I'M A WOMAN DIRECTOR: How I Learned to Love Being the Boss

You could point to the male dominated industry, glass ceiling, misogyny, etc., but really, I wonder if some of us are prematurely discounting ourselves?
Publish date:
March 27, 2013
career, sexism, directors, boss

I love being the Boss.

When I was in 5th grade I cajoled my entire class into "working" for me. I created a series of books in the spirit of "The Babysitter's Club" and "The Boxcar Children" titled, "The Karen and Misty Adventures."

The books centered on a feisty, animal-loving, crime solver (based on me) and her little black dog, Misty (based on my dog). I wrote book #1, strangely titled, "Goodbye Misty?" about bad guys trying to take Misty because they claimed Karen stolen her. But! Our hero did some serious sleuthing and it turned out that Misty was actually the descendent of some very powerful dogs from some long gone monarchy and the crooks wanted to cash in. Of course, Karen stopped them and the two went barking off into the sunset, ready for the next adventure.

After I wrote this first novel, to set the tone for the series, I coerced my class into writing all subsequent installations.

I relished that during Writing Workshop hour, I would sit at my desk and my classmates -- the cool kids, the pretty girls, the smelly kids, the soccer players -- would all reverently come to me and pitch stories for the series. I would okay their stories or tell them things like, "Misty can run really fast, yes, but not faster than a horse. Make the horse a character. But it can't talk." or "Karen can't get a boyfriend yet, switch with Gwen, and you can be book #5."

OK, maybe I was a snotty little 5th grader on a power trip, but it felt GOOD to be the Boss, even if my teacher hated that I'd brought this plague upon her class.

The day Mrs. Ward stood up in exasperation and proclaimed to the class, "NO MORE KAREN AND MISTY! STOP WRITING THEM!" was, and is, one of the best days of my life. I was the creator of a banned book series!

Fast forward 13 or so years and I find myself as the Boss again.

This time I'm starting graduate school in directing for theatre. It was and still is, very much a "boy's club". When I started my degree, I was the only woman director in the program and the first woman they had admitted into the program in something like eight years. As I'd always been primarily educated by men, and worked for men, and worked alongside men, I thought very little of it. This was the way this world was, suck as it may.

However, my thoughts changed when on the first day of one of my first classes, my stony-eyed, disinterested directing professor said to me, "I don't let women into this program often. The last one I let in, I kicked out…she kept crying. Women directors don't do so well."


Even thinking on those words now, years later, I am stilled filled with rage and shock. But I'm grateful for those words. They got me off of my complacent ass.

I spent the next few years in the department, basically trying to prove him wrong. Not the healthiest or most effective way to do business, but it evolved into something else.

I learned to own it. Own being a woman in charge and everything that comes with it -- tears included. Own that I will never be "one of the boys" and that I can't aspire to be. Own the scrutiny of being the Boss and that if the ship goes down, the fault will be on me. I was never one to hide behind others, but I realized that I couldn't hide behind my own sex either.

Eden Sher writes, in questioning why there aren't more women directors in the film and television industry:

I know lots of smart, capable women with hopes of working as actresses, but almost none who want to be directors. In fact, when I ask these smart, capable women actress friends if they've ever considered directing, the response is invariably along the lines of, "Directing? I don't think I could handle that." These are not women who are typically meek or lacking in confidence, but for some reason they consider themselves ill-equipped to be in charge. I was shocked when my one friend bursting with energy told me explicitly, "I'm terrible at telling people what to do. I could never do it. Just seems like a lot of confrontation." Over and over I found that they all have the desire to be creative and get involved in some way behind the camera (they all "would love to write something some day, y'know, maybe help produce or something"), but are eager to forfeit the position of The Boss.

Why is it that women are often caught in the trap, and I've been guilty of this too, of being in charge, but only up to a point?

I suppose you could point to the male dominated industry, glass ceiling, misogyny, etc., but really, I wonder if some of us are prematurely discounting ourselves?

Is it fear of conflict? Fear that you'll let everyone down? Worry that you will be somehow seen as less feminine if you're the captain of the ship? I have yet to meet a woman who cannot handle these issues.

I'm not saying I'm some perfect example. I have a solid directing career that is primarily in theatre, in some ways a kinder place, but I'm edging my way into the film world. I'm not helming a hit television series or a blockbuster movie, but, call it ego, an inflated sense of self or simply confidence, I believe I am capable of it.

And yes, it sucks sometimes. Sometimes I doubt myself every step of the way. Sometimes I want someone to tell me what to do. Sometimes I see the doubt, of the man or woman I'm working for, creep into their eyes and I have the terrified thoughts, "What if they're right? What if I'm an imposter? What if I don't belong in charge?"

But the truth of the matter is I AM in charge. I've put myself there when I'm directing. I've taken on that responsibility and sink or swim or drown I've raised my hand and said, "Yes! I will do it!" and I sure as shit better deliver. It can be a horrifying place to be and I'm sure I've shortened my life significantly through stress and anxiety, but at the end of the day I am not thinking about my gender or whether or not I should be there, I'm thinking about what must be done.

The question I've been asked time and time again is, "What do you want?" be it in the rehearsal room or in life. Maybe it's my argumentative nature, but I've always taken those words as a challenge. "If you want it, make it happen. YOU MUST."

I will never question a woman's competency at her chosen profession, but I do challenge women to never take a backseat. Be the Boss. Failure is inevitable and it can be glorious, don't let that be a deterrent to chasing what you want.

Sher goes on to say:

I don't doubt the existence of tons of young girls who want nothing more than to tell everyone around them what to do and direct their hearts out; they just need endless role models and encouragement. If more girls felt encouraged to rise to the top, if they saw people similar to them in positions of power, if they felt they could belong in an Executive Producer or Director position, maybe they would grow up to be directors hiring (and inspiring) more women.

…We need to make the movies we want to make and tell the stories we want to tell. Women make up half the population — it is imperative for girls to understand how awesome they are and how much they are capable of, to not be scared, because sharing ourselves and our points of view is crucial to keeping the world in balance.

We DO belong. We MUST tell our stories. And I want, with all that is woman in me, to help pave the way for women to be the Boss.