Parenting From The Wings: Celebrating Broadway's Women and Empowering Girls with Honesty
Sunday March 8 was International Women's Day and Broadway social media accounts feted their female stars, who themselves have been posting to each other throughout Women's History Month. It is great to be bombarded with photos of these successful women. And, hopefully, it is inspiring to young girls with Broadway dreams. It is equally important, especially for tweens and teens, to see these women being supportive not tearing each other down.
I don't know at what age people turn the corner from cruelly competitive to supportive, or at least civil. I'm sure that some people never mature and, conversely, others are never cutthroat. But it certainly seems like there's a comradery among young girls and many women working as adults, but-even in these times of high-profile, social media messaging to lift each other up -the teen and tween years do not bring out the best in young women off stage. It doesn't make life easier in a professional world that will already be difficult.
For my daughter and those performers, especially those who have fallen victim to the faux friendships or dressing room drama, what I wish this Women's History Month-as much as equity in their lifetime-is a little bit of honesty from the adults around them about their desired profession.
A career in theater is going to be hard. It's going to be harder than it is for the boys your age in a lot of ways. There are more of you. There are more expectations placed on you. There are more judgments made of you. That doesn't mean quit. It doesn't mean to be bitter or become some kind of backstage gossip in a what-else-can-I-do effort. But it does mean to be prepared for what's likely coming, to understand the double-standard, to guard against its impact. Persist but recognize when you need a rest.
There is no doubt that the stage is powerful. Women on Broadway can give girls a reason to believe. They can play roles that bring heroic women to life. And, of course, there are great songs by women that are anthems to female empowerment. On International Women's Day, Laura Heywood crowdsourced on Twitter to create a Spotify playlist of favorites that includes Me and the Sky from Come From Away, Defying Gravity from Wicked, I'd Rather Be Me from Mean Girls, and Land of Lola from Kinky Boots.
You stand a little taller, feel a little stronger and sing a little louder just listening to these songs. In some cases, don't think too hard about the circumstances that set up the song or what comes after, just let the moment take the lead and carry that feeling into the real world rife with double standards.
We tell young girls to stand up for themselves, but don't prepare them for all of the possible consequences. Nor do we do as we say, often deciding to swallow an issue as to not upset an agent or someone who might be casting a show in the future. We tell them to be their authentic selves without warning that not everyone will be so welcoming of every quirk.
We talk about kindness and try to downplay how much looks matter more for girls and women. Despite progress, a check through Backstage audition notices shows calls that are literally for "pretty" girls. And those who aren't classically beautiful deal with microaggressions at every turn. I've heard a makeup artist tell an 11-year-old that she'd shade her nose for photos but "you can get that fixed," and cringed through more than a few moments when girls with tear-filled eyes try on costumes then play off their sadness, insecurities and discomfort in some self-deprecating way. One-size-fits-all is not a thing. Find a better way, even if you're on a budget.
Presentation matters more, too. Casting people still seem to lean toward the "pageant girl" (literally or figuratively), in part because she's poised but also because she enters a room well-coifed, every hair in place-a boy with a messy mop of hair is adorable or passionate, a girl with locks askew is simply disheveled.
Young women talented and lucky enough to make a career of it into adulthood will learn more.
In Frozen, Elsa belts her heart out, including the amazing Monster, only to have the audience explode into applause for the on-stage costume change into a fancier, more revealing dress.
For decades, abusive men have been tolerated for their "genius," while most women who create an issue are labeled divas and difficult. Those whose name recognition doesn't sell tickets won't get cast very much. Not saying that's wrong. Behavior should have consequences, but those consequences still aren't evenly applied.
None of this is news and the goal of reiterating it is not to depress my daughter or anyone else. This is about setting up realistic expectations that create successful strategies. Pretending doesn't help. Believing motivational sayings at face value is not healthy.
Part of being empowered is being grounded in fact so you can find the best solutions, push in the right direction and not be left gutted by the actions of others. Part of successfully creating change-or just being a success-is anticipating what is coming and having a response that leaves them in the dust as you walk away singing.