For Sharon and Rob, being a true #MeToo ally is a Catastrophe


This season, Catastrophe’s central couple discover that actually protecting women in the workplace is easier said than done.

Episode 5 of Catastrophe‘s new season — its fourth and final — concerns sexism in the workplace. Sharon (Sharon Horgan) has a creepy new boss, Rob (Rob Delaney) has a good-ol’-boy misogynist new boss. Gross, infuriating things ensue, insults are hurled and big talk is made with little or no follow through. In other words, Catastrophe took on #MeToo in a way only Catastrophe could, and I mean that in the best possible way.

The main reason the episode succeeds is because it places both main characters in situations of workplace sexual harassment, but from opposite sides. Schoolteacher Sharon is harassed at her work, while pharmaceutical company exec Rob is the harasser at his.

The new headmaster of Sharon’s school is a bit odd but she doesn’t truly feel uncomfortable until he visits her classroom and plops down on her desk like they’ve been friends for years. When he leaves, she notices a moist patch where he’d been sitting. It turns out to be from a leak in the ceiling, but that doesn’t mean the dude hasn’t been crossing the line. He still makes pointed comments about how lovely Sharon’s blouses are. Its harassment that’s difficult to call out, or even fully address, because it’s so inoffensive on the surface.

As for Rob, he meets one of his company’s head honchos, James Cohen (Chris Noth), and they get along like gangbusters. But their camaraderie is one that’s instantly recognizable and stomach-churning to women. They joke around but their laughter comes to a grinding halt when Harita (Seeta Indrani), a female colleague and Rob’s direct superior, tries to join in.

They mock Harita’s sex life and act bored and put out when she tries to discuss business. Rob receives a promotion basically because Cohen likes him — but it’s for Harita’s job. In other words, a woman in a top position is forced out, only to be replaced by the man she initially hired. And it all comes down to, in Cohen’s eyes, Rob being a fun bro and Harita being a buzzkill (aka a serious woman).

In both situations, Sharon immediately realizes what’s going on while Rob is blissfully unaware. That’s not really a surprise: as a woman, Sharon has probably gone through this numerous times. As a straight cis man, Rob has never really had to be conscious of his gender at his work. Sure, he’s woke enough; he knows sexual harassment is a thing and is disgusted by it. But for him, it’s mostly been an abstract idea. For Sharon and most women, it’s a fairly common reality.

And often, workplace harassment — especially in its milder, less explicit forms — is something women just have to learn to live with. Sharon tells Rob about the moist patch and he asks what she’s going to do about it. “I dunno,” she says. “Be angry. Nothing.” For women who need to work and don’t have the resources or support system to fight back, feeling mad is basically the only option when they’re being sexually harassed.

Meanwhile, Rob is dubious of Sharon’s suspicions and is genuinely surprised when she calls him out on his own sexism. After attending a work dinner with Rob, Harita and Cohen, Sharon chastises her husband for “bullying” Harita, saying she’s “never seen [him] be so small.” Rob argues that he and Cohen were just telling jokes — funny jokes! — and that Harita is more than capable of handling herself.

But, once again, Sharon sees things clearly: Rob and Cohen’s treatment of Harita is on the same spectrum as her headmaster’s desk-sitting and comments about her appearance. It’s all sexual harassment. And even Rob, who considers himself a feminist good guy, can be a misogynist jerk.

This confrontation between the couple leads to both Sharon and Rob taking a stand, sort of. Sharon good-naturedly lets her boss know that he shouldn’t sit on her desk or compliment her clothing. He doesn’t argue or make excuses, but it’s obvious he’s none too pleased. His eyes are cold, all the air gets sucked out of the room and Sharon mentions later on that she’ll probably start looking for another job. Things will always be awkward between her and the headmaster, even if he manages to not be a creep. And of course, since he’s in the position of power, Sharon knows there’s little she can do to make her job bearable.

As for Rob, he turns down the promotion, telling Cohen he won’t betray Harita. Which is honestly good of him, but if Cohen truly wants Harita out, Rob’s newfound sense of loyalty isn’t going to stop him.

And for anyone thinking Sharon is the hero of this #MeToo-themed episode just because she understands first-hand how awful workplaces can be for women, prepare for Catastrophe to pull the rug out from under you. When Rob lets Sharon know he passed on the promotion in support of Harita, Sharon says she’s proud of him — before nonchalantly suggesting he let Cohen know he’s reconsidered and actually would like that promotion, please. Now facing a hostile work environment and a potential job search, Sharon wants some financial security. If that means her husband has to stab his (female) boss and mentor in the back and suck up to a chauvinist, then so be it.

“I just don’t think we can afford to be idealistic,” she says, “with our mortgage and credit-card debt, and, you know, you said you wanted your teeth whitened.”

This is basically the reprise of Sharon’s “Be angry. Nothing” comment from earlier in the episode. Sexism is systemic, especially at work, and she and Rob are complicit. If they’re forced to choose between themselves and a cause, they, as most people would, will pick themselves.

They abhor misogyny and are supportive #MeToo but won’t sacrifice their own position in order to be real allies. Catastrophe doesn’t glamorize that. But, like Rob and Sharon, it shrewdly acknowledges the staggering injustice of the modern world — as well as its place within it — and then decides to move on.

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