“This is going to sound sexist, but a woman cannot be a powerhouse,” he told me, assuming his qualifier would absolve him of his blatant sexism. Spoiler Alert: It did not.
I was a new Voice Actor. A new, young Voice Actor. A new, young, female Voice Actor. Twenty-five years old and in my very first meeting to create my very first shiny website (which I assume you have seen since you’ve found this blog. Very shiny, right?!) I was still getting my lay of the Voice-Over-Land and this was the cherry on top of a handful of vaguely sexist interactions I had had with various gentlemen in the bizz. Was this the reality of acting? Were all those 90s movies about “becoming a star” true: is this just part of the package? If I want to be successful, do I just need to “suck it up” and “deal with it?”
When you’re in a one-on-one meeting (you, a young woman with very little experience, and he, a middle-aged man with loads) it becomes very easy to doubt your gut. Your energy says “I have questions” and his energy says “I know all the answers” and there isn’t anyone else to fact check those answers so you feel like you have to trust him. I don’t have to tell you that this is not an experience exclusive to Voice Over.
The men who say things like this want to take away your power because they are afraid of it. If a woman can be a powerhouse, then where does that leave men? All they have had for so long is their claim to power! They have had power in the workplace, power in being the breadwinner, power in “wearing the pants in the relationship,” physical power, fiscal power, political power…. So if women get to claim that too, where does that leave them? And if women in Voice Over suddenly have “powerhouse” energy and voices, where is the market for the men? (Well, first let me tell you, there is no shortage of a market for men in VO, don’t you worry your little head about that one…)
SECOND, let me tell you: what I have learned in my studies of VO so far mirrors exactly what is happening in the world around us–People are bored of inauthenticity, they want the real thing. And why is that? Because people are living more authentic lives, in part, by disregarding gender expectations. We are seeing more stay-at-home dads than ever, more women staying single, pursuing their careers and being true to themselves. And when consumers are being true to themselves, they want to hear that in their voice overs; they want more authenticity.
Authenticity means that every person–woman, man, or otherwise–has the capacity for every emotional experience, including the capacity for power AND for softness. Strength AND weakness. Bravery AND doubt. These experiences are not exclusive to gender expression! They are universal! And when we express these experiences with our voice over we tell the consumer “I see you and you have the permission to be all that you are.” THAT is what people want (and NEED) right now and THAT is how we, as actors, create a more genuine connection with our audience.
I am not angry at men. I WAS angry at this particular man, but in the end I hope he and many other men feel this same permission to experience softness, weakness, and vulnerability in their voice over and especially in their personal relationships. It can only make our performances and our world better.
“You really are a woman of your generation,” he jabbed with a tone meant to condescend.
“Yes, I am. Powerful.”