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Catherine Kodicek: We need celebrity activists to amplify quieter backstage voices

Carey Mulligan, Sophie Okonedo and Ruth Wilson are among the theatre stars who signed a Time’s Up letter ahead of the BAFTAs calling for action . Photos: Mark Brenner, Ed Miles, Pamela-Raith Carey Mulligan, Sophie Okonedo and Ruth Wilson are among the theatre stars who signed a Time’s Up letter ahead of the BAFTAs calling for action . Photos: Mark Brenner, Ed Miles, Pamela-Raith
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You would have to be living as a hermit to have missed the phenomenal renaissance of women’s movements.

While the #MeToo campaign started as a fight-back against sexual assault and harassment, #TimesUp is a reaction to the unequal treatment of women in Hollywood and the Women’s March is a response to Mr ‘Grab ’em by the pussy’ being elected President of the United States.

These powerful movements all began with prominent women speaking out and sharing their stories. In turn, other women were inspired to talk about their own experiences.

I was awestuck by the talented women wearing black at the BAFTAs, but I couldn’t fight a rising scepticism about the movement’s broader scope. What does prominent activism by bankable stars do for other women: the women no one is watching, the women who may have been working backstage at the BAFTAs, the women who, if they wore black to work every day, society wouldn’t notice?

Those of us fortunate enough to hold some power often gain rights, without realising it, at the expense of others who do not.

When celebrity actors (quite reasonably) fight for the right to job share or for a creche in the building – to balance their work/home life commitments – producers quickly acquiesce. It gives those producers public credibility, puts them on the right side of these movements and marks a visible step in the right direction.

But too often that first step is as far as they go. Having scored the win, those involved feel the job is done. There is no pressure on producers to offer the same benefits to others in the building without a public voice.

Costume professionals are overwhelmingly women and mostly freelance. Their roles are undervalued and, especially for dressers, there’s much potential for workplace abuse. Their only power comes from standing together and being open and honest with each other.

Part of the power of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements is this openness and courage. Dressers, wardrobe managers and costume makers need powerful women – including actors, producers and directors – to stand up for them.

We need women who demand dignity at work also to support a dresser who struggles to prevent an actor’s flirtation from getting out of control. We need actor-parents to remember that their backstage colleagues struggle just as hard to find time for their families.

And we need male advocates. Men who wear the Time’s Up badge have to live it as well as speak it. So when male producers allow high-powered women to role-share they have to commit to taking that idea to all areas of their business, even when there is no reputational or financial benefit to doing so.

Only collective pressure will make them act. Of course, all these women are capable of fighting their own battles. But it helps when those with a voice remember to amplify the many quieter voices who struggle to be heard.

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