Smile Love | theunderargument.com

Smile Love

Smile Love | theunderargument.com

By Liv

How many times in a day does being a woman fuck with your job? I don't know about other industries or what it's like to work in them, but after nearly ten years in the one I've landed – buckle up, kids, it's storytime.

Fortunately for me, I'm living inside the gender tornado that tore through the film industry and began to shake up our snow globe sometime in 2017.

Is that fortunate?

I don't know. But what I do know is how much it has evolved me as a woman - and continuing to do so - and for that, I am grateful.

The thing is, how much is my self-indulged evolvement worth if I don't tell my stories? How much is anyone's evolvement even possible if we don't all tell our stories? The very essence of my personal growth has been mostly about finding the ability to speak, and more importantly, the ability to believe my own thoughts. I come from a family of catholic mentality; a family of non-speakers and passive-aggressive arguing, followed by aggressive silence and then a short sharp brush under the carpet.

It took me a shamefully long time to realise the existence of mould that can't escape. It may disperse invisibly around the room, but if you keep those windows locked tight, the mould has nowhere to go, and is left to cling between the walls and your possessions. If you're a neat freak, you may catch it before it spreads too far. But if you're busy and careless - carefree if you're cute about it - or if you actively cover the mess with more mess to avoid tackling it, you will definitely unearth an entire house worth's of possessions that have become unrecognisable and unsalvageable. All because you didn't let the tiny bouts of meaningless condensation out through the window and into the open air.

That's essentially what happened inside my head after a few years of being a young woman in the film industry.

It is those minute droplets of water that we must first acknowledge, and then learn to talk about. They seem like nothing on their own; sometimes you can't even see or feel them, but they gather in silence to conceive our demons, and demons thrive on mystery and uncertainty. This is why we must talk, and tell, and withhold judgement, and believe in the honesty of someone's pain so we can face these demons together, as an army, in order to consequently kick them in the dick.

Pun intention undeniable.

Some stories are big and painful and clearly hit the wrong thing at the wrong time. Others are small and feel insignificant, forgettable even. Those are worse because forgetting means you never address them or heal the hairline fractures they cause. For me, I had a damagingly slow realisation of the roots of those hairline fractures that were running straight through my inner voice and slowly infiltrating the things I said to myself every single day.  I hadn't realised that the reason I questioned myself on how I look and how I hold myself and the way I spoke to people had actually stemmed from any day that I was internalising feeling a little "off" about something private, and that a mouthy electrician barked in my face that "you're never fully dressed without a smile".

In one swift sentence he has insulted my face, disregarded my mental state, cared only for his own absorption of happiness, laid the responsibility on my appearance for the benefit of his own day, and made me imagine myself only half-dressed and extremely vulnerable whilst rushing to get my breakfast at 6:50am. Consequently, I am now frowning with my bad thoughts, which ultimately will add fuel to the unsolicited commentators' fire, and no doubt I will receive similar orders to "smile, love" throughout the day.

I am now worrying about the "elevens" between my eyebrows. Should I get Botox soon? I'd better cheer up and start smiling in case it gets back to my boss that I'm not friendly enough on stressful days. Hopefully, she takes me to her next job so I can pay for the face paralysis, so people don't think I'm mad at them all day.

I wrote that about two years ago.

Welcome to 2020.

Our snow globe is well and truly shook. The world has since descended into an apocalypse. We've been in our houses for five months, which must have been gruelling for so many people. Fortunately for me, the worst thing about my lockdown circumstance was the industry-wide shutdown and zero government help. I'm not being facetious. I still count myself lucky here because my home life is supportive and, more to the point, fun.

I spent five glorious months hanging out, getting drunk and sunbathing with my two roommates. It's been the ultimate school summer with the added bonus of no parents and better drugs. Fuckin' a.

I went back to work on a one-day contract, doing my regular job as an onset costume standby. For those of you who aren't unfortunate enough to be in this quicksand we call the film industry, this basically means I spend all day on set, with about 50-70 crew members, most of whom white and male. All of these men think their job is the most important, and I spend the day navigating through this maze of misogyny, trying to make sure actors don't throw up on themselves, break their jewellery, or accidentally tie their shoelaces together. In effect... I'm a glorified babysitter. It's fun, really. We all chat, have a laugh, make friends, sometimes more. Who knows what each job will bring? It's all part and parcel of the game, and we all live for it. We really do.

A few weeks before the job starts you receive what we call a "unit list". This is literally a list of all of the people on the crew and their job title. Along with phone numbers and email addresses. Essentially, it's a list you check to see how many of your mates are on it.

Then you scan it again to check for people you hate.

Then you check it a third time for people you've shagged. I can't see any other reason for sending out this information, but I'm glad that they do.

What it is not is a fucking dating app. And if you use it to text a woman you don't know to try and hit on her - go and hurt yourself.

Okay, so, five months in my lovely flat with my one female housemate and my one gay housemate. Quite possibly the least threatening household in existence. Five months of watching the world collapse. Five months of seeing exactly how racist, abusive, corrupt, and truly fucking frightening the world really is. Five months of my own independent, uninterrupted thoughts. Five months without misogyny, sexual abuse, unwanted attention, and generally not being told what to do, how to behave, what to wear, what to say and how I shouldn't say it.

Five months knowing I wasn't going to be in a position where I'd have to try and think of ways to get out of having unwanted sex. By the way, "I don't want to" is still not a good enough answer for too many men. But that's a story for a different day.

Let's rewind for context. When I was a 19 years old rebellious and bored dancer in art school, I got a rather big tattoo on the back of my left calf. Then I got one on my shin a few months later. Then another on my Achilles. That one still hurts, I'm sure.

By the time I was 23 I was still a rebellious dancer in art school discovering my identity, and my legs were quite covered.

I'm now 32 and although my legs are more covered than not, in the grand scheme of my body, I'm definitely more clean skin than tatted. Every single one of them was and is about my self0expression, demonstrating my own conviction of who I am. I often got asked "won't you get bored of them?"

No, mum's friend Sandra, I'm confident enough to have made these decisions knowing that I won't get bored of myself. People just love trying to inflict you with their own insecurities.

Sadly, I've never felt like anything but a spectacle. As if I just walked into my day job at the freak show in Coney Island. I didn't think I needed to say this but apparently, I do - my skin is mine. I don't look like this for any reason other than I wanted to do it for myself. Same reason people buy into fashion trends. Same reason people dye their hair. Same reason people grow beards.

For myself.

It is not your skin.

They're not your tattoos. You cannot touch me; you cannot shout at me. You cannot call me Nice Tatts because that's not my name. In the same vein, adding the word "sexy", "hot" or "fit" doesn't make it any better. It's rude, derogatory, and downright belittling. It makes me uncomfortable.

YOU make me uncomfortable.

"Yeah, but you must expect it. I mean look at yourself, people are going to stare."

I mean, of course, I also think every single person gets what they deserve because of their appearance. You're right, it is all my fault. Fuck you.

I suppose it's because I have a few tattoos that I awoke to an actor I was working with in my bedroom doorway having broken into my house whilst on a drug bender. Had him lie on my body so heavily that I couldn't even move a shoulder. I'll never know who let him into my flat because nobody was there. I was trapped and terrified, but I guess it was all on me because I've got tattoos. A year later, I read on the news that several very similar allegations had come out against him. I still felt like I couldn't say anything because I'm not an actor, and nobody (especially the press) cares about the trauma of someone they don't know about versus a beloved A-lister. Another year went by and I found out he was acquitted due to insufficient evidence. I still punish myself. I hope so badly that the girls he hurt have healed. I'm not sure that I have.

I suppose it's because I have a few tattoos that I've been forced into having sex by a HoD much older than myself, because ten times saying "no" meant I actually did want it. Yes, that is rape, by the way.

I suppose it's because I have a few tattoos that a significantly older man (another actor) tried to force me to leave a party early in order to share a 5-minute cab ride as we "lived near each other", and consequently punished me for the next 4 months for not going with him. Punished me in the most manipulative way by repeatedly sabotaging his costume, and consequently, my job, then outwardly blaming me in the most aggressive manner. I'm not a crier but some days I'd be stood on set with my eyes streaming waiting for him to throw his coat at me again or have him scream "where is that stupid costume girl?".

It's definitely my fault that another HoD waited until THE NEXT MORNING to tell me that not only did he have a girlfriend but he also lived with her. The icing on the cake on that one is that I was the one who got slut shamed by his mate several years later.

I'm sure it's also my fault when they refuse to wear a condom because "it's hot" - oh okay, are you going to have the abortion or am I? Do men even consider for one second the mental and physical trauma women go through terminating unwanted pregnancies? Like has anyone told them how much it hurts and how much it can scar some women for life? Using the word "hot" doesn't make any of that go away, and the ten minutes of bang-average sex wasn't worth it either.

The list goes on, sadly, and I'd rather not dig too deeply for fear of what I might unearth. I've worked for too long to be able to function with all of this living inside me. What makes it worse is that I honestly felt like everything that's ever happened was all my fault because that's the narrative I was fed from day one in the industry - "Olivia be careful how much you're seen speaking to the men on set or people will get the wrong impression about you. It doesn't look good for a girl like you to make friends with everyone like that."

"A girl like me…" what does that even mean? Unless she meant "someone who gets fetishised", I still don't know.

I honestly couldn't tell anyone that any of this shit happened at the time because I was terrified and convinced I'd lose my job and all other jobs after that.

Before I move on, I should mention a rule I created for myself dating from when a certain creepy comedian complained about my legs to my boss.

The rule being: cover them up for the first week, at least.

My worst nightmare is starting a job during a heatwave because I can't deal with first day at school vibes with the added bonus of 20 men finding excuses to come and talk at me while staring at my legs as I'm trying to do my job.

A job none of them think is remotely important or necessary, by the way. The number of times a day we get asked "do you even do anything?" is quite outrageous considering we start before them, finish after them (upwards of 12 hours a day) and get paid the least. It's so fun, honestly.

So, I went back to work in this glorious industry in late August post-lockdown. It was hot so I forced myself to wear trousers as per week 1 rule but settled for a vest top because fuck you 30 degrees in a hot, airless studio.

I went in for one day in the costume department. I have been attempting a departmental transition and worked as a producer's assistant on a small film. The long and the short of that one is... I was begrudged for telling men what to do but had significantly less (not none) unwanted sexual attention.

Okay, so I did one day on a commercial. No unit list, no crew I knew (thank god, because I'm not ready for small talk and in-work socialising). When you do one-day contracts like this, everything you usually care about in the film industry just doesn't apply. You get in, do the day, and get out as discreetly as possible.

With this in mind, I ask you, I implore, why the fuck am I being hit on right now?

Wait - the pandemic is still alive and kicking. We're not allowed near one another; we're not even allowed to take our masks off inside. So why, oh why, is this guy - whose name I've already forgotten because I only asked out of appropriate politeness - fucking tapping me on the shoulder and running away? I'm fairly sure I heard him say he was 30 years old.

First of all, he asked me to iron a shirt. For him, after work. Work being 14 hours long and I had already spent the first 5 of those ironing the cast costume. What? No, you lazy prick, do it yourself, I'm not your mum. It's ok to ask this when you actually know each other, but you have to ask in a normal and polite way, instead of telling someone you're too thick to use an iron and they MUST do it for you.

Honestly mate, you can suck my dick.

I actually think he might have, given the chance.

So then for the rest of the day I found myself holding a stern face and staring into the middle distance, for fear of attracting his unwanted attention. I'm 32 years old and I was afraid of looking someone in the eye because I felt like that would be an invitation for him to touch me on my shoulder again which, I'm sorry, is really intrusive when you really don't know them. He did, in fact, tap my shoulder when I was queuing for lunch. I turned around and very firmly told the group of bewildered strangers behind me (I think he was hiding) not to touch me again.

Now I'm a hard-faced, weird angry bitch.

But this is what I have to do! Because I've chosen to look the way that I do, I've allegedly invited all of this attention, and I have to adopt a permanent bitch face. And trust me there's nothing resting about it, I am always on guard. Because without it I feel like a piece of fluffy prey on a clifftop, helplessly waiting for an eagle to swoop down and unapologetically make me feel awful about myself one way or another. Or maybe they'll touch me without warning, like I'm someone's pet. I'm now in the danger zone of people thinking I'm "not nice" when in actual fact, I'm a fucking product of the environment you lot have created. I am your Frankenstein and now I can't be (won't be) caged, so go and suck on that irony for a minute.

What makes it worse is when you try and confide in a fellow, older woman about your building frustration, and she responds with something like...

"Yeah, but you are hot, so I guess it's a compliment, really."

No, Linda, it's not a compliment when you haven't invited it, and more to the point it especially isn't a compliment when the person in question looks like they've lived under a bridge during lockdown.

I'd be judged for retorting with that comment. How come men can say whatever they want to me, to my face, at work, and I'm supposed to take it as a compliment and be polite? My grievances are uncalled for, and I must keep my tongue bitten instead of actually sitting these men down and explain that being "dumb and horny" just isn't viable anymore.

I need you guys to read this, I really do. I don't want to put up with this shit anymore. I don't want to feel uncomfortable at work, or on the street, or at home. I don't want to feel like worthless decoration. I don't want to be amenable to the men who won't change, and I certainly don't want to change myself for the benefit of the older women who won't stand up for us.

What does it feel like to get dressed in the morning without having to worry about the implications a pair of shorts might have on your day, or your life, or your career? Knowing that whatever you choose to wear won't have any implication on your day or give you a reason to feel self-conscious is such a privilege. I don't want to bring new girls into this industry and leave them open to be victims of your verbal and physical abuse that so many of you genuinely think is positive.

It makes us uneasy; it makes us anxious; it makes us afraid of our bosses because inevitably, we'll be accused of shagging some next man who has a wife or girlfriend just because we're having a laugh with them. He probably spoke to us first. He probably would have shagged us. He very likely tried. We didn't ask for that, yet we will get the blame.

I shit you not, one time I was seen hugging a director friend saying goodbye and wishing him and his girlfriend a Merry Christmas and within minutes my designer had been told that I was having an affair with him. A repeated lie that ultimately meant I never went back to that particular show.

Why is the immediate conclusion that WE did something wrong? Even when nobody did anything wrong, there's always a woman to hold accountable. People think this way because of how we look... it's always because of how we look and nobody thinks to tell the men they should be taking responsibility for their reactions.

So maybe next time you go and speak to that new girl you find attractive, maybe stop and think for a second. You probably think of yourself as a good guy, and you mean no harm, right? So, consider your words and actions. Consider their implication on her day and maybe her life. Consider the "good" thoughts you're having about her and put those into the mind of someone who isn't a good guy. Consider what endless bullshit and harassment she's probably had throughout her life. Surely, many men are having the same thoughts as you because they like what they see. Take all of that into consideration before you open your stupid mouth. We're not telling you to leave us alone completely, but we are trying to alter an entire history of attitude and thought process.

If you're not willing to do that, go and spend the day touching each other's legs and telling one another to smile instead, seeing as it's such a nice and normal thing to do. Because honestly, I'm done.

And in a few years... When you get your unit list, and you see my name at the top... Prepare for the change because fair warning - it's happening.