This is a guest post by L Jean Schwartz.
Occasionally recently I’ve wondered, “Am I being bossy?” I’m a writer/director/producer, currently crowdfunding for my first feature film The Average Girl’s Guide to Suicide, and the sole manager of the LLC for our film. So, I am a boss. (Not like this, but a bit like a #bosswitch). But as Sheryl Sandberg’s Ban Bossy campaign states, “When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a ‘leader.’ Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded ‘bossy.’” As a 28-year-old, I can vouch that it’s not just little girls that are affected by “bossy.” I’m trying to Ban Bossy in my own brain (or accept that I am a boss and it’s OK if I’m “bossy”) and it got me thinking about our society’s gender expectations and how they can hold all of us back.
In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, she writes that according to society’s rules women have to “be willing to stay as small, sweet, and quiet as possible, and use our time and talent to look pretty.” This made me laugh out loud, because A) I have often felt pressure to be as small, sweet, and quiet as possible, and use my time and talents to look pretty, and B) as a director you generally should not try to be as small, sweet, and quiet as possible or use your time or talents to look pretty. It’s not bad to be small/sweet/quiet/pretty if that’s your nature, but forcing yourself to be as small or quiet as possible is rarely conducive to getting a movie made. Personally I’m not small, not often quiet, I try to be kind (but not saccharin sweet), and I’m no beauty queen. As we’ve been expanding our team, talking to more people about the film, and crowdfunding, I’m constantly running into the societal expectations embedded in my brain. Self-promotion is not small, sweet, or quiet. Making a dark comedy about suicide is not small, sweet, or quiet. Asking people for money is not small, sweet or quiet.[caption id="attachment_20541" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Behind the scenes of making the teaser video for The Average Girl’s Guide to Suicide.[/caption]
Luckily I’m not alone in this struggle. Brené Brown writes: “…every successful woman whom I’ve interviewed has talked to be about the sometimes daily struggle to push past ‘the rules’ so she can assert herself, advocate for her ideas, and feel comfortable with her power and gifts.” If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you can relate also. Think about how incongruous it is for female CEOs, doctors, or fighter pilots to be concerned with being small/sweet/quiet/pretty. I hope you just laughed. Perhaps the next time you feel pressure in your own life to be small/sweet/quiet/pretty, remind yourself of that laugh you just had.
Women aren’t the only ones who are hampered by society’s expectations; “the rules” for men can be just as suffocating as “the rules” for women. According to Brown these expectations for men can be summed up as: don’t be wrong, don’t be weak, and don’t show fear. If men step outside those lines, they are often shamed. The more I’ve leaned into leadership roles, the more I’ve felt these expectations too and they aren’t fun. Recently I felt so scared about whether we would hit our crowdfunding campaign goal, and felt like I needed to keep a brave face for everyone else and not show my fear. Then I realized the trap I was falling into. I’m lucky to have friends and family who are there for me, and even several friends who have told me that the middle of a crowdfunding is a terrifying desert. Getting support from friends and family and remembering that I’m not alone help me get out of shame spirals.[caption id="attachment_20542" align="aligncenter" width="500"] The ever-inspiring Brené Brown.[/caption]
There have been several articles recently critiquing the concept of “Strong Female Characters.” The problem isn’t with realistic female characters who show resilience, but instead to women who are…basically dudes. From one such article: “A female character simply having typically masculine traits doesn’t necessarily strengthen her; it only promotes the view that men are the strong ones in the world, and that to be strong means to emulate them.” I would also argue that in real life, to be strong women we don’t need to try to be strong men. I’ve been that girl: trying to be stronger, tougher, and more foul-mouthed than the guys, and it’s exhausting. Because though I can be strong, tough, and sometimes rather foul-mouthed, I am also very empathetic, caring and sensitive. Trying to be as strong and tough as possible doesn’t leave room for empathetic and sensitive, and I believe it’s better to embrace your true nature rather than fake another. A friend has a poster that to me has good examples of how letting go of gender norms can ease the burden on both genders. I look forward to a world where we can accept and celebrate men and women equally for their sensitivity as well as their strength.
Recently there’s a new strong feminine heroine: the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She encourages others to pursue their dreams, and determinedly pursues her own. She likes helping people, she’s good at it, and she also takes care of herself. She’s strong because when she gets knocked down, she gets back up. Kimmy Schmidt shows that being kind, optimistic, and supportive can be part of being strong.[caption id="attachment_20543" align="aligncenter" width="500"] A little rain won’t stop the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt![/caption]
As a woman and a writer, it’s encouraging to see strong and empathetic characters. My film is about a young woman’s journey to accept herself and create a life she wants to live, and it took several years of working on the script (and “doing the work” in my life) to really understand what self-acceptance feels like. It’s easier to write about a character accepting herself than to accept myself, and it’s still something I work on every day. I love how fictional characters can help teach us in our real lives, and my characters continue to teach me. They push me and challenge me to be as brave as they are, and I hope they can inspire you too.
L Jean Schwartz makes comedies about things you’re not supposed to laugh about, such as LOVELY STALKING YOU, IN SEARCH OF MY FIRST EX-HUSBAND, and THE AVERAGE GIRL’S GUIDE TO SUICIDE. Hailing from San Clemente, California, she fell in love with filmmaking when she made a behind-the-scenes documentary about the film BRICK at age 17. She’s a graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and is currently crowdfunding for her first feature film.