Lately, I’ve been noticing women of a certain age, beautiful by world standards, but encouraged to disappear by the American entertainment industry. They work in front of and behind the camera. They are entrepreneurs and company women. PhDs and no Ds.
Sometimes their gestures, demeanor and tone mimic those of much younger women. They present themselves as less powerful and knowledgeable than they are. One went so far as to express shock at the small number of women directors. Hmmm.
I’m starting to notice a recurring theme. Their pride at writing genres not traditionally associated with women: action-adventure, science fiction. We’ll overlook the success of novelists Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood. Perhaps director Kathyrn Bigelow doesn’t work for them. This, despite the fact that she appeared as an actress in the feminist classic Born into Flames. They enjoyed being the only girl in the editing room, the chick on the truck, the diva in the conference room.
In these situations, I’ve sometimes noticed that the only woman feels threatened when another woman comes on the scene. The board room isn’t as special, the view isn’t as dizzying when there are two.
Being the only one is tricky. It can make you feel isolated and giddy at the same time. Powerful and tokenized. Inside the fortress. Alienated from your past.
There are many possible responses. You can play double agent and bring back information and resources to those on the outside. You can embrace co-optation. You can pursue power. Advocate or remain silent. Move by degrees or by leaps and bounds.
But for women, when you’re no longer nubile, no longer fertile, dewy and admiring, sometimes those doors close and close decisively. You’re not distinguished. You’re a shrew. You’re cast out and no longer the only one.
Let’s rethink the pleasure of being the only one.
When you’re the only one, think about why that is. Disconnect from the pleasure you might be feeling and the seduction you might be experiencing. Look at the bigger picture. Are you the only brilliant ______________ available? How would the project, the company, the team benefit from having multiple ones?
A distinguished African American economist once talked about his career, a litany of firsts and onlys. He said his goal was to leave every environment he was in looking like the NBA or a UNICEF ad.