I’m reluctant to make this my first blog posting, as it doesn’t have the chipper & uplifting feeling that’d I’d prefer my first post to have. But it is what’s been most prevalent in my mind lately and it does play a significant role in my career as a Set Decorator. It’s also currently (and historically) a political and social undercurrent in our lives.
WOMENS EQUALITY. There, I said it… I said it in caps! This has recently come up for me, in regards to work. It crept in as a slow frustration and somehow manifested as me being unbearably over-worked. It is blazingly clear that my career is becoming a strain on my emotions and my health. But WHY? Sure, I work on average 12-16 hour days, sometimes 7 days a week (has been known to happen in “below the line∗” jobs), but why, on the inside, was I having such a meltdown? I am an otherwise emotionally balanced and resilient woman. I have an amazing partner who’s nothing less than superbly supportive and the love and encouragement of my family.
After a lot of reading and soul searching, I came up with this… the problem is ME. I am the one who needs to self-advocate. I am the one who needs to draw the lines between work time and, well, anything-else-time. When it comes to my personal life and private relationships, I have no problem standing up for myself and putting my foot down. Nor do I hesitate to present my opinions or express my feelings. I consider myself to be someone who’s gone through her fair share of character shaping and skin thickening events. So why, when it comes to my career, do I have such problems with these things that seem to come so naturally to me at home?
Why does that little fat-faced demon called self-doubt hang around me at work?
The kicker is that I have no REAL reason to sell myself short the way I do. From the outside, most people would (and do) think of me as a successful. I was not handed anything in life. My upbringing was financially modest at best, and like so many others, my parents divorced and my mother struggled to keep us financially afloat. I was, in all honesty, dealt a not-so-great hand. But somehow I made it work; busted my butt, got a college degree, gained some financial independence, and landed a rather nice life for myself here in Los Angeles.
Living the dream some say, yet here I am, with those continually nagging voices of self-doubt and deep self-criticism. The type of criticisms and expectations that I would never subject anybody else to, because that would make me a completely unreasonable boss/friend/partner. Oh the double-standard! Despite all my phantom doubts, I am almost always on point in my career; creating environments, fleshing out scenes, and decorating spaces that my clients (for lack of a better term) are thrilled about.
But, I still don’t give myself the credit. I tend to negate my successes with thoughts and statements like…. “I got lucky” and, “I have a great team of people working with me”. While sometimes luck might come into play, majority of the time, it’s because I kept working, running the numbers, trudging away, and researching until I have made my own luck. And while it’s absolutely true that I have a fabulous team of creative people working for me, it must be considered that I bring these creatives together. I communicate the vision, delegate, relentlessly organize (which often feels like scooping water out of a sinking ship with a teaspoon), and am ultimately responsible for putting the look together. I also recognize and apply the importance of developing healthy and respectful working relationships.
I began searching for other set decorators (male or female) who might feel the way I do, but came up with very little. Perhaps other decorators don’t share my anxieties, maybe they’re just not comfortable revealing their own, or maybe they are impermeable super-persons with the unshaken confidence that I wish I had. I did however, find out that I am not alone in these feelings altogether, and that there seems to be an epidemic of women who consistently underrate and undercut their self worth in both the academic and corporate worlds.
I am one of millions of women that put themselves through unnecessary torture every day. I know now, that I have been taught these hyper critical habits by society and may even be genetically predisposed to them- i.e. putting everyone else’s needs before my own, trying to do it all / being a master multi-tasker, trying to please everyone, and avoiding conflict. In my defense, I may have been ever-so-slightly duped into thinking that the “arts” industries were different than the evil corporate machine. Majority of us in the arts, like to think of ourselves as non-discriminating progressive thinkers. We see all people (regardless of race, gender,etc) as equals, and we often have more liberal leanings. While some people truly are that way, film and television production began as an industry dominated by men. What is rarely admitted or talked about is how the old “boys club” STILL has a strong hold in the film and television world today, and that anyone identifying as female, is stuck trying to navigate her successes in a world where the playbook and its unspoken rules were written by men. I, in no way mean to sound ungrateful. I am lucky to live in a time where working in a creative field can be lucrative, or at least, put some extra cash in one’s pockets. But that doesn’t mean that I should be in denial about the “glass ceiling” that still exists even today.
As a slightly younger and female head of department, I am often at the receiving end of subtle yet undermining actions and/or implications from both my own crew members and members of other departments. They’re so subtle sometimes, that it wasn’t until recently that I started to recognize them. Notice I said YOUNG and FEMALE. In the past, I would have never singled out those adjectives by my own accord. At 34 years, I consider myself at a normal career age, but when you become the “boss” of six guys who are nearly twice your age and have been in the industry 3 times as long, they have a way of making sure you know, just how young and female you are. Even the men who claim they’re perfectly ok with you being their “boss”….. can be heard gritting their teeth when they have to answer to a younger female. Often times these messages are unintentional. Most people don’t even recognize that they’re sending or receiving them. But these messages subconsciously feed insecurities and the fight or flight response kicks in. Personally, I end up fighting myself by working harder, longer, and basically inhumane hours, until I’m completely burnt out and have a near meltdown.
There’s many self-help type books aimed to assist women and help them to recognize their self-worth, take the reigns of their careers, and establish themselves on the corporate career front. Even though these books contain techniques and advice that is probably best suited for more standardized corporate careers, I keep reading them and listening to their stories… Because, let’s face it, there’s a lot I can learn from these women and always more to discover about myself.
But, lately I’ve been disappointed by the lack of discussions that deal with women in less standardized careers, such as the arts. There must be others out there who want to step up and share their experiences – either good or bad – about navigating their way, through the turbulent, uncertain, and unstable paths of art and freelancing, while at the same time juggling the problems and set backs that have plagued women, because they’re women, throughout decades. In writing this post, I hope that women set decorators, artists, and creatives will share their thoughts and ideas so we all can become better equipped and consciously make healthier and more productive choices. In order to make “living the dream” a possibility, we as individuals and as a group need start setting better precedents!!! If not for yourself, then for women everywhere.
What do they say? Knowing is half the battle, right?
And for those of you who might be wondering… I have included a picture of my cat “Scabby” because I admire his lack of inhibitions and his ability to put it all out there.
Thanks for reading and I truly do look forward to hearing your stories,
Jennifer Lauricella, SDSA
I have recently read, Sheryl Sanbergs best seller “Lean-in” You’re probably thinking, “you JUST read it?!?” I know, I’m a little behind the times. But, in case you’re like me, I highly recommend this book to any female regardless of her age or status in life. It reveals the lesser talked about psychology and statistics behind being a “female” in our current times and how that can subconsciously affect our day to day choices… and our careers. Perhaps not everything in the book will apply to you (yet), but it’s format provides easy access and you can bounce around to read what resonates most with you. I’m going to resist my excitement and the inclination to start paraphrasing all of Sanbergs genius points and instead, cyber-nudge you to take some time to read the Lean In Book on Amazon and/or join a chapter of Lean In.org . If your not yet ready to commit, I can respect that, but definitely do not miss her TED talk titled Why we have too few women leaders.