In the wake of numerous sexual harassment and assault allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, Martha Stewart opened up to PEOPLE about her experience with harassment in the industry.
Stewart’s own encounter came when she was 16-years-old working as a model and attending a “go-see” audition for a job.
“I was asked to wear a bikini under my clothes. I thought, ‘Oh, maybe we’re doing a beach commercial or something,'” she recalls to PEOPLE exclusively. “So I go into the room and there’s a table with all men sitting around it and it’s an advertisement agency, I can’t remember which one it was. They said, ‘Now you can take your clothes off,’ and I said, ‘Oh, is this where are we doing the commercial? Are we wearing bikinis in the commercial.’ They said, ‘No, but as long as you’re here we might as well see what you look like.’ I thought that was harassment of the first order.”
Though she was only in high school, the media mogul, now 76, says she had her “own radar out already” and was able to stop the situation before she felt even more uncomfortable. “I just walked out of the room. I said, ‘I’m sorry, gentleman. This is not what I’m here for.’ And I left,” she says. “That’s harassment, but there’s other kinds of harassment.”
Stewart credits her confidence in the situation to having strong parents growing up. “Encouraging your children that they can do anything they want is good to reinforcing their own sense of self and self-worth,” she says. “I think that’s terribly important.”
She decided to share her story now in hopes of inspiring other women to stand up for themselves. “I think women just have to understand that you can say no,” she says. “You can walk out of a room. It might hurt your career so you’ll find something better somewhere else.”
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Stewart is one of thousands of women sharing their experiences with sexual harassment after several celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angeline Jolie made allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein.
The scandal first erupted after an initial report from the New York Times, which stated that Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women who accused him of inappropriate behavior, including actress Rose McGowan. McGowan later used Twitter to make vocal statements against Weinstein and had her account temporarily suspended for violating Twitter’s terms and policies.
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“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” Milano wrote on Twitter.
In response to the lengthy allegations made against Weinstein, a spokesperson for the movie mogul said, “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.” A source told PEOPLE he has since checked into a luxury resort in Arizona.