Cassandra Smolcic's story of sexism at Pixar is horrific and relatable

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Jun 28, 2018, 4:00 PM EDT

News first broke in November that John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar and Disney Animation, was being placed on leave amidst allegations of sexual misconduct. In the months since, he's remained on sabbatical and just weeks ago, Disney announced that his tenure with the company will officially end December 31, 2018. Until then, he will operate in a "consulting role."

But his mark will remain on those people he came in — very unwanted — contact with at Pixar. Cassandra Smolcic, a former graphic designer for the company who worked on such films as Brave and Cars 2, wrote a Medium piece about her experience which was later shortened and republished at Variety. The piece detailed the "open sexism" and culture of harassment, objectification and misogyny at Pixar. Said Smolcic, "I know people are saying that the climate there wasn’t 'that bad.' I’m here to tell you that it was, and more than likely still is." Bad enough that she left the industry after what she endured. 

Coming forward with her story was not an easy decision for Smolcic. For most people, sharing their very public #MeToo story brings with it a very vocal backlash that has a tendency to drown out the support and positivity. With throngs of Twitter philosophers making sure anyone whose filters aren't set to "mute tweets from people who don't follow me" knows that "#MeToo has gotten out of hand!" and other helpful characterizations from people with no clear idea what the phrase "due process" actually means, the choice to come forward against such a beloved entity "was not one I made lightly," Smolcic said. And to quiet the readied attacks decrying perceived misandry, "I prefer to think of this article as a pro-equality manifesto instead of an anti-misogyny rant or an attack on masculinity." I will note that an attempt to visit her website while writing this piece indicated the site had been hacked. 

Smolcic describes in the piece not only specific instances of harassment and misconduct, but a general cloud of objectification over the whole company. The few women who rose to positions of power were vilified as "bitches," or the infamously gendered "difficult." Many who spoke out or sought help were eventually laid off or fired.

Smolcic detailed one particularly sickening day in which she was asked to no longer attend meetings because Lasseter was unable to "control himself." 

"In 2010, shortly after I’d started working on my third feature film, Cars 2, my female art department manager approached me to relay some unsettling news. 'We’ve decided it’s best if you don’t attend art reviews on this production,' she announced, looking over the wall of my cubicle. 'John has a hard time controlling himself around young pretty girls, so it will be better for everyone if we just keep you out of sight,' she said with a shoulder shrug, referring to our film’s director and the company’s CCO. Before I had a chance to respond, her floating head disappeared."

She was later told not to get her hopes up about working on Inside Out because the film's production designer "gets all clammy and weird around women." Smolcic also wrote about an evening at an after-work event where a co-worker "smacked then grabbed [her] ass with a considerable amount of force." What she described next was painfully relatable for anyone who's had something similar happen to them.

"A few minutes after this encounter, I left the work party to head home, equal parts infuriated, shaken-up and perplexed. I replayed the moment in my mind over and over again. I had no doubt been caught completely off-guard, but I couldn’t wrap my head around my utter lack of response to such a deeply disturbing and violating interaction. Similar to the time that a complete stranger covertly stuck his hand under my skirt and grabbed my vagina in a packed San Francisco bar before slipping away into the crowd, a wave of strange heat had come over me immediately after his unwelcome hand made contact with my body."

While the harassment experienced by Smolcic and her colleagues may not fall into the realm of criminal, to Smolcic, that's the point. Not all #MeToo stories are created equal—but they all matter.

"An amalgamation of negative encounters with the opposite sex can turn what might be outwardly perceived as an innocuous act –– like an unwanted sexual advance, a sexist joke or remark, an extra long hug or a hand placed on a thigh –– into a serious disturbance to a woman’s sense of value, comfort, safety and well-being. When these smaller acts of inappropriateness mount up in a given week, month, year (or the length of a career), they have a tendency to reverberate off one another. Magnify the intensity of all these 'minor' workplace incidents by the weight each individual woman carries from a potential lifetime of sexually-loaded stressors, then companies that placate lewd and questionable behaviors can manifest a deep, compounding and unbearable sense of disappointment, overwhelm and rage in the depths of a woman’s subconscious."

Even after everything she's been through, the lifelong Disney fan has hopes that the company can correct course. But she remains realistic. "[Dismantling] John’s legacy will take more than just replacing a single executive or releasing an article about the female contributions to a given film. Such deeply ingrained biases require deliberate, conscientious effort to identify and dismantle. Disney and Pixar must recognize that women and underrepresented minorities are just as capable, talented, complex and dimensional as the white fraternity of men who have monopolized animation thus far. Female narratives are worthy of world-class storytellers, and women deserve to be treated as respected equals in any creative community."

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