David Letterman, we haven’t forgotten about you and your staff member-diddling ways! Nell Scovell, the second female ever hired to write for “Late Night with David Letterman” recently penned a piece for Vanity Fair‘s website alleging that sex between high-level male and lower-level female staffers led to a “hostile” work environment:
“Without naming names or digging up decades-old dirt, let’s address the pertinent questions. Did Dave hit on me? No. Did he pay me enough extra attention that it was noted by another writer? Yes. Was I aware of rumors that Dave was having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Was I aware that other high-level male employees were having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Did these female staffers have access to information and wield power disproportionate to their job titles? Yes. Did that create a hostile work environment? Yes. Did I believe these female staffers were benefiting professionally from their personal relationships? Yes. Did that make me feel demeaned? Completely. Did I say anything at the time? Sadly, no. Here’s what I did: I walked away from my dream job.
Well, I can’t disagree with Scovell’s point that “sexual favoritism” is unfair to women in the workplace who aren’t sleeping with male superiors. It makes me think I was perhaps a bit too far-reaching when I roundly argued a few weeks ago that Letterman’s dalliances are not a feminist issue.
However, Scovell herself seems to admit that sexual favoritism will probably always exist at work—and as many have argued, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since so many people find their wives or husbands there. But Scovell’s prescription for change, which I wholeheartedly support, is that sexism would be diminished if the workplace diversified, i.e., if the few women on staff didn’t feel compelled to hook up with men in charge in order to get ahead or stay afloat. She urged Letterman “to hire some qualified female writers and then treat them with respect. And that goes for Jay and Conan, too.” The problem, she believes, is one of mindset: Male writers at these late-night talk shows don’t want to include more women because it’ll cramp their style:
“Male writers don’t want to be judged in the [writer's] room. They want to be able to scarf an entire bag of potato chips while cracking fart jokes and making lewd comments without fear of feminine disapproval.
Yeah, that’s got to go. And it’s absolutely Letterman’s fault if his writing room is excluding talented female joke writers. Now that Scovell’s taken to Vanity Fair to blow the top off his boys’ club, the onus is on him to address it. (A minor hypocrisy point, though: A few years ago, Vanity Fair published a sexist article by writer Christopher Hitchens called “Why Women Aren’t Funny.” Now, suddenly, the magazine is coming to the aid of funny women?)
At the end of the day, I believe what journalist Jennifer Senior wrote in New York about David Letterman and his girlfriends:
“Anyone familiar with the politics of office life knows that a boss’s crush can determine the course of some lucky guy or gal’s career. It may not be fair, but it’s no more or less fair than so many other biases and dynamics that affect workplace advancement (nepotism, prep-school connections, grudge matches, sycophancy, that ineffable thing where the boss sees a younger version of him- or herself). The only difference is that crushes are often easier to spot.
Do you agree or disagree? Does Nell Scovell’s exposé change how you feel about Letterman’s inter-office affairs?