I want to talk a bit about gender. It’s going to be binary, because I’m going to be talking about my life, and I’ve rarely interacted (in person) with people who do not identify as male or female. And really, I’m not really talking about gender fully. I’m talking about women. I’ve been thinking a lot about women, lately. Specifically their influences on me. Specifically how blessed I am to have so many strong, opinionated, ambitious women throughout my working life.
I work in a costume shop. For 95% of my adult life, I have worked in costume shops. At least ten different shops. Some of them (including my current shop!), have been staffed with only women. Most of them with women, gay men (who are definitely not women, but also bring different power-dynamics to a shop), and the occasional straight man. But we’re not going to talk about him. The whole world talks about him.
I’m going to say something that I don’t think gets said a lot: it’s really nice. It is really nice to work in a room of all women, day-in-and-day out. I’m serious. (And I think it’s sad that I have to say that I’m serious.)
I also love working with female designers, and assistant designers, directors, and actresses.
They all inspire me.
From the directors, I hear how to make my opinions known. How to believe they are valuable. How to be forceful.
From the designers, I learn collaboration. How to have a vision, and to bend other (very opinionated) people’s visions to my own. Or how to adjust. When to compromise, when to step back or forward.
From the actresses, I understand bodies. Our relationships to our bodies. I see how I can both hate and love how I look, simultaneously. I see how to flirt with a look–the tilt of the head, a smile–and I know how valuable flirtation is. How powerful and how harmless and how it really (usually) has nothing to do with sexual interest at all.
But it is from the other women in the shop that I learn the most, that I glean the most from. Tricks of the trade, of course. Little hints about working with leather or cutting chiffon. But it’s so much more than that. I learn about life, about navigating it as a woman. About how straightforward that is, and how tricksy too.
From the women who are older than me, I find courage and hope. Even though life will be rough (and it will, at times, be really rough), I can make it through. They did. And the scars they bear make them stronger, fiercer, more beautiful.
The ones who are younger than me (and there are more of those every year!), remind me what it was like to have a whole world in front of me and what it was like to have to make huge, giant decisions for the first time. They remind how scary that was, and how glad I am to be past my 20s. They also remind me that the huge, giant decisions that I’m making now aren’t irrevocable. Life isn’t a long line with only two divergences: good or bad. It’s twisty. And the right decision now may not be the right decision for always, but that’s the beauty of it. As long as you’re living, there are many more choices (and giant decisions) ahead.
I suppose that is true for all people, but it feels different somehow when I look at a young woman trying to decide between career paths, and family, and love, and the myriad of other things that go into decision-making.
I’m not naive. It’s not all daisies and tea parties and heart-to-hearts whilst hemming petticoats or boning corsets. I’ve disliked some of the individual women I’ve worked with. And some of them, have hated me. Some of them have been cruel to me, have worked to make my worklife harder. These thoughts are generalizations. Obviously, not all women fit into the categories I’ve described. Not all of my experiences with female directors, designers, actresses, or shop staff have been pleasant.
Sometimes, working with a room full of women–it can be annoying. When my department is overlooked or ignored or paid less than the other production departments, it’s annoying. When I’m told I would be prettier if I only did X, it’s annoying. When my menstrual cycle is pulled (yet again) to someone else’s schedule, it’s super annoying.
But mostly? Working with women is amazing. And I don’t think that gets talked about very much.
I didn’t connect the fact that choosing costumes would mean working with women most of the time. If I’d known when I was 22, I might have made a different decision. I wasn’t particularly fond of women then. I liked to bash my gender right along with the next girl who thought she was above it all. But now, at (just about) 32, I’m grateful and I wouldn’t change that aspect of this career for the world.
Afterall, there is a reason I chose a grad school situated on a women’s college, staffed primarily by female academics and writers, attended mostly by female students.
When I need inspiration? When I need help? I turn to the women.