this day, he is celebrated in industry publications, top ten lists and, despite his toxicity, continues to be heralded as a planning hero.

I’m now 36 and, having a built a profile on Twitter, my daily sojourns on the platform bring a healthy dose of reply guys and mansplaining, but also unsolicited advances, dick pics, rape threats, and occasionally, threats on my life too. And when I raise the issue, the response is often ‘why don’t you just get off of Twitter’, as if the only solution to the abuse directed at me is to punish myself – to run away, to cower in a corner, to abandon the audience I’ve built and the new business pipeline it’s created. 

This is just a snapshot of my experiences, the entirety would fill a ‘War And Peace’ length novel.

I tell you these stories not to be sensationalist and not to seek out your sympathies, but because I want you to understand. There are real, horrific and painful reasons why women in this industry are angry, broken, exhausted and often scared into silence. 

When we raise our voices, we are not crying wolf. 

We are crying for help.

Read the whole article at the link below.