For as long as I can remember I have been jealous of other women. I’ve envied their success, their beauty, their style, their intelligence, their bodies, their talent, their smiles. I honestly grew up afraid that every powerful, kick-ass woman I encountered was actively encroaching on my space and contributing to my own inadequacy. I didn’t understand how I could possibly be expected to thrive with all these awesome women crowding me out.
Like 99.9% of young girls, I have spent a lifetime buying into the lies of the diet industry, the beauty industry, the fashion industry, all of which rely on the unshakable belief that all other women have their shit together and are frolicking through life laughing whilst you cry in the dressing room of Zara because you can’t squish your breasts in to their stupid beautiful clothes. I have been spoon-fed a belief system that there is a certain way to look and exist as a woman and that my life should be dedicated to achieving that ideal weight, that glowing skin, that effortless style and that it should look easy as fuck. I have hidden my shame at struggling and isolated myself from my female cohorts for fear of being weak and I have lived by the awful mantra that once I achieve perfection THEN I will settle myself into a group of exceptional women that will be my tribe - but only then.
As an actor I listened endlessly to the words of warning, so familiar to anyone starting out in this business, that ‘not everyone will make it’, and that because of the sheer volume of actors some of us might never work. At all. When you partner that with the endless cry for more roles for women, I, and countless others, suddenly saw my female friends morph into rivals. It would be a fight to the death for the few female characters remaining. A bit like the X Factor six chair challenge.
And then last year I had a revelation. I had barely any close female friends. And now I was jealous of all the female friendships other girls had. Those bitches. I couldn’t work it out at first: I tried so hard to be liked, to the point of obnoxious people pleasing - why didn’t I have a gaggle of incredible girls around me? Of course it’s obvious why. I couldn’t develop deep, trusting, honest relationships with these awesome women if I was threatened by their very awesomeness. I could only go skin deep. I needed to make a change.
Instead of sticking all these incredible women on one very crowded pedestal - with me below looking up at them with adoration and longing, feeling beneath them - perhaps I could turn that pedestal into a platform and start celebrating. Most importantly, I could get them talking honestly and openly, and just maybe, I’ll find I wasn’t alone in the ‘Hunger Games’ mentality this world is relying on. Because whilst we continue to lust after each other’s thigh gaps, new hairstyles and fringe theatre jobs, we’re distracted. Our attention isn’t on the real issues that need sorting, the big conversations that need to get started. While we’re distracted with envying each other, we’re not envying the boys; we’re just so grateful whenever we get to be included at all, and I don’t know about you, but when those rare moments of inclusion come about I find myself endlessly petrified that I’ll be found wanting, that my reputation will be tarnished, that I'll be labelled one of the many dirty words reserved for us girls: “STRONG PERSONALITY”, “OPINIONATED”, “VOCAL” and the dreaded “I’VE HEARD SHE’S REALLY DIFFICULT”. I’ve had my fair share of these labels and I have let them beat me down, a little further each time. So here’s my idea. I want to reclaim each term and wear it as a badge of honor (next to a 50/50 equal representation badge).
So I decided to create “Bloody Difficult: Women in Theatre”, a series of written interviews with women working across the theatre industry, providing a safe space in which to share their experiences, promoting honest and authentic communication and encouraging a celebration of each other and themselves. I want to challenge women to speak bravely and honestly without fear of breaking rules or how they may appear. I want women to speak out where before they may have stayed quiet, and as more women share their stories I hope to show others that they are not alone. I want to talk about shame and expose it, because shame cannot exist in the light. I want to get women communicating with each other, asking each other questions they wish would be asked of them. I want them to feel safe. I want them to feel great in themselves. I want them to feel proud.
All of which is bloody difficult.
To hear the stories of other women in theatre, click here.