Updated: Oct 20
Being a career woman and a single mother has never been easy. I am not talking about how many balls I had to juggle in the air at any given point (or how many of them I dropped, just because I am not an octopus and cannot hold all of them in constant fluctuation). I am talking about the male dominated work environment and the perception that:
If you are single, and decently put together, you will do anything to get to the top of the ladder. As in sexual favors.If you don’t openly date, and you are very strict about mixing work and fun, people will start spreading around that you are a closeted, unhappy gay woman. If you have the looks and the brains, but you are not assigned as any male’s property, you are a slut who should just rely on your beauty and shut up. Because pretty women are dumb, right? Especially the blond ones? If you have two kids, and a career, this is way too much baggage for a man who wants to be at the center of a relationship.
Nothing, to me, is sexier than a good conversation.
I have experienced those four paradigms over and over again throughout my life. Yes, I was born with pleasant looks, and I am a somehow sexy being. But from an early age my world has evolved around words, books, thoughts, discussions. Nothing, to me, is sexier than a good conversation. I love the intellectual connection and I have to admit that I hang on to a lot of prejudice against purely material things or looks. I am 100% charm over plastic beauty – so, more often than not, I find ugly people extremely attractive. But then, define ugly?
When I split up from the father of my two adorable babies, I was only 30 years old. I was – pardon me – stunning. I look at the pictures and I am like, wow! But at that time, I did not feel like this. I did not feel like anything, because I wasn’t looking at the mirror at all. After being left by my ex, after he decided I wasn't enough for the mirror became a very cruel place to be, since it talked to me in distorted ways, always saying: “you were not pretty or good enough for him”. Mirrors made me not only hate my image, but get in deep, deep trouble with myself. It took me a very, very long time (ongoing) to understand that men, specially from my generation, don't cheat because women are less than “we should be”. But quite the opposite, most men cheat because we are much more than “we should be”. We can accomplish more than their mothers could, we can still care as much, we can commit like few males can, we can have shameless sex and still be the best mother to our kids. To sum it up, women could – can – be equal to men, but as equals we will always be “more” and accomplish more (does not mean to be superior, I am talking about quality, since we can bear child and work in the same male positions).
Running My Female Show
Back to my 30th year of life: single, mother of a 3-year-old toddler and a 1-year old baby, launching my first novel and having just wrapped my first successful TV show as the only writer and the showrunner. Just FYI, this TV show, aired in 2002 in Brazil, had the same ratings as “Friends” had in America. So, it was a huge deal. Oh, and I was making some money, but ¼ of what a man would be making doing the same! I had an undeniable flaw: I was single. I had it all, but a man. And I wasn’t looking for one (that’s because I had mirrors in my house and you already know what I mean by that…). As I grew my career into films and TV, while I kept pushing books (that could not pay my bills, but definitely uplifted my spirits), I started to navigate in a shark tank. In Brazil, in the early 2000s, as in Hollywood, the corporative film industry was mainly led by men. I would find myself in meetings with producers and head of companies, sometimes five or ten men, and not a woman (let alone a single mother).
I remember one specific meeting in Sao Paulo, at a major TV studio, to talk about an upcoming TV show I had developed. I was breastfeeding Tika, and I could never pump milk, so she was my little kangaroo, following me everywhere (I refused to give her formula). We took an early flight, I fed her during take-off and landing, as always (to prevent her ears from popping) and took a cab to the network headquarters. I had a stroller and a diaper bag all prepared. She was sleeping when I put her back in the stroller and asked the VP’s secretary to take a look at her while I joined the meeting.
Well, those meetings tend to run for hours, they are a combination of brainstorming with budgeting and calling other departments to have their feedback. Short two hours after we started, my breasts started leaking, and I could feel the growing stain on my t-shirt, hidden only by my dark blazer. As I looked at all six men there, talking numbers and ratings and talent names, and I felt deeply embarrassed to say what I had to say: “Gentleman, I have to take a 30-minute break and go breastfeed my little angel.” Instead, I excused myself to the bathroom, found Tika crying with the secretary, took her to the bathroom and breastfed her in secrecy, as if I was doing something very shameful, like shooting myself with heroin in a dark loo. I wanted her to go faster so nobody would think I had diarrhea (that is not funny!), or so I would not miss an important point. Her hazel, alive eyes, were longing for more than milk – she wanted my attention. She wanted to play a bit; she was just seven months old. As soon as she let go of my breast, smiling and laughing, I started crying in that small, smelly stall, and I suddenly realized: this moment would never come back! This smile, this bond, this experience. TV shows would come and go, but this right here is the whole reason I had kids, and I would not be intimidated by anything!
We got out of there and I told the secretary to announce that I was on a break, I will take my daughter outside to be with her for a while. She was kind, also a mother, and told me “of course, I will let them know”. I found a small garden inside the studios' complex and took Tika into my arms giving her my undivided attention. I was so tense that I had been failing to focus on my perfect daughter, who had just crossed the skies with me for a meeting. In her schedule, it was play time – when I would take her to a playground to interact with other kids, or just set up a nice recreation space, maybe a playdate. I owed it to her. So, I took my time, and read a little book that I had brought, about a lonely frog who found his family. I tickled her. I kissed her over and over again. And then… she reached out for more milk and I breastfed her again in the middle of that small garden. That’s when I saw the secretary coming my way, it had been too long, I needed to go back. “I will take care of her”, she said, very kindly.
You Are Not Male Enough
When I got back into the room, the men were stern, and a little bit upset with me having left. I told them that I had my baby outside, that I had brought her from Rio de Janeiro, and that she needed a little bit of attention. One of them looked at me and said, with no restrains: “you can’t work if you have a small baby, Laura.” I felt that hit my guts. The director of the TV show, a very spiritual person, defended me: “Of course she can work, otherwise she needs maternity leave, which you are not providing her with, since she is an independent contractor”. Another executive added that “writing a TV show is a lot of pressure, we ideally want someone who doesn’t have kids, are not newlywed or is a male.” And that was it, it broke my dignity as a woman, my chances in the world, my hope that we can conquer anything at all just out of humanity. It showed me it would be a battle to prove men that I was equal to them _and that was something I could never do, simply because I never believed that I should have to prove anything. And if I were to be compared with men, sorry to say, I would be anything but superior, even if I did not want to. Because women are the only one who can give and nurture life. And as far as I know, all men come from some women’s womb.
Nevertheless, I tried to brush it off, but I could taste the bitterness in my throat: “All I need are small breaks to breastfeed and give her some attention, I am sure you all have gotten enough of those from your mothers.” The executives got confused, as if they didn’t know what I was talking about. I felt belittled, vulnerable, accused of being… a woman! After a long silence, I packed my stuff and left. I just gave up, walked away. I could not deal with that room filled with jerks, who looked down at me because I had accomplished the biggest of all things, the one they could never: become a mother.
Yes, I Am Female Enough!
As we landed back in Rio de Janeiro, Tika had showered me with peace, and I had zero doubts about what I had just done. I would not be traveling with my baby to work in a different city. My career would have to wait, I was the one who would take baby steps now, so I could learn how to walk again, as a single working mother of two.