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Toronto Jewish Film Festival: “Working Woman”: The Subtle Edge of Sexual Harassment

The film “Working Woman” is a delicate dive into sexual harassment at the office. Orna Haviv is a young ambitious woman. She is married with young children. The marriage looks solid.

Her husband has a restaurant and business is slow and the banks are getting nervous. She lands a dream job with Benny a big real estate developer. Benny was also her commander at the base she was stationed in when she did her compulsory military service. After a couple of months at the office he kisses her and she pushes him back. He profusely apologizes the next day and promises it won’t happen again. “Don’t you trust me?” he says.

Then late at night in her office he turns off the light several times and she demands the light be turned on. It is and he replies, “Can’t you take a joke?”

He starts looking at her in a leering and suggestive way. The tension begins to build and you can read it on Orna’s face.

Then on a business trip to Paris after a very successful sales presentation by Orna, Benny and Orna go to dinner. Upon arriving at their hotel rooms he more or less pushes her into his room and sexually assaults her but despite Orna saying no he pins her to the wall and carries on. She doesn’t put up any fierce resistance and you might think with her military training she might have had the skills to repel him. That might leave one to believe it was “sort of consensual sex”.

However sexual harassment in the workplace is often based upon power of the assaulter and resistance can mean financial ruin. The inequality of power here makes the case for a sexual assault. She can’t even give an unequivocal response to her husband when he asks if Benny forced her. Orna is confused but shattered and receives no meaningful support from her husband. It’s almost as if he is victim bashing.

In the end she “sort of extorts” Benny into signing a reference letter and paying her commissions for the sales she made.

This film shows the finer edge of sexual harassment in the workplace and given the increasing reportage on “incidents” I think there is no such thing as “sort of consensual sex”. Sexual assault is not always an overtly violent act.

To see the trailer and more about the film

(“Working Woman” Director Michael Aviad, 2018, Israel, 93 Minutes, Shows May 5 at Cineplex Empress Walk at 8:30 p.m. and May 6 at 9 p.m. at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Theatre).

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