Sexual Harassment in the Wedding Industry

This week our news feeds were flooded with two simple words: #MeToo.

This trending hashtag has raised awareness regarding how devastatingly widespread sexual harassment and assault are in today’s society. The campaign began after activist Tarana Burke launched metoo.support, a website that supported and amplified the voices of survivors of sexual abuse, assault, and exploitation, and Alyssa Milano later shared the following: If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. (@AlyssaMilano)

As thousands of people shared #MeToo, our team began discussing our own personal experiences, finding countless friends and colleagues in the Creative Economy who shared similar sentiments and experiences.

It’s unfortunate that the depth and breadth to which our community responded with #MeToo came as no surprise. But as more people shared their stories and experiences, and even more survivors held theirs close, not prepared to share, we’ve chosen to take a stand together, no matter where you are and what your story entails. 

As the movement started sweeping social meda, Mary Kate McKenna—a wedding photographer based in Washington, DC—took to Twitter to address sexual harassment in the industry. Her outcry directly inspired today’s post.

As we started talking to other professionals in crafting this post, we were reminded just how prevalent sexual harassment is—especially in the wedding industry. Why the wedding industry?

A wedding is a unique workplace.

Weddings in their nature are environments for celebration and revelry… yet they serve as the “office” for countless creative professionals every weekend. In the revelry for wedding guests, one too many drinks and a rowdy atmosphere can cultivate an environment that puts creative professionals at risk.

Many wedding industry professionals have endured inappropriate comments, gestures, or actions at the hands of guests, clients, and even other vendors.

When it happens to you, there is often a moment of panic. You feel forced to keep your composure, and it’s not easy. You are torn between your desire to provide a good experience for your couple and your own wellbeing. 

Have you been in that position before?

It leaves you feeling violated, helpless, and confused: yet still needing to follow through on your duties as a contracted professional for the event.

We’re here today to stand up and provide resources to equip our community with the tools they need to handle these situations.

Rising Tide Co-founder Natalie Franke shared about her experience as a member of the wedding industry in a short vlog below.

You are not alone.

Additionally, a few leading voices in the wedding industry shared about their experiences in an effort to help raise awareness about the issue and shift the perspective that this problem doesn’t exist.

The truth of the matter: these are a handful of stories in a sea of many.

If you’ve shared #MeToo, we stand with you. If you’ve chosen not to, but have survived sexual harassment or assault, we stand with you as well. You don’t owe anyone your story nor must you relive your trauma. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment or assault, we want to make a couple things clear:

  1. You’re not alone.
  2. It is not your fault.

Thank you to the wedding professionals below for sharing their stories and providing their insight.

 

Mary Kate Battles:

“When you’re new and fresh-faced to photographing weddings, everything is shiny and exciting and it’s easy (so very easy) to ignore and pass off harassment, even serious harassment. Ten years ago, I was on a packed, sweaty dance floor and was groped. I immediately knew who it was. It was a groomsman who had earlier been coming on to me. He ignored my “nos” all day. From getting ready, to portraits, to the reception this dude would not take no for an answer. We all thought it was kind of funny. He was trying so hard. At one point before the reception began, in front of the dozen or so bridesmaids and groomsmen, he said, “So, how married are you?” Everyone laughed it off, including me. Yet, in that moment an hour later on the dance floor, my face hot with embarrassment and confusion, I saw it as my fault that this had happened. I should have shut it down earlier. This is my fault.

There wasn’t a planner at this wedding, and I didn’t even know who to speak to about this. I didn’t want to take the bride off the dance floor, to make her upset. So I pulled the maid of honor to the side. When I told her what happened, my entire body shaking, she said to me, “Yeah, he gets handsy when he’s drunk. He’s done it to all of us.” And honestly? I just resigned myself to this was how it was sometimes. I finished my night photographing the wedding, keeping my distance from the groomsman.

I’m not proud of my story, but I’ll say this- I don’t think I know a single wedding vendor who has been in the industry for any amount of time who doesn’t have at least one of these stories. We are surrounded by alcohol-filled guests who sometimes “check out” from their usually normal behavior and act out in ways that are not only inappropriate but dangerous, hurtful and against the law.

As vendors, we are in a very tough situation. We may know that the behavior is wrong. We may even have a harassment clause in our contracts (I do), but setting that in motion, knowing you may very well change the course of events for a wedding that’s been planned for years, is difficult to handle. We care about our clients and don’t want to ruin any part of their day.

After 14 years of photographing weddings, I have sadly had a handful of these very terrible situations. In order to keep a level head, I think the best thing we can do is to plan ahead- play out some scenarios before they happen. Decide what your plan might be if a groomsman or guest won’t leave you alone. Who would you talk to? (is there a wedding planner? Another vendor? A venue manager? A security guard?) How can you distance yourself from the guest? How could you document the situation if you needed to? Knowing all the tools and allies you have can be very empowering.” – Mary Kate Battles of MK McKenna Photography

 

Mary Marantz:

“I have been sexually harassed at weddings. Like the time when a group of groomsmen said ‘Oh your name is Mary….like the VIRGIN Mary.’ And then under his breath to another groomsmen. ‘Not for long. Let’s see if we can fix that.’

They watched and followed me the rest of the night…it was the first time I felt really unsafe at a wedding.” – Mary Marantz of Justin and Mary Weddings

 

Bree Ryback:

“Sexual harassment is in the news recently, for it’s place in Hollywood. However, sexual harassment is present in almost any industry and in almost any situation – the wedding industry is no different. Sexual harassment occurs between vendors and occurs between guests and vendors. I’d consider myself one of the few who hasn’t explicitly experienced it, even as a vendor in the industry for 5+ years. But I know it exists, because my friends in the industry share their experiences with me: the drunk groomsmen, the inappropriate uncle, the over-bearing photographer.

My advice would be to anyone that encounters this, is to know you aren’t alone. And to also know that there are so many amazing organizations that exist to help fight this battle. So if you’re like me and consider yourself lucky to have not experienced sexual harassment within the wedding industry yet, don’t be naive and think “it will never happen to me”. It can and it might. So be an ear for your industry friends that have experienced it, if you have a team or employees, consider offering your employees sexual harassment training, and if nothing else, consider donating to organizations and non-profits that help to fight sexual harassment in ANY industry (https://www.betterbrave.com/).” – Bree Ryback of Capital Romance

 

What You Can Do:

We’re here to offer steps you can take to protect and prepare yourself going forward. It is important to remember that although you cannot control the actions of another person, you can control how you prepare and how you respond.

You should never have to endure sexual harassment at a wedding—never. In the unfortunate event that this does occur, we want you to be equipped with the tools that you may need. Here are our recommendations.

Include Safe Working Environment Clause in your Contract

We reached out to Paige Hulse, an attorney for creatives, for guidance on the legal perspective of what a wedding professional or creative entrepreneur can do to protect themselves against sexual harassment. 
 
From Paige Hulse: “Contracts are something that should not be retrospective; they should be prepared with foresight to protect as you move forward with your business. As my mentor taught me, contracts are a seatbelt for your business: something you may not appreciate immediately, but that you will be unendingly grateful for when they do their job.
 
The role of a contract is highlighted in situations such as sexual harassment. While this issue is something that we would like to say would never happen to us as wedding vendors, it is something that we need to protect ourselves from. The best way to protect yourself is to set expectations about a situation such as this far in advance of it ever arising, and the language modeled below is the most effective first step. When you discuss this issue with your client, keep in mind that a contract must be fair to both parties to be equal. Clarifying language such as this provision merely defines situational expectations for both parties, so that you both know what you are entering into: it will protect both you and your client, and it is your responsibility to remind your client of that!” 
 

Appropriate Conduct/ Safe Working Environment: The Client(s) expressly agree(s) to ensure the appropriate behavior of all attendees at the wedding/event, and additionally agree(s) to undertake best efforts to ensure that all parties involved in the event, including but not limited to the Client(s), vendors, the bridal party, all guests, and any and all attendees, behave in a manner that provides the Photographer with a safe and comfortable work environment in accordance with a reasonably workmanlike standard. Any threatening, hostile, inappropriate, or offensive behavior of any kind, and any other behavior that compromises the safety or well-being of the photographer or photography equipment or constitutes a hostile work environment (including, but not limited to, unwelcome sexual advances and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature) will not be tolerated. What constitutes such behavior is up to the sole discretion of the Photographer in accordance with the standard of a reasonably prudent person, and will be dealt with accordingly: (a) upon the first offense, the Photographer will notify the offending person and either the Client(s) or a family member of the Client(s) with a verbal warning; (b) after the second offense, the Photographer will notify the Client(s), and the Client(s) will agree to remove the offending person for the remainder of the event (c) upon the third offense, the Photographer will end wedding coverage immediately and leave the event, Photographer shall be entitled to retain all monies paid hereunder. The Client(s) will not be entitled to any refund, and Client(s) will agree to relieve and hold Photographer harmless as a result of incomplete wedding or event photography coverage, or for a lapse in the quality of the work.

 
Thank you to Paige Hulse for providing the clause above. We are grateful for your expertise and generosity. 
 
Disclaimer:  The materials available in this post are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice specific to your industry or contract.  

Respond Swiftly and Stand Your Ground

In the event that harassment does occur—know that you have a right to respond and there are techniques that can help to swiftly address the behavior. In the book, Back Off! How To Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers, author Martha Langelan recommends how to handle confronting a harasser.

These tips include:

  • Be very direct. Speak honestly (avoid threats, insults, obscenities, or appeasing). Be honest, stern, and blunt.
  • Do the unexpected—name the harassing behavior. Whatever has just occurred, say it out loud.
  • Hold the harasser accountable for their actions. Don’t make excuses and take charge of the encounter.
  • Tell someone about what happened. Privacy protects harassers, but visibility undermines them and provides you with a witness.
  • Reinforce your statements with strong body language: eye contact, head up, shoulders back, a strong, serious stance.

Reach Out When You’re Ready 

When confronting sexual harassment, it is important to know that there are allies who will stand beside you and support you. Whether it is your team, another wedding professional, or your local community—there are people that you can lean on.

Don’t ever feel obligated to share your story. Reach out only when you are ready.

Thank you to everyone who participated in helping to create this post. We are grateful for your vulnerability and courage. Your voices, your actions, are making a difference. 

While we recognize that weddings are not the only place sexual harassment and assault is present in the creative industry, we felt inspired to start the conversation here. In order to turn the tide, we need to have this discussion and stand in solidarity together to move towards a better future and safer environment for all. 

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