Talking up a Riot by Kate Hardie

Posted July 26th, 2013 by Xenia

Kate Hardie & Gwyneth Strong

Kate Hardie & Gwyneth Strong

I was speaking on a bill that included Tony Benn, Owen Jones and a socialist women’s choir – what the hell was going on? Had my lefty mothers dreams come true? Had I at last jacked in the ninnying around on film sets and put my loud and angry tendencies to use for more worthy causes?

No. It was not all my marxist mum’s christmases come at once! (I still do the ninnying).

Through a series of odd connections and much to my bafflement – a few weekends ago, aided by actress Gwyneth Strong – I spoke at a political festival commemorating 125 years of the Match Women’s Strike of 1888. I had been approached to speak about “Being a woman having a career in the TV and film industry”. And after joking about the one word talk I could give on that subject I had to sit down and really think about what that title really meant to me…

I started my  ‘career’ aged 14 as an actress, at the time it was a genius reason to leave school – which I hated. It gave me the chance to vent my teen emotions, which I felt absolutely flooded by, and hang out on film sets- which I loved! I enjoyed it at first, I was employed a lot, I was pretty emotional – am pretty emotional! So unlike say, a plumber or a brain surgeon, I could use all my angst and lip wobbling to my advantage at work. And, it soon came to pass, that I was typecast as “Emotional girl with baby, emotional prostitute, emotional heroin addict, emotional homeless girl with baby who has also taken heroin and may become a prostitute.”

You get the drift.

Eventually I started to have my fill, I got bored of the parts I was offered, I ached for a bonnet, a costume that wasn’t ‘distressed’ to the point of smelling! Or even just a part that hadn’t taken a class A drug!

And looking back, I realise something else had also started to bother me. I began to feel more and more pressure to look a certain way. During the late 80‘s/90’s – when I was working as an actress the most – there wasn’t this huge pressure to ‘look amazing’. I am not saying these weren’t sexist times, or that actresses could just roam around, bra off, facial hairs flapping in the wind. But it
seems to me there was not the very tight link between actresses and models. Between fashion, and film and TV, that there is today.

During the height of my career I never once bleached my teeth, I didn’t even pluck my eyebrows. I attended the Baftas in jeans and a second hand boy’s school blazer and the film I was in won! I was pictured on the red carpet looking like an extra from Oliver and not one magazine published pictures of me with fashion “experts” rating my out-fit out of 10 or graphics pointing disgusted red
arrows at my scruffy knees! I am sure actresses were still objectified and there was pressure – but they didn’t have to be head to toe draped in ‘perfect’, be stick thin or have foreheads as tight as a helium balloon.

I had always secretly wanted to write and direct but not plucked up the courage. But feeling the way I increasingly was about acting – 8 years ago I decided to be brave and to go to film school. I told my acting agent someone else would have to do the crying and botoxing, I applied for the NFTS and got in. It was a wonderfully liberating thing to do!

SHOOT-kate

So: “Talk about your career” the organiser of the festival had said. 8 years of it now has been spent writing and directing, I could just talk about that. It’s a rich enough subject – that of a woman writer/director, not without it’s drama! But would that be totally honest – 23 years of my experience as a ‘woman having a career in the film industry’ was spent acting. What did I really feel about that?

It is a rare day that I don’t spend a chunk of my time either receiving or forwarding articles, charts, Facebook shares, tweets, car bumper stickers, notes dropped by carrier pigeon – reporting yet more and more stories of sexism in our business. If you have not seen the chart in “Vulture” entitled “Why leading men age but their love interests don’t” you should take a look! You would have to be living under a stone or in fact BE a stone not to notice – there is a lot of anger around about the way women are treated, portrayed, employed.

And so, since the festival was actually in honour of a strike led by a group of women… I got to wondering not just about my career but about protest. About women and protest. What would happen if actresses – instead of getting down hearted and insecure, got cross enough to take a leaf from the Match Women’s handbook, downed scripts and declared “Enough is enough! I don’t want
to live on grass and air just to fit into a size silly! I don’t want a forehead as smooth as cheese wrapped in cellophane! I am grey haired and I want to be! I am 45 and could still play a 45 year old actors love interest!”

Intrigued by this idea – I rang up some actress mates and asked them all the same question. “If you were to go on strike and knew that other actresses would do the same – what would you ask for?” The answers came quick and furious, we didn’t agree on them all but the passion about the subject was more than apparent. So, having wound my phone book of actresses up to near revolution and along with help from – Gwyneth Strong and Claire skinner – I typed up some of our fictional manifesto points.

And off we toddled – to take our place on stage at the festival, braced for the boos and the flying pamphlets that were bound to come. Two actresses talking about the plight of women in the media to an audience of mainly trades unionists and radical lefties could be a bit incongruous. A bit “fluffy” in comparison to say the state of the NHS, Michael Gove’s education plans, or the future of trade unions?

But then, is acting such a light weight subject? “A society is incredibly affected by it’s media, the way we see ourselves as races, genders, ages, people. The images and portrayals that are reflected back at us from our TVs and cinemas – or more importantly, the images we DON’T see reflecting back at us – affect the way we are treated and even treat ourselves, profoundly.

I talked a bit about my career, I discussed how I came to go from reading about the Match Women’s courageous fight, to calling up my actress mates – asking them to stop being jealous of Olivia Coleman’s career for one bloody minute and to talk to me about what they would change if they could. Then Gwyneth and I read out the manifesto. It is just 9 points, just the start of a conversation that might lead to a debate, that might lead to…

Some of our points may be way too militant, some just plain nutty. But, at the end of our talk the room was on it’s feet! Many different types of people came up to us afterwards to express similar feelings, asking for copies of what we had read. And since the talk I have received email after email asking me – “Will you do more? What next? How can we do something about these issues?”
I am not sure what to answer… I don’t think I am brave enough to strike. And actually I don’t work enough as an actress these days for it to have much of an impact if I did – “Gone on strike? Who? Didn’t she give up in the eighties anyway?” I do always write with the points we raised in mind. I would always cast with them in my thoughts.

I try to challenge things when I see occasion to. And I guess the power we do have as an audience is to switch off, to write to companies, to let them know what we feel… (one Channel Four boss often reminds me of an email I sent him after watching an episode of Misfits I found particularly  disappointing – Subject heading: “Female Anal Rape as a comedy plot line – Really??”)
In America, strikes and protests to do with racial inequality and better pay for artists have proved hugely successful (though noticeably none to do with gender issues!) Maybe we are afraid of strikes in the UK? Maybe the arts is too fragile as it is to rock the boat with in- fighting? It’s complex… But the talk got us talking and talking got us writing and reading that to others- got us thinking… and I hope it will get you thinking too…

Here is our manifesto:

Fictional Actress Strike Points by Kate Hardie, Gwyneth Strong & Others!

1.To be paid the same as my husband. If a part is the same size and the shooting days for the same duration and the actor and actress have the same type of “status” within the industry- to always be paid the same amount.

2.To be occasionally cast before the male character is cast.

3.To play roles who ANSWER questions and are not constantly asking questions – in order to be enlightened and given the answers- by the male characters.

4. As much as is possible for a script to contain an equal ratio of male to female characters – and if ‘setting’ does not make this possible – IE a premiss is set in a specifically male environment – for the TV channel or production company to make sure they produce work where the equivalent is made with female characters at it’s centre.

5. For the love interests of male characters to be the same age even occasionally older than them! And if the female love interest IS significantly younger for this to only be the case if this is part of the plot.

6. Crime drama – for companies to provide proof that other types of crime were considered as a plot line before they chose rape or the killing of women. AND for it to have to be proven to be absolutely vital to plot before any images of dead naked mutilated women are shown! The same being said of any scenes showing rape or the killing of women… it must be proven absolutely integral to show such depictions… and “It’s shocking” is not a good enough reason!

7. To where-ever possible see women with grey hair in leading roles under the age of 50. To weigh all actresses before employing them and if they are under weight to a point that is deemed unhealthy – to help them with this and to consider using an actress of a healthier weight. To discourage the use of fillers, botox. collagen etc and again – wherever possible for companies to support
actresses who are treating their bodies in such a way and wherever possible employ an actress who has not ‘self harmed’.

8. If there is female nudity it must be A. deemed integral by the writer, director AND actress – and it must be matched where ever possible with male nudity – we call this the boob to bollock rule!

9. To cast women in parts that do not HAVE to be male – the doctor, the teacher, the MP, the sniper, the swimmer, the prime minister.

Kate Hardie has worked as an actress since 1984 and her credits include: The Krays, MonaLisa, Criminal Justice and Safe. Her writing and directing work includes short film Shoot Me and Mr Understood for this years – Sky Playhouse presents, she also has work in development with Sky, C4 and Hillbilly. 
  1. Nick Simons

    I’m very impressed, fully support your manifesto & totally believe its achivable! Good on ya. Nick Simons

  2. Annie Walker

    Kate, you are now officially my pin up star! As an actor above the age of 40, and well over a size 00, everything you say resonates so strongly with me. I hope you won’t mind me passing this on to my Facebook and Twitter friends, amongst whom are some people actively trying to remedy the situation you have described? It will change, once the “powers that be” come to realise that Joe Public are actually supporting (mainly) this point of view. Good on ya gel!

    PS – I’d come out on strike, but as you will probably deduce from my description of myself, I very very very rarely am in a position where I CAN come out on strike LOL!!

  3. Jean Rogers

    Dear Kate,
    I would dearly like to be in touch with all the well known women you know in the business to join our Equity campaign. As an older actress i understand every point you make but wonder whether you are or were a member of Equity. Since i became a Vice President of the union in 2005 i have been involved in a huge campaign for gender balance and proper female portrayal particularly of older women. Claire Skinner knows about it as we have talked about it last December. I gave evidenc on behalf of Equity to the BBC Report ” Serving All Ages” testifying to the invisibility of older women once they are no longer deemed sexual- as if! And also to the way they are portrayed either as the victims of crime or naked – or both! I have now been on Harriet Harman’s round table talks on older wom n in the media for her Commission on Older women. Please, please, get me into touch with willing well known actresses and sign our viwers’ petition for equal reresentation of women in film and television drama which has been going since 2009. We need to link up all the disparate voices on this issue. Please let us get together. We can move mountains. We will not go away.

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