The Myth of The Intimidating Woman-Hannah Roze-Lewis
A follow up to my ‘Language and Power’ blog post-
As women we often undersell ourselves. I know I’ve done this in the past because I worry about looking intimidating. I’m often busy and I almost always have things to post on social media (#lucky #blessed), yet I still hold on to the time my male boss told me I was intimidating even though my own judgement tells me I probably wasn’t. I think I’m quite shy, definitely on the quiet side, since Covid frankly I dislike most people (sorry not sorry), I smile and I’m quite – what-I-don’t-like-to-call-but-what-is-often-called ‘sweet’ – all in all, I’d have to try pretty hard to make anybody feel intimidated. It’s frustrating how as women we often apologise for our existence “I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re busy...” we quieten our own voices, we disempower ourselves out this desire to make other people more comfortable because so often that’s what we’ve been taught to do and so often that’s what feels safe. Perhaps what is intimidating is our ambition, our success, the fact we have something to say, the fact we use our voices at all. People don’t like to talk about misogyny or patriarchy, they’re unattractive as words and aren’t we past all that? As one man sighed, head in hand “not another feminist play” before falling asleep on the shoulder of a woman he didn’t know, who looked uncomfortable for the remaining 45 minutes. Surely as 21st Century women we can just move past all that, we pretty much have equality... right? Inequalities don’t disappear simply because people get tired of hearing about them and I don’t think we can ignore the streak of misogyny that runs through some of the “that’s just how the industry is” situations I talked about last time. Of course, it accompanies prejudice, racism, classism, all the inequalities that run deep throughout our industry and our training institutions and I find it disturbing that with all our powerful words and grasp of language these words (the accusations of prejudice, racism, classism, sexism) in particular are often hushed, often unsaid, often not spoken into recognition or, when they are, they go unheard.
Then there is competition. As a graduate I expected to break out onto the metaphorical field, Hunger Games style, to look around; where are the other brunettes let me shoot them with my crossbow! I didn’t want that reality, but I thought I’d be dodging angry-brunettes-who-could-be-in-a-period-drama left right and centre. It’s such a bizarre position to put us in; to encourage us to be ‘professional’ (read ‘not intimidating’) and then imply we’ll need to get our claws out to fight the other girls once the battle of actually getting a job kicks in. There’s an underlying tension for soon-to-be graduates, a sense that we’re all trying to run through a very small door at the same time, wondering which of us will make it and which will stagger away as collateral damage and, of course, nobody ever suggests we should rip out the door and make a bigger one because that simply isn’t how the industry is. The reality, as an actor several months out, couldn’t be more different. Perhaps Covid has created a friendlier space, but what overwhelms me most is the support, generosity, and kindness of other practitioners. I teamed up with two friends, ‘the unemployed brunettes’ as I affectionally called us and we sent each other castings. They got auditions from castings I sent and vice versa. Now, when a friend books a job, I feel elated, I toast them with Blue WKD out of a mug (I’m on a budget) and I beam with pride when I tell people. When we don’t work, we support each other with zoom chats and heavily reduced doughnuts. I really believe that supporting each other is another way to step into our power, to take back control. We’re told so often we have to be tough and ruthless, but you can be tough and kind simultaneously. We can find things to be happy about. Actors need support, we need friends, we need to look after ourselves and feel empowered and healthy. That’s what I love about Wicked Women – there’s no bullshit. We say things how they are, and we recognise that we’re humans rather than cogs in a wheel churning out work.
We’re women, we’re resilient, we’re fighting for what we want, we’re striving to improve and learn, and most importantly we’re in it together. I’m sure whoever we are protecting with the whole ‘that’s how the industry is’ rhetoric would love us to wallow in insecurity, we’re less of a threat that way and that keeps them safe. I’m excited by how being together, making theatre, collaborating, being... ‘intimidating’ has the power to shake things up. In a society where our government is not doing a great job of valuing the arts, it’s essential that we value ourselves.
Hannah is an actor and writer, and co director of feminist theatre company, The Moonlighters Collective, follow her on @HL_Roze & @Moonlighters_TC