Last night I went to a Women in Film-Chicago event where Ruth Ratny, creator of Reel Chicago, spoke about women helping other women. What follows are my thoughts on helping other women and breaking down the barriers that prevent gender equality in the film and media industries.
“We need to work smarter, not harder,” Ruth explained in relation to women surpassing males in the workplace. This is true; a “hard” woman will shut out other women to protect her own position, prevent them from excelling, and ultimately, be a cog in the wheel that is our patriarchal culture. A “smart” woman will not fear an up-and-coming industry star–in fact, she will encourage her, mentor her, or at the very least, be a helping hand.
Ruth noted that while men hire their “buddies,” women shut out other women out of insecurity. These insecurities are possessed by all victims of the 2012 economy but are exacerbated by a predominantly female desire to overcompensate for our heightened emotional intelligence–an emotional intelligence that, in the professional field, can be perceived as weakness.
As a woman, I do not believe that emotional intelligence suggests weakness; on the contrary. Emotional intelligence is a valuable skill that allows you to read body language, mannerisms, and tone of voice. This is a vital skill in the professional field, and trains you in the art of “perfect timing.” Yes, it’s likely women possess this skill set as an adaptation to motherhood; mothers read their children in order to find out what they need before they can even speak! The skill surpasses the infant stage and continues through teenage years when the kid at risk of sheer stupidity. At this time, it is the mother’s duty to read her teenager, understand his/her inner turmoil, and do her best to prevent him/her from getting into a sticky situation that could impact the rest of his/her life.
If you have ever been in a relationship with a woman, this situation should sound familiar:
Man: “What’s wrong?”
Ask yourself: what is upsetting the woman in the above conversation, given the context? If your answer is “nothing,” then congratulations–you are a man. You live in a world where your receive preferential treatment in every vein. However, you may also consider yourself emotionally-retarded. Being able to see past the surface of words to the meaning behind those words is a skill that the grand majority of woman possess and a minority of men possess.
Being a man, you may expect the woman to verbalize exactly how she feels. However, that is simply not the female way. And why should we conform to the male way? Just as we women cannot expect men to understand our words are often spoken in code, men cannot expect women to speak exactly that which they mean. So there needs to be some kind of compromise here.
Why do I mention all that in the scope of women in the workplace? I don’t know, it just seemed relevant. It’s not just men who get fed up with speaking in code; its women as well! Women can turn on other women for this fact of life; I’m sure we’ve all heard some female, at some point, say: “Ugh, I hate girls. All of my friends are guys.” All cards on the table-I’ve even said that before, and it was a lapse in judgment. To all the women who say that now: congratulations! You enjoy spending time around people who are nice to you because they want to have sex with you. If you surround yourself with people like this, ultimately you will find yourself cold and alone.
From an evolutionary perspective, being able to befriend women is a huge advantage. In groups, you are protected, and I’m just talking pure “safety in numbers” right now. Show up at a bar alone and men will think you’re there for them; show up with a posse, and most men will be too intimidated to bother you with sexual advances. Get rejected by a lone woman and you may try again–hey, what’s she gonna do about it? But get rejected by a woman with four female friends, and you’ll receive five dirty looks that’ll shame you out of the bar.
Furthermore, befriending women has an empowering effect on all women, for in numbers, you also have power. To divide women is to disarm women, the same way that to unite men is to create an army. We have many divisive forces in American society: the fashion industry, women’s magazines, advertising, and hypersexualized female characters in film and tv serve to undermine real women’s success every day. For women working within these industries, such as myself, your moral beliefs can be put at odds with the task at hand–after all, sex sells, but what woman really wants to sell sex? As Ruth Ratny discussed, a key difference between men and women is that men monetize everything. For men, everything is about money. A male advertising executive will sell sex and see dollar signs while a woman will sell sex and see the destruction and ostracism of a gender.
Take this classic beer commercial as an example:
A man sitting at a bar turns his head to see a thin, beautiful, made-up woman strutting towards him with the beer of choice. Male takeaway: “hot women and beer-yes please!” Female takeaway: “how can I become as desirable as this woman?” Or even worse: “I am irrelevant because the only thing that matters is an appearance I do not posses.” This is a HUGE problem, because here you have a woman reading a man-made commercial in code when it was originally written, and meant to be read, in plain english. Women code and decode everything; it is in our nature, it protects us from making poor decisions and choosing untrustworthy partners. I consider this coding process the infamous “female intuition”; it is an energy flow that stays with me 24/7, that I have trained myself to be in touch with, and that I always, always trust. I have not once regretted following this “intuition.” The trick- and this is pivotal for compromising language with men– is to recognize which situations require this sort of decoding and coding. Both men and women can and should know this about the opposite gender.
I digress. As it is, there are so many things to consider when it comes to gender roles as they exist, let alone how they play out in the advertising and media industries. My head fills up with these considerations constantly as I go through my life, my career, and my relationships. For every question answered, a new question springs up. It’s impossible to answer all the questions in one lifetime. It’s impossible to try to absorb answers from those who lived before you, because real knowledge comes only from experience. So we’re stuck in a bit of a catch 22…but hope is not lost! Read on for the moral of my story.
There is only one takeaway from this conversation that is absolute and concrete: You, a smart woman, will help other women. You will not judge nor criticize them for their womanhood. Other smart women will respect that, respect you, and in turn help other women climb the professional ranks. The more women in power there are, the more they can help other women, and the more likely women are in general to take each other and themselves more seriously. And it goes on-the more women take themselves and other women seriously, the more men will take women seriously because they can see our confidence and self-assuredness. And there you have it–men are no longer hiring “buddies” over capable women. You mustn’t harden yourself, and you MUST “smart-en” yourself. Get smart, ladies. If you’re a woman in power, look for female ambition around you. I guarantee you will find it in every corner.