When BuzzFeed writer Susan Cheng set out to interview Mad Men star Paul Johansson in advance of the series finale, her encounter with the actor didn’t go at all as she expected.
Cheng reports that while putting the final touches on her interview questions, she left the former One Tree Hill star with three female colleagues to make small talk. He did one better, with a little self-proclaimed “flirting.” When her coworker replied to his questions as to how she got so tan by explaining she plays a lot of tennis, the actor remarked, “I’ll serve the ball right down your throat,” and proceeded to tell her he would like to take her into his cave and “put her on her back.”
As the interview progressed, he put his hand on Cheng’s back while she worked at her computer, mentioned he was “sweating like a rapist” under the fluorescent studio lights, and asked her if she ever takes people into an adjoining office to “make out.”
Cheng admits she and her coworkers didn’t tell him how uncomfortable the comments made them, but she did reach out to him after the interview. What she got in reply was a letter from his attorney.
Johansson’s lawyer claimed all his quotations were taken out of context, and accused BuzzFeed of “trying to exploit the popularity and excitement surrounding the Mad Men series finale by publishing yet another story about one of the show’s stars this season.” All claims that his comments were inappropriate were dubbed “absurd.” Apparently, he was just doing impressions of the pervy characters, such as sexual harasser Ferg Donnelly, he had played in the past.
In the hallway. After the interview was over. OK.
As always, when a woman speaks out about being treated poorly by a man, Cheng is receiving a great deal of backlash. I’m not here to speculate about the legality of what Johansson said or didn’t say. What matters is that his comments made several women feel uncomfortable while they were trying to do their jobs. Is that illegal? Not necessarily. Does it make him kind of a creeper? Uh, yes. Yes it does.
Where is his apology? Or how about, “Oh, that’s not at all how I meant it! I can see now why you took it that way. I must have misread the situation.” But Johansson doesn’t think he did anything wrong. That’s the scary part. Four women were bothered by his comments and behavior, and his reply is basically, “Well, you shouldn’t have been.”
When women report being harassed, telling them to develop a thicker skin is beyond dismissive. It’s an excuse to keep up whatever behavior you want without remembering that we are all responsible for our words and the damage they do. Claiming she did this for clicks — because BuzzFeed is struggling with that? — or fame is laughable. Contrary to popular belief, there is very little to be gained by putting yourself on the line with accusations of harassment or sexual assault. All you get is public shaming and side eye. Look how quick people are to dismiss the claims of over 30 women that Bill Cosby drugged and raped them. Oh, females. Always ganging up, trying to destroy a good man’s name for funsies.
I hope this is a wake-up call for Johansson and other men in positions of power who view women — especially those in the workplace — as extras in the porno of their lives. Susan Cheng is not here to stroke your ego, sir, and she is not the one whose attitude needs changing.