Time's Up ... But Is It, Really?
While the powerful women of Hollywood give voice to a movement, are those in the jewelry industry ready for the risks?
STORY BY BARBARA PALUMBO
Sunday evening’s Golden Globes were not your mother’s award show by a long shot. While the outward characteristics of Hollywood’s first big night of the new year remained the same (uncomfortable red carpet interviews, extraordinary designer gowns, magnificent [albeit borrowed] jewels, winners, losers, and the occasional speech that goes off the rails), the mental stability of it had been severely damaged, and so Hollywood’s emotional but powerful feminine side took over, causing a dramatic yet fashionable blackout.
On Oct. 5, the day that the original Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment story ran in the The New York Times, I was in Seattle, where I had been invited by the Women’s Jewelry Association’s then-Seattle chapter president, Anna Samsonova, to speak to the members of the chapter about women’s issues – including but not limited to sexual harassment – at a casual event that same evening. I was standing in the kitchen of the home of Monica Stephenson, founder of Idazzle.com and Anza Gems, when industry veteran Peggy Jo Donahue (who had traveled to Seattle specifically for the event and was also a guest at Monica’s house) broke the news to the two of us.
I remember thinking about how timely and appropriate this bombshell of a piece was. Prior to this event, I’d not attended any gathering of jewelry industry women who were willing and prepared to share some of their stories, or, let’s face it, their horrors. “The timing seemed uncanny,” Monica said. “But we couldn’t have known at the time that this wasn’t just any story, forgotten in the next headline. It was a powder keg that exploded and has kept on burning.”
When Anna first approached me about flying out to Seattle, we tossed around ideas for topics, but when the thought came up to take on something tough and possibly uncomfortable like this, which hadn’t been done before, she didn’t blink an eye. “It’s a topic that will not be solved or understood without talking about it,” said Anna. “I knew that our chapter was ready to face it.” But while Seattle was ready to talk, is the rest of the jewelry industry ready as well?
My fear is that it’s not.
I received an email over the summer from a well-known designer in the jewelry industry with a link to an article in Philadelphia magazine. The email began with four simple words: “Had you seen this?” Curious, I clicked the link and sat dumbfounded as I read the title: "Luxury Jeweler Paul Morelli Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit." It was dated Feb. 17, 2017, and after reading the piece in full, I replied to the sender with my own four words: “No. I had not.”
But why hadn’t I seen it? Why hadn’t the jewelry industry seen it? I Googled various terms to see if any of the major jewelry publications had written about it and couldn’t find one. Maybe the reason was that it was more of a Philadelphia-based story, but then again, so many stories much smaller in stature than this are written about daily. Were we not doing our jobs as journalists at that point? I obviously didn’t do mine. Or are we trying to protect our own because the jewelry industry is such a small community? The answer to both questions might very well be “yes.” This is a piece of information about a longtime, well-respected jewelry designer that should have made the news, that should have been talked about, shared and debated, but it wasn’t. I should have reached out to Paul Morelli myself to see if he would share his story with me, but I didn’t. And believe me, it is not lost on me now that my discussing it will potentially bring conflict my way. But not bringing it up only adds to the problem at hand, and I refuse to be responsible for that.
If we can’t get the conversation started now while this movement has life, then it will likely never see the light of day once the next big news story hits everyone’s Facebook feed.
It only takes one visit to some of the Facebook jewelers groups to see that sexism and inappropriate behavior are still alive and thriving in our industry. Last year on one of these forums, when a jewelry store owner created a post that asked what he could do about an older male customer who continued to come in to his store only to flirt with a younger female employee (an act that was seemingly making her uncomfortable), he received plenty of well-thought-out, constructive feedback. However, he also received the following responses: “Charge admission and offer him a senior citizens discount.” And, “Post the picture of the hot chick working for you so I can call her.” These replies were from jewelers, one of whom I know fairly well, and while I wasn’t surprised at his response, I was taken aback at the fact that he would put it in writing on social media for all the world to see. (Rule number one, people ... if it’s on social, it lives forever.) Even a few prominent men in the watch community have recently rolled their eyes at some of the tales coming out of the “Time’s Up” initiative, believing that the stories are getting out of hand and going as far as to tell me that when I didn’t report being inappropriately touched by a retail jeweler at a trade show in 2016, I was the problem.
And you know what? Maybe I was. Maybe the women in our industry and I should forgo the risks involved in calling out our perpetrators and just start publicly naming those who discriminate against us, harass us, assault us and put us in uncomfortable situations. But do be careful what you wish for, jewelry industry, because when the names start flying, they likely won’t stop, which means a LOT of well-known and beloved folks could face a similar fate to Mr. Weinstein.
Bringing it back to whether the Time’s Up movement and what it has set out to accomplish are realistic goals in communities and industries like ours that don’t have Oprah Winfrey as their champion, I’d have to say that it’s going to be a struggle, but that it will be a much harder struggle if we don’t at least try. Jewelry women all over the world are starting to realize their power, with groups like the UK’s Women’s Jewellery Network gaining momentum and putting harassment issues at the forefront of their purpose. If we can’t get the conversation started now while this movement has life, then it will likely never see the light of day once the next big news story hits everyone’s Facebook feed. But the end game here – the one that all women and many men wish to come to fruition – is that common sense takes precedent. If you wouldn’t want someone saying it to your daughter, don’t say it to someone else’s. If you don’t know the difference between a compliment and an inappropriate statement, then you’re part of the problem. And if you’re someone’s manager, supervisor, mentor, sales director, client or editor, know that you’re a person in a position of power, and that if you abuse that power, you may risk being outed. Added Monica, “I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop in the jewelry industry.”
The movement has started. It’s a slow start, but it’s a start. And if we work together as a community, we can change things for the better.
Time’s Up. And yes, we can have the faith in believing that it really, truly is.
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