TW: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault
Ellen Pompeo is best known for her leading role in Grey’s Anatomy. Meredith Grey is the main character of the longest running medical drama in U.S. television history, which has become quite the cultural phenomenon. Is she the best character? No, she’s probably amongst the worst, but she’s the most recognisable and profitable.
Ellen hasn’t shied away from being open about issues of racism and sexism in Hollywood and the set of Grey’s Anatomy, leading to her being relatively well liked by the public.
In an interview in 2018, Ellen said some pretty *interesting* things about the #MeToo movement and sexual assault victims, which garnered some negative critiques when the clip resurfaced two years on. However, this was quickly forgotten about, and she was being praised as a Queen the next day.
Whilst discussing the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, Ellen answered a question centred on what Hollywood needs to do to support sexual harassment victims. Her answer is, in my opinion, extremely questionable, and needs to be broken down into multiple parts.
Firstly, she states:
“These men were clearly brought up by older men and clearly watched other men and watched the behaviour that they got away with. So, for centuries and centuries, this behaviour, these men have learned this behaviour, and women have to also be responsible for the signals that we put out, that the messages that we put out, and the way we present ourselves.”
Generations of men have gotten away with sexual harassment, and this avoidance of punishment will encourage younger generations to do the same acts, assuming that they will have the same outcome. However, it’s the ending that I have issue with. No matter what “signals” a woman is putting out, sexual harassment and assault should never be the conclusion to such messages. It doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing, saying, or doing, nothing is ever a ‘hint’ that she wants to be sexually harassed. This statement is extremely alarming, and it seems as though she is blaming victims for encouraging men to harass or assault them.
Ellen continues on to discuss her experience of using seduction to get roles in TV shows and films:
“I said in my article and I’m not ashamed to say it that, as an actor, you certainly go into a room with the idea that this director needs to fall in love with me to give me this part”
“We are aware of our power of seduction and we use it, and it comes in handy”
It seems as though Ellen is suggesting that if women use any sort of flirtation or seduction to succeed in their careers, then we are to be blamed for unwanted advances.
You would assume that her questionable answer is over! Of course not! She keeps on going:
“We bear some responsibility, not all, but it takes two to tango for sure. This is not to blame the victims, it’s just to say that I did go into a room with Harvey Weinstein and I did sit at a table with him. I had probably a two-and-a-half hour conversation with him, he never said anything inappropriate to me, he never made any physical advances to me”
Now, Ellen has really managed to dig herself into a hole here. She, again, seems to be suggesting that victims of harassment should be looking at their own actions as equal to their assaulter’s.
When this clip resurfaced for a short period of time last year, Ellen responded to backlash on Twitter:
“For those who feel offended or are taking this personally, this panel was 2+ years ago and it was way before the whole stories of the women came out. I certainly didn’t know he was a rapist at that point … that took shit to a whole different level”
When she was outed for being factually incorrect – the New York Times article exposing Weinstein was published a year before Ellen’s interview – she strongly defends her statements:
So, what are the conclusions on this?
Well, it’s clear that Ellen has some very problematic and troublesome opinions on victims of sexual assault, and does not seem to be accepting the negative response that came two years after the interview. Her tweets are extremely defensive, and only state that she was speaking about her own experience rather than focusing on Weinstein’s victims, which doesn’t explain why she is so set on blaming victims.
This clip seems to have been dismissed pretty quickly, presumably because Ellen Pompeo is seen as a hero of television and has been an extremely vocal advocate for gender and racial inequality. But no matter what other work she does, she is a person with a platform stating problematic and disturbing views, and this shouldn’t go unnoticed. I’m not saying she deserves to be fired from TV and cancelled, but she should be held accountable for her words.