I’m really lucky, I meet brilliant women all the time. I’ve been really lucky recently, perhaps because this is the centenary of women getting the vote — I’ve done a lot of projects that have been all-female. In 2016/17, all of my projects were female-run or celebrating female characters. People have really been trying to do female-driven story-lines. Which is interesting because when you look at who won what in the Oscars, men still dominated. This is the first year we’ve had a best picture women by a female protagonist (The Shape of Water) — but she doesn’t speak! (Laughs.)
I loved that film. I just don’t understand why we don’t want to hear women speaking.
So I’m really lucky in that sense — I get to work with brilliant women all the time. I like to call them drama mamas because these older women have been through much more difficult situations than you can imagine. For example Helen, the woman who told me that despite being a lecturer at a university in the 70’s, had to get her Dad to sign the lease on her apartment because she didn’t have a husband, and they wouldn’t accept her signature. Other women too, who just talk in very certain terms about ‘making it work’. These people are very inspiring to me because it seems so often that things won’t work out for you, by virtue of being a woman. I’ve been really lucky to meet women who have paved the way for me, female directors for example, who have shown me how to do what I do now. Helen Parry is a brilliant woman, she trained me at university. At the time she always believed in me and told me, ‘I really think things will work out for you, you’ve just got to keep going at it,’ and when I left she gave me my first few theatre jobs — she’s always been so supportive. Her house is an open house for all theatre people, she’s always got someone staying with her, you can always go there to rehearse. She’s a really supportive patron of theatre in Manchester, she’s wonderful.
So many women I meet demonstrate that level of care, even after I’ve finished working with them, they still stay in touch. So many women that I know recognise that they are in a position to help other women, pull them up. Women supporting women. I don’t like this reputation that women have of being in competition with each other - I’ve never really seen that, I work with lots of women and they are all so supportive of each other, and want each other to do well in their individual pursuits.
I’m always very grateful to my mother as well, for never putting that pressure on me to stick around and get married and have kids. She encouraged me to go out into the world and get educated and live my own life. For her, marriage was a way out — my grandparents are lovely but young women didn’t just get to have their own freedom back then. My grandparents were very strict with my mother and had a path set for her, but she always found that incredibly stifling and never put that pressure on me. She wanted me to spread my wings and decide on my own path. It must be scary for a mother, because you want your children to be ok and be secure — but I think she knew that traditional ways of living are not a sure recipe for happiness.
Someone else that I want to mention is Amy Poehler. She went into labour while filming Saturday Night Live, which means that she was working right up until the very last moment that she could. She always said that she wanted to work, and so she got a nanny, and came back to work very quickly. The way she talks about the nanny is very much in the sense that the nanny is part of their family, another family member. She said, ‘everyone needs a wife,’ even if that’s you, the working woman! You need someone to help you pick up the slack. She got very harshly criticised for going back to work when the baby was about 6 months old. The phrase she kept hearing was, ‘I don’t know how you could do that. I couldn’t do that.’ Very laden with guilt. She said, nobody asked these things of my husband when he went back to work after the birth of the baby. Nobody asked what he was doing, whether he was touring or filming — it wasn’t in question. It was only her who got interrogated about her decisions during this time. She’s been very honest about putting her hands up and saying, it’s not for her, to be stuck at home. I think that’s very brave. It’s so easy to judge other people, especially other women. We judge them by our own frame of reference. I could easily say to many women, I don’t know how you could be a housewife. But it’s got nothing to do with me. Some people are really happy with that. One of the biggest fallacies that we are taught as women is that ‘you can have it all’. You CAN’T have it all, you have to decide what’s important to you, and go for that. Make as much as you can fit in, but don’t put the pressure on yourself to have it all.