‘A Room Full Of Testosterone’: On Toxic Men, Ignoring Abuse, And How Best Friends Are The New Bystanders

Men walking down the street together
Unsplash / Kari Shea

It was late on Wednesday night when I read the New York Times interview with the Arrested Development cast. I was scrolling through my phone before bed, glancing through a handful of articles, but it was the only one that made me pause. After reading and re-reading the interview, I turned off my phone and tried to go to sleep. I couldn’t.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that something felt off. And it wasn’t just because the cast had so candidly discussed Jeffery Tambor and the way he’d treated Jessica Walter during filming (“In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set,” Walter confessed). No, it was another quote that stuck in my mind, echoing in my head as I failed to fall asleep:

“I want you to say in the article, there’s so much testosterone in this room.”

It was another Walter quote, said long before the cast began discussing the allegations against Tambor. She’d mentioned it jokingly after a sarcastic comment from costar Will Arnett, but it had still resonated with me deeply as I’d read the article that showed Walter’s male costars offering Tambor a plethora of support — and her so little.

I understand what it’s like to be in a room full of testosterone. For a while, I was nearly the only woman in an otherwise male friend group. I was, they often joked, the “token female.” Most of the time, I didn’t mind it. Many of the men I hung out with offered new viewpoints and did their best to empathize with my own. I always felt strangely proud when they proved they could see things from the female perspective, because try, they did. But one thing I failed to see was that there was a difference between trying to empathize and truly understanding. I wouldn’t realize that until Eric came along.

He was a friend of a friend and by far the crudest person I’d ever met. Within the first hour of our meeting, he’d made a handful of sexist jokes, intrusive comments, and borderline-racist remarks. I smiled politely throughout the conversation while glancing awkwardly around at my friends. Didn’t they find any of his comments weird? Was I the only one who felt off?

I brought it up to one of them later. He shrugged off my concern. “But isn’t he funny?” he said. “He’s goes a little far, but I love him.”

I could understand that, at least. I had my fair share of friendships with people who were often misunderstood, who I found myself constantly defending to others. Who was I to judge?

As Eric began to spend more time with us, I began to grow unfazed by his jokes. They were, at best, all for shock value. I began averting my eyes when he said something uncomfortable and pretending I didn’t hear him when I thought he was being offensive, even when others continued to laugh. Perhaps it was because I’d grown so unperturbed that his jokes quickly found a new target.

The first one I remember clearly was when he rewrote pieces of an erotical novel in a group chat for our friends to read. The most notable change? He had swapped the main character’s name to my own. The group chat filled with “hahaha”s, with similar amendments to the text, with jokes and laughing emojis and at least one “Oh wow.”

“This makes me a little uncomfortable,” I admitted to the same friend I had voiced my concerns to before. But again, he brushed it off. “It’s just a joke,” he told me. “He’s not actually being mean. It’s funny.”

But I didn’t find it funny then, and I didn’t find it funny later when, in the same group chat, he went on to graphically describe sex acts he believed I’d done. I didn’t find it funny when, loudly in front of an entire restaurant, he asked, “So, who’re you fucking now?” I didn’t find it funny when he started making jokes about about my period and my supposed sex toys and how he wanted to send me one as a joke. And yet, for some reason, everyone else kept laughing.

Once, when it was too much to take, I left the group chat altogether. When one friend texted to ask if I was okay, I explained I couldn’t deal with Eric’s pointed blow job comments anymore.

“I guess I get that,” he said. And compared to the others, I truly think he did. But when I reentered the group chat a week or so later, I saw that no one had spoken up in my defense. They had noted my absence and then continued on with the conversation as if nothing had happened at all. The friend I had confided in never spoke of it again.

And perhaps that’s why my stomach rolled when the male stars of Arrested Development stood up for Jeffrey Tambor so steadfastly in the New York Times interview. That’s why I cringed when he said he wouldn’t film another season unless Tambor was involved, despite the sexual harassment allegations, or when Tony Hale claimed they “all had moments” similar to Tambor’s. That’s why I felt the uncomfortable pressure in my chest when Bateman explained that Tambor’s attitude was just part of show business, no harm, no foul. In a room full of testosterone, only one person spoke up in Walter’s defense.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable,” said Alia Shawkat, the only other woman in the room. “And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.”

That was another thing that resonated with me. Just as I had Jeffrey Tambors in my life, I had Alia Shawkats, too. Their voices, like Shawkat’s, were often drowned out by the Batemans, the Hales, the Tambors who did nothing but undermine their concerns. In a room full of testosterone, there hardly seemed to be any room to speak.

Looking back now, I realize that while my male friends cared about me, they chose to continue supporting Eric instead of taking his harassment seriously. They, like the men of Arrested Development, became bystanders — people who saw the harassment but chose to ignore it, who knew it was wrong and didn’t do a thing. Perhaps it was because they were all ignoring it, because it was easier to laugh with the others than for one to stand up and say, “Hey, this isn’t okay.” Or maybe it was because they each saw the others act as if it were okay, they figured it must be. On the worst days, I wondered if they thought anything was wrong with it at all. Was I just a silly girl who complained about silly things?

In the middle of the New York Times article, as the men continued to loudly vocalize their support Tambor, Walter said she realized then that she had to forgive him. “I have to let go of being angry at him,” she said, later adding to Tambor, “I have to give you a chance to, you know, for us to be friends again.”

I was in that place once, sitting in a room full of testosterone, listening to men tell me time and time again that I was taking things too seriously, that the hurt and anger I felt was unjustified. There were plenty of times I gave in and forgave Eric, times I hung out with him even after I voiced my concerns to others. I told myself I had to let it go. It felt wrong not to. Even today, so many years later, there are times it feels wrong not to.

But I’m not that woman anymore. At least, I’m trying not to be. Somewhere down the line, I grew too tired of bottling everything in. I could no longer breathe. In a room full of testosterone, I stood up, turned my back to my friends as they had so often done to me, and opened the goddamn door. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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