I have been in the film/video production industry for 14 years. As a woman in a male-dominated industry I have faced everything from chauvinism and overt bias to subconscious underestimation. It’s not everywhere and it's not everyone – but it is prevalent and I can’t imagine there is one woman in the industry who hasn’t faced some sort of discrimination or been impacted by this sometimes misogynous culture. I’ve faced this obstacle as just that, an obstacle that I had to overcome. I would have to work a little harder, deal with a little more crap, prove myself over and over, and fight harder to get what I want. But, I never championed it as an issue I needed to be palpably vocal about. Maybe that’s because unfortunately, it seemed so ingrained in the culture that it was normalized.
When my partners and I created FLOWSTATE Films we were very conscious of the fact that we were creating a female-owned production company in a male-dominated industry. We promote and tout that aspect of our business because we are proud of the fact that we are three women who have succeeded and excelled in our careers in the field. However, it wasn’t until a life changing event occurred when for the first time, I viscerally felt the significant career impact of being a woman in the production industry.
I had a baby.
As I write this my baby just turned 3-months old. She is amazing and lovable and surprising and frustrating, and exhausting in all the best ways. Owning my own business with incredible partners and friends allows me the flexibility to be a new mom, which I am grateful for. But it also poses numerous challenges as all women who own businesses and have babies face. But the production world adds yet another layer of challenges that, being a new breastfeeding mom, I’m now viewing with a clarified reality that I never saw before.
It's typical for a production day to be 10-12hrs. How and when would I pump when needing 35 min every 3-4hrs could cause the crew to go into OT? Not to mention having to navigate telling the crew (who are usually mostly men) that we have to pause production while I go pump. (If you’re breastfeeding you’re supposed to pump every time the baby eats.) Sometimes the project can call for remote locations or exteriors with little to no power nearby – where would I pump that’s clean and private? And where could I store the milk and clean the pump? These are real issues that I never would have even considered before having my baby. I assumed the typical complications of needing to find child care and needing to have a more fixed and less “work whenever, wherever” type of schedule that is sometimes expected.
But recently when I got a call for a job to produce a couple commercials I immediately began to feel the impact of my new reality. Could I do this job? It was a fast turn around production that would require me to be away from my daughter for several long days. Could I figure it out?
I had settled on the fact that somehow I would make it work. But, after very briefly, discussing with the director my needs of a more fixed schedule and the potential added logistical complication of my breastfeeding, I received a pleasant “we’re going with someone else” (who happened to be a man.) I sat back to process what had just happened.
I couldn’t come to any other conclusion than I had been passed for the job because I was a woman and a mom. Being a business owner myself with a husband that owns his own business, I understand the “it’s strictly business” argument. It would be easier to go with someone who had a completely open schedule and could work random hours on nights and weekends and who didn’t need to stop and pump every 3-4 hrs. I see that. And that’s why this frustrated me more than any other situation I faced before.
I was left with competing emotions; guilt for being passed on a job that would make my family and my company money, indignant because I felt like I was being punished for being a mom, indifferent because well “whatever, your loss, I’m better even with a less flexible schedule” and content because (at least for now) I don’t have to worry about trying to figure out how to deal with that inherently female, new-mom problem of breastfeeding-while-working on a production set.
In the end my choice will likely be to abstain from work that involves me going on shoots until I’m done breastfeeding in 3 more months. I am lucky that I have business partners that can do the same job so it’s not a complete loss. But I’m left feeling that I am acquiescing out of necessity more than choice. Breastfeeding my daughter for 6-months the way I had always set out to do is more important to me in the end than struggling to figure out how to make it work on a production set with people who may not be understanding. And what if I had wanted to breastfeed for a year? Would I then have to make a choice between an integral part of my job and how I want to feed my child?
Why does it have to be a choice at all?
I chose to write this blog not because I have discovered the solution or because I have decided to take on the huge challenge of making the production industry as a whole more breastfeeding friendly, but because I wanted to add my voice to this specific issue so that maybe more non-moms and men can be aware of this primal dilemma that new moms in production face. Maybe it starts or continues a conversation that we should be having as a community of people in an industry that's difficult enough to make a career in at face value without adding a warning sign on potential women hires that says - "breast-feeding-while-working."
With that, now I have to go pump.
I’m sure there are women out there who have figured out how to make it work, or at least have some interesting stories on how you did or didn’t make it work – and if there are, I’d love to hear from you!
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