May 15, 20120 Comments

I have a weekend job that takes me out of the dervish-whirl of being an artist-person. It’s structured and soothing and human and about other people. It calms me down rather than excites and tests and ennervates me. Don’t get me wrong – my relationship with acting is the longest love affair I have had, and I get great joy from it. It will always be no.1.  Being a massage therapist on a psych ward is not something I thought would feed me or draw me in the way it does. Its a serious job, but it’s my bit on the side.  Circumventially, it also brings me back to acting in the way that’s always worked for me – heart-centred, black-humoured, casually dressed.

I am a happy worker in the entertainment industry  – any angst I feel is usually to do with not working – and I have had the good fortune to work, for the most part, with ensemble-minded, collaborative souls who share the same idea – that teamwork and process are just as important as product.  Today I remember why.

As you might imagine for LA, some of my massage clients in the psych centre are from the industry. And one thing that seems to come up again and again is that people in TV are stressed out of their minds,  literally.  The weight of personal judgement and condemnation in the world of network seems to crush the souls of the some of the most creative sparks we have. Why is it that in some Orwellian pockets in the TV industry, bad behaviour, bullying and humiliation seem to go unchecked like this? That we as the creative community don’t have a better creative solution for it?  And I want to know what our menfolk think when they witness this between 2 women, and when they intervene.

I have always managed to avoid much exposure to politics, being a freelance actor – until I toured for 6 months around Europe with Oliver Twist, and experienced bullying personally, an ugly business.  As a result, I have a feeling that this kind of toxic behaviour suits up when it comes to women. Nasty competitiveness is not gender specific, but I suspect a stealth in my own brood, a quality of subtle undermining that comes out at its very worst in sectors of the entertainment industry where opportunities for women are scarce and advancement is extremely protracted.  When our system registers threat, some darker strands of our DNA kick in. I feel it to be encouraged by societal conditioning, rather than born entirely from it, and I’d really like to be wrong.

The day I sat down to write this, Corey Madden sent me her piece entitled ‘That Bitch, Corey Madden’ which details not just her account of being called a bitch from her boss, a woman with less experience and 20 years her junior, but the toxic backstabbing, undermining and humiliation that preceded it.  Read it in full here – http://theannoyancefactor.blogspot.com/2012/05/that-bitch-corey-madden.html

She cites evolutionary biologist, Anne Campbell:

 “One way women can compete without risking their safety or compromising their lives is through acts that ostracize, stigmatize and otherwise exclude others from social interaction without risking direct physical confrontation.”

It suggests that women prefer to gossip, bitch and backstab, or go deep undercover to sabotage, to make it so difficult for their adversary to succeed or be comfortably themselves that they make them shrink and wither – thus removing all threat this way first.  It reveals that when the word bitch is thrown directly a la face, that it really is a last resort, when all other attempts to malign reputation have failed.  ‘Bitch!’ only blows the froth from your cappuccino into your glasses after you’ve baked a shit in a pie and fed it to her.

At my level, whilst I see a stale misogyny and misunderstanding of women in the scripts that line my recycling bins, I experience support, camaraderie and a great sense of each other’s value from the more powerful women and men in my profession. Maybe I’m not much of a threat. But also I’m an actress and expect my path to be completely my own and subject to constant unpredictably. If I worked in TV production I might expect a slightly more traditional set of rules for advancement, and so compete differently. Further up the ladder there appears to be fertile ground for change for how other females are treated from within as game-changing opportunities are rare, and the stakes higher.

A middle school teacher told me she sees the capability to strategically shun comes in between 12 and 13 years of age. ‘It wasn’t that we ignored Melody on the way to math..but that we just didn’t chose to walk with her’.. and I hear the term ‘relational aggression’ for the first time.  At that age, it defines the world of these girls, but as mature women we are conditioned to think we are above and beyond the way it can cut, or that we never feel this way anymore.  But why is it legitimised in well-funded TV more than anywhere else?  I am willing to bet that the product that we sit down to watch is all the poorer for it.   A PA told me last night that from her perspective on a studio lot, this behaviour is endemic, but finding a way to nip this culture before people end up in a pysch facility is everyone’s job. What can we do about it as audiences?

From here, I will continue to insist that perspective and kindness are resume qualities, if my survival instincts are ever thus aroused.  And to remember that whilst supporting the underdog is a story I know and love well, the overlord – or rather overlady – can be more terrified, as there seems to be so much more to lose.  At the giddy heights I am yet to attain, I will embrace a different kind of success.  We’ll have a cream pie fight every Friday and get it out in the open. Oh….I’ll just have to get HR to check who baked the pies first.

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