For too much of my career, “a day without a woman” in the TV writers’ room just meant I was out sick. Today, for various reasons, I couldn’t go on strike for International Women’s Day. My boss (me) was sympathetic to the cause but also freaking out about a fast-approaching deadline for a book.
Still, I wanted to show solidarity by wearing red. So, first thing this morning, I opened up my shirt drawer and learned something about myself: I don’t wear red.
I found a single red t-shirt from Canadian brand Roots that displayed a large insignia on front featuring two beavers. That seemed a little too on the nose. The insignia also included the word “Canada” and while I may move there yet, I’m still pulling for America.
It’s been a bit chilly in Santa Monica (chilly = 60 degrees) so I turned to the shelf where I keep my sweaters. Instantly, I spotted my fix: a bright red light cashmere pullover with a big white heart. It was cutesy, not really my style, but the sweater was in my closet for a very specific reason.
A few years ago, I was a writer/producer on a TV show with a challenging writers’ room. There were daily aggressions: macro, micro and everything in between. It hurt my heart to be sitting in a room pitching dialogue for a female guest star when a male colleague might suddenly interrupt saying, “And then the dumb bitch says…”
I get it. It’s hard to remember the name of every guest actress. I once worked with a director of photography who called every female on the set “sweetie pie.” There’s a director who still calls me “young lady” even though I’m in my fifties. Still, at the risk of being hyper-sensitive, casually referring to an actress as a “dumb bitch” strikes me as rude and dismissive.
As the only high-level woman on that staff, I felt responsible for pointing out sexism in the writers’ room. This did not make me popular. Not only did the men roll their eyes, but the lower-level women distanced themselves from me, too. I started feeling unwelcome at my job. Then, one weekend, I saw this heart sweater in a store window and it called to me. If there’d been a soundtrack to this moment, Dionne Warwick would’ve been singing, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.”
I tried it on and the cashmere felt like a soft hug. Taking it off, I checked out the brand: Banjo & Matilda. I’d never heard of them, but the logo perfectly reflected the situation: a grinning poison skull with a heart shape for an eye socket. The tagline below read, “Life is beautiful.” Then, under that, another tagline insisted, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
As I walked into the office that Monday, my choice of sweater was more than a fashion statement. It felt like an emotional plea. I decided to conduct an experiment: Would wearing my heart not on my sleeve but literally on my chest encourage my colleagues to be nicer?
It did! One of my male coworkers even remarked that he liked the sweater, so I had proof he noticed. Of course, my experiment lacked scientific rigor. You can’t extrapolate from a sample size of one. But over the course of many months, anecdotally, I could conclude that it helps to remind people that we all have hearts and we should use them.
So, today, when I pulled this same red sweater on, I had two thoughts: (1) When women return to the office tomorrow from striking, I hope they are greeted with the respect and kindness they deserve, and (2) my god, this needs a dry cleaning. (I wear it a lot.)
Nell Scovell is a TV writer/director. She has written for The Simpsons, NCIS and was the creator/show-runner of ABC’s Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. She can be found at on Twitter. on Twitter.
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