Sexism

There is much I could share about the editing process of my book, but there’s a more important topic on my mind today.

Sexism.

Yesterday’s Humans of New York post has sent ripples through the internet. Please read it if you haven’t. Try to forget who it is about. Just listen to her story.

As a young woman, I never really thought about sexism, and didn’t really see it as an issue. When I arrived in Hollywood, I began to see things differently. When I applied to be a teleprompter operator, I was flat out told that it wasn’t a woman’s job, because you had to carry heavy equipment and have mechanical ability to trouble-shoot problems. I convinced him to let me observe a shoot. The male prompter operator was not so sexist, and offered to train me on the job. He reported back that I was good, and the man who discouraged me would get past his stereotypes and hire me. A year later he told me, “From now on I’m going to hire more women, because you do a great job, there’s not so much ego, and you get along with clients so much better.” Granted, this was still subtle sexism, because I had been trained as a woman to be submissive and he liked it. Still, it opened a door, and today there are many, many women in the job. In fact, today it might be considered more of a woman’s job.

However, going out on shoots, I still got a lot of men on the crew saying, “Honey, (or sweetie) can I help you carry that?”  At first it annoyed me, and then one day I realized, if they’re so stupid to want to do my work, let them. Though, after a few days on a job, when the men saw how strong, smart, and competent I was, not only did the offers of help stop, but so did the condescending titles. Very often friendships could then begin.

When I landed a network job, my supervisor, who was a woman, talked about the sexism in television and at the networks. I scoffed. Surely talent and hard work would overcome. Wouldn’t they want the best person in the job?

The resounding answer to that was, “NO!”

Hollywood, in general, could care less about talent. Half of the graduates from film school are women, yet less than 2% of major films are directed by women. You see, when those in charge are men, and their favorite after-work activity is going to a strip club together, or maybe if they’re a little more evolved, the cigar bar, there is no opportunity to bond with anyone other than men. And when a position opens up, who do you think the man in power is going to hire… the quiet, hard-working, efficient employee they don’t really know or the guy they’ve misogynistically bonded with after work? Women are fine to have around, as long as they stay in their place, and make their superiors look good.

And then there’s the other messages women get. I was once told, “You’re so dramatic!” And when my response was to glare back, he added, “What? That wasn’t an insult.”

Right.

Because we so often hear men saying, “You know what I love? A dramatic woman.” No, that was a not-so-subtle way to tell me to control my emotions and be more acceptable to men.

Then there was the time I watched a group of male coworkers smugly patting themselves on the back for “playing the game” and getting ahead. They weren’t feeling proud of their talent, hard work, or creativity. No, they were suck-ups, and thought that was awesome. Inside I was laughing because not five minutes before they were complaining about the person in charge who had done the same thing. No experience, no real talent for the job, but he sucked his way up to the top, and was now in charge.

And people wonder why there’s nothing but super-hero movies and remakes coming out of Hollywood these days.

I don’t.

For too long men have been the default standard and women had to contort ourselves and measure up to them. Men won’t admit this; much like conservative whites can’t see that their culture is the default standard, and minorities have to contort themselves to try to measure up and fit in.

There’s a part of me that is taking great pleasure in being alive at this time in history, as women come into their power and stop looking to men for permission to do so. I remember one of my bosses complaining about how he felt marginalized and unrepresented. Oh, poor baby. For the past few years you haven’t felt like a king in his castle. Try it for a few thousands years, then get back to us.

So men… your time is over and ours is coming. At least you’ll benefit from the fact that we have a lot less ego, and get along with people better. And maybe if you meet our standards, we’ll even give you the respect and equality you never gave us.

 

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One Year Later

A year ago around this time, I ended a stress-filled life in Los Angeles with a mega-stressful day. First there was a rushed packing job, followed by running late and getting stuck in Friday night rush hour traffic out of the city. As soon as it got dark rain started to fall, and I had to navigate Phoenix through windshield wipers, squinting against the wet, reflective roads, all while my cats cried for a home that no longer existed. One particularly stressed cat turned into a devil-cat and delayed my start the next day by hiding so well it took several hours to discover her wedged under a filing cabinet. I don’t want to relive that 24-hour period any time soon, and thankfully I’ve settled in nicely here, so I shouldn’t have to.

My leap over the chasm was a strong, solid leap. I can’t say I’ve landed safely on the other side, but at the very least, I’m gliding comfortably, still waiting to see just how things turn out. So far the view has been delighful. From time to time, someone will ask if I miss LA or the life I had there. The answer is still, “no,” though it doesn’t rush out of me quite like it used to.

Recently I’ve seen interviews with two other survivors of late night, though they are just a little bit more famous than I am – David Letterman (my old boss via WWP) and Jon Stewart (briefly my boss when he filled in for a week hosting the show). Despite our different levels of success, I learned we’ve arrived in the same place.

In an interview with a local Montana paper, the Whitefish Review, David Letterman said about his career, “you believe that what you are doing is of great importance and that it is affecting mankind wall-to-wall. And then when you get out of it you realize, oh, well, that wasn’t true at all. It was just silliness. And when that occurred to me, I felt so much better and I realized, geez, I don’t think I care that much about television anymore. I feel foolish for having been misguided by my own ego for so many years.”

And Jon Stewart realized the same thing. In a recent interview on The Axe Files he was asked if he missed what he did, and the summary of his response was that he did not. That while he was in “the soup” he thought what he did was important, but once out, he saw the world differently. He pointed out that only LA and New York foster that kind of arrogance. To me, that says nothing about the cities and everything about the entertainment industry that operates in those towns.

Compared to me, both of those men are extremely fortunate, not just becasue they walked away from their careers financially secure, but because they didn’t have their awakening until they were out of the business. I saw the truth while I was still in it, and I had to go to work every day knowing I was contributing to this massive lie. That caused serious stress, and seeing the people around me buy into it only made it worse.

You see, the worship of celebrities in our culture ensures that self-importance and entitlement isn’t just a problem for the stars, it trickles down to everyone working in the business, and it gets reinforced every time someone gets excited over what you do. It’s like being the popular kid in class, and you really start to believe you are cooler than the other kids. We know behind the scenes stuff that they report on entertainment shows. We know famous people. Famous people know us. Everybody wants to work in the entertainment industry, but we actualy did it… aren’t we special!

Not really, no.

Whether it was because I was thinking of the anniversary of my leaving that life, or just one of those things, I got triggered a few weeks ago by an old memory. It sent me spiraling into shame. From shame, came sadness, from sadness came fear. I was afraid that nothing had really changed. I was afraid I was delusional and that there is little to no chance I can earn even a modest living as a writer. In a few years I will be broke, and the end of this story will be me in a pile at the bottom of my chasm. Negative, fearful thoughts filled my mind, just like they did in LA. It seems that no matter where I choose to live, I am going to die an unfulfilled failure.

Thankfully, now that I am in a healthier, more supportive environment, this funk lasted days, not weeks, months, or years. A few kind words, a lack of being poked and prodded by new jabs, and a conscious effort to focus on the positive brought me back to myself.

Sitting in my backyard, enjoying a warm breeze on a sunny day, I looked at the deep green that surrounded me and the blue sky above. I thought of the beautiful life I’ve built here. I thought of my job – contributing to the health and well-being of people, and also being a small part of a program that drastically improves the lives of Parkinson’s patients. I remembered all the good friends who reach out to steady me when I stumble. I thought of how full my life is, and realized, whether or not I ever earn a cent from my writing, I can never be called a failure.

To put it in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is Success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

No longer misguided by my ego, I’m successful in the ways that really matter.

Cheers to Dave, Jon, and I for surviving television and finding our way back to life.

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