International Woman's Day
When I took a job as a stage manager in the Middle East, I received a number of expected and generally terrible comments from my friends, neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. "Make sure you cover up - literally!" "You'll need this!" (said while handing me a head scarf). "You can wear any color you'd like out there, as long as it's black and covers your face!" "I hear you can drive over there now!" (That's Saudi Arabia, but nice try). "Watch out for Saudi princes, you're fair game and fresh meat!" But the one that stuck with me came from my father; "Be careful. Those local men aren't going to like a shrimpy, mouthy broad telling them what to do. I know it goes against your nature, but keep your mouth closed. Feminist is a dirty word out there."
And he's not wrong. Since being here I've heard a number of things to support him. "How dare you raise your voice to me. We need to discuss with your boss how you disrespected me!" "She's so blunt and loud. It's rude. What does she think she's doing?" "A woman stage manager?? Whoever heard of such a thing?"
But you know what else I've heard? Men defending me. Men of all races and nationalities telling the irate social media guy that he clearly doesn't know who he's talking to and if he thinks my boss has his back, he's got another thing coming, telling the band manager that I'm doing my job and I'm damn good at it, or pointing out that every stage at Global Village is managed by a woman so he'd best shut his mouth.
Sexism is not new. It is not new to me as a manager told to make the coffee for a meeting I'm running, as the intern told to wear a shorter skirt, as the apprentice told I must be sleeping with my director, as the producer told "I'm too pretty to be a producer" and that I'll surely find a husband soon. This is my life, this is my industry, this is my daily reality.
In the USA, I have been openly dismissed for my gender and not once has any man ever come to my defense. It has been a constant solo fight for a seat at the table, for my voice to be heard over the others. Even with the women in my corner, sometimes it is lonely as hell.
Here in the UAE, one of the lowest ranking countries for equal rights, I have never fought a single battle alone. I have never felt as though I was clawing tooth and nail against the men on my stage, in fact, I would say most of them are in my corner. It's a new, unfamiliar feeling, and I'm so grateful for it.
Not to say there aren't challenges. I have been quoted continuing to remind one of my supervisors that I'm not a dainty f-king flower and I can change CO2 tanks without his help. Visiting casts still try to take heavy props out of my hands and carry them for me. I have been told "I move like a boy" or "I forget you're a woman" as though it is the highest of praise. My concert sound guy cracked rude jokes in English for my benefit because "I'm one of the boys backstage". My male colleague has scolded me for doing safety walks that are "dangerous." "You're the freaking stage manager, send a minion!"
It's different here. It's a different culture, it's a different way to show respect. I've learned to accept that and accept that I am making a difference, I am surprising people, and I am changing people's mind. Maybe a few of these men won't be so quick to dismiss a woman in charge after dealing with me. If I've changed just one mind, I've done enough, more than my father expected.
Today I was told by men and women from Jordan, Columbia, India, UAE, UK, Africa, Pakistan, Bosnia and more to have a Happy Women's Day. I was called Super Woman more than once. Everyone was celebrating women and the women at our park loudly today. It was amazing.
In a country I was told I would never fit in, be respected, or celebrated, every day I am feeling exactly the opposite. I hope to take this back with me. I'm armed with the knowledge of how change and respect are supposed to feel and I will hold every job to a higher standard because of it.
Never the less, she persisted. I am a woman taking a stand with my sisters and I have never been prouder of what we have already and what we will accomplish together. ❤