Last night I had the opportunity to play a tech employee in the new film “The Circle,” which also provided me the great experience of seeing two of my favorite actors, Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt, perform their craft, alongside Emma Watson as the film's strong female lead. It was great being part of such a project - even if I only had a small role to play - because, although I do not have personal experience in Silicon Valley, I was able to portray a young woman in tech that will hopefully inspire more young women to pursue careers in technology.
While in holding, which is where background actors hang out when not working in a scene, I also had the unique opportunity to have a conversation about robotics with a fellow background actor. What particularly stuck with me about this conversation, however, was not how much I learned about robotics and the amount of schooling the guy was committing to in order to become an expert in his actual chosen field (he was just in town and working background for extra money); what stuck with me was his underlying attitudes towards women and how it seemed he didn’t hold them in as high a regard as his did other men.
This fellow background actor talked down to me throughout most of our conversation - a conversation I, unfortunately, couldn’t escape because of how we were seated in holding. He rambled on and on about how he had all these great ideas for the future, all these plans, and how he was going to make this TV show because he already had a director on board and financial backing but that he was too busy with school at the moment to do it. He bragged about academic honors he received and how he had dumped his girlfriend to go to the number one robotics school in the country. I took every opportunity to congratulate him when I felt his was boasting, which he did not expect and which made him uncomfortable. I also worked plenty of opposing views into the conversation about people being smart in different ways and at different things, about how people who uprooted their whole lives to work background and chase their passion was not unlike him uprooting his life to pursue robotics, and how, although I had received many honors and achievements that rivaled his, a person is not the sum-total of his or her accomplishments.
In a conversation he had with another background actor, he then admitted that he dumped his girlfriend because he couldn’t provide for her as well as he should have and that he was raised to be a real man who takes care of his lady so that his lady need not worry about working. He then went on to explain that he couldn’t fathom not being able to support a woman since that was a man’s role in a relationship and that he pitied the other background workers because, although he was still in school without a job and making the non-union rate for the night, he couldn’t imagine living on what the lowly actors around him make in a year. He also at one point stated that if had a million dollars like any of the actor’s making the big bucks that night, he could easily create any robotics invention anyone could think of, so I told him that if he could really do that, he shouldn’t need the money; he should just create a prototype and sell the patent pending information to a corporation in need of that prototype. A few minutes later, he told me “you seem sharp.” I nearly lost my mind and flipped out on him because the condescension with which he said it had the implications of him being surprised that a woman would be smart and have ideas. But then I reminded myself that I was in my intended-career’s professional environment and that somehow I could figure out a way to not cause a scene and still hold true to my feminist beliefs that men and women should be treated equally.
As I sat there, listening to the words coming out of that man’s mouth, I took a second to realize how truly lucky I am in life and how truly happy I was that I was not him. I counted my blessings that I was raised by two parents who viewed each other as equals, that my father never treated my mother as subservient to himself, and that, although my dad does view it as his job to provide for his family, he understood my mom’s need as a human being for independence and the ability to take care of herself, as well. I know how lucky I am that I have two parents in a truly loving and equal partnership who take care of themselves and each other.
Above all, however, in that moment I was truly thankful that as a woman who worked hard to get into the Union, I was making the same pay as my fellow male Union background actors… but even more importantly, I was making twice as much money for the same amount of work as that chump.