Is This What It's Like to be a Man?
by Erin Bagwell
Founder of Feminist Wednesday
Director of Dream, Girl
There is a little voice I have in the back of my brain that is always talking. Often it’s saying: “Psst. People aren’t going to take you seriously. You’re too young, too blonde, too inexperienced.” When I go into a meeting I stress about what I should wear and how I will be perceived. When I am on the phone I stress about the high register of my voice. The little voice in the back of my brain says “Don’t wear that skirt. It’s too short, it’s too trendy, it’s too cute. He isn’t taking you seriously. She’s isn’t taking you seriously. You have no idea what you are doing. You don’t look like everyone else here.”
It’s always on. Always thinking and calculating and redistributing thoughts about how my little blonde face will be perceived, and it sucks. It’s exhausting and it’s terrible and it’s a waste of energy to worry about all these different facets, because at the end of the day I have no control over whether or not someone thinks of me in a certain way. I just have to hope I can be taken just as seriously as the men I sit at the table with, and pray whoever sits on the other side has worked with smart women before. However, something miraculous happened to me a few weeks ago that silenced this voice: I worked alongside women.
Dream, Girl is a documentary I am producing that focuses on the stories of female entrepreneurs. It’s a film that deals with trusting your inner voice and taking risks on yourself. It also looks at the gender biases women face in leadership roles. We interviewed over a dozen women for the film, and every single one of them wasn’t taken seriously at some point in her career because she was perceived as not being “smart/technical/savvy/strong/etc” enough to do the job. And for a lot of those women, these were the very presumptions and perceptions that pushed them to start their own business and create their own culture.
Because these topics are so personal I wanted to create an environment on the set of Dream, Girl where women felt comfortable to share their stories. So I hired a team of all female producers to execute the filming, audio engineering, and lighting of the film.
My production team was a brilliant group of feminists and filmmakers (you can meet them here) who came from a variety of different backgrounds. Our first day of filming I was really shocked by how seamless and immediate we collaborated together as a team. It was like we had all known each other before. Stressful moments were met with encouragement and support, and the team fell into a crazy groove that would last us throughout our month on set.
I suspected part of the reason for such immediate synchronicity was the fact that on most production sets, women are a rarity. Usually you are the only one. On my team everyone was a woman, and as such free to totally be themselves. This might not seem like a huge deal, but it was actually life changing. Everyone on our team had a purpose and a voice, which they felt comfortable with expressing each and every day. We were all part of the process, everyone mattered. At the end of interviewing a CEO I would open the floor up and the crew would ask questions. In between our first and second interviews we would all sit on the floor, eating our lunches together picnic style. Sometimes discussions of favorite founders, inspiring companies, or sexual harassment in the workplace would extend well into the evening after the cameras stopped rolling, snowballing into deep, meaningful conversations where we’d share and dissect each other’s experiences. These conversations where just as interesting as the ones we filmed.
On the last day of interviews I put our team on the other side of the camera, filming them while they shared advice they learned from their favorite CEOs, why being on an all female film team mattered, and more. I think Daisy Zhou, our lighting engineer, summed it up best: “I work in camera and G&E a lot so I’m most often times the only girl on set. And, it’s hard because I’m not only a girl but I’m small and skinny and I’m surrounded by dudes all the time who are doing heavy lifting and they immediately peg me as like, some bambi in the woods...So working on an all girl crew it just felt natural and I didn’t know what to do with it. Because I didn’t know what it felt like to not be on my toes all the time in terms of power relations. I had all this energy that I’m use to using that I didn’t have to use here, which is a beautiful thing because I shouldn’t have to use it.”
This was how a lot of us felt. All of a sudden we were taken seriously, we didn’t have to prove our expertise. That nagging little voice simply wasn’t there. We became the norm and all we had to do was be ourselves.
Then it hit me. Is this what it is like to be a man?
No voices, no second guessing, no doubt. What I was wearing or if I had makeup on didn’t matter. The range of my voice was of no consequence, no one cared how long my hair was or how short my skirt was. The only thing that mattered was doing amazing work. We were the experts. We made the rules. We got to be men for a month, and it was fucking awesome.