I recently finished reading Dorothy Sue Cobble’s The Other Women’s Movement, all about women working to fight for workers’ rights while simultaneously fighting for women’s rights in the United States. An eye-opener, so many women were instrumental in fighting exploitation in the workplace for all workers (Esther Peterson, Kitty Ellickson, among others), including African American women who fought against gender and racial discrimination as well as rights for the working class. (Addie Wyatt, Maida Springer-Kemp, among others).
As a member of unions who have helped make sure that there are basic safety and decent working conditions in place, I know what a difference collective action can make. SAG-AFTRA and Actors Equity may be complex bureaucratic institutions but my work as an actor would have been much less pleasant or perhaps not even possible without them.
Not to mention the work that currently helps me to pay the bills (high end catering) which would not have been possible without those women who fought in that arena. As Cobble notes, “Waitresses historically had respected men’s claims to certain strata of food service jobs – those involving liquor service or formal dinner service, for example,” and it was only a select few who fought to change the status quo. As much as I may not be a fan of French service I am glad I am paid to do it! It helped me to pay for my filmmaking degree after all.
Which brings me to my appreciation for those women currently working to fight for female filmmakers in the DGA – Maria Giese and Lexi Alexander have both spoken out about the plight of women directors despite any potential backlash toward their own work as directors. The first time I saw Lexi in a panel and she spoke of the #HireTheseWomen campaign and solving the problem, not just talking about it, I was inspired. She introduced me to Maria who has been instrumental in helping me with my project on female filmmakers.
Today I listened to a replay of a Diane Rehm podcast about women in Hollywood. In it, Nicole Kidman described sitting at a table with Meryl Streep and other women in the industry including an agent who pointed out that what is needed is a girls club to counter the Hollywood boys club – where actresses can insist on working with female directors – and, in turn, female producers hire those directors. The ACLU is working on it. Women with a certain amount of power are not only talking about it but also doing things to change things (Helen Mirren, Selma Hayek, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman). Perhaps all of this talk is leading somewhere… perhaps things may be different in labor in the days to come. It was a fight for the 40-hour work week, for safety regulations and for women in the airline industry to not get fired if they had children, got married or exceeded the ripe age of 30.
This Labor Day I want to thank all those who fought before and those who continue to fight today for women’s rights and basic rights for all.