Last year, while working on the edit of my film “Bleeding Heart,” I heard the phrase “the confidence gap” for the first time. The confidence gap seemingly explains why women haven’t broken through more glass ceilings (and we’re not
just talking about the film industry here). According to this theory,
confidence matters as much as competence when it comes to getting ahead. In a
series of studies, women were consistently found to be less assured than men,
and it is this shortfall in confidence that allegedly results in women failing
to achieve as much as men.
This echoed what I had been told just weeks ago at a
small gathering of women who had been selected for a Sundance/Women in Film
Mentorship program and our highly successful (female) Hollywood mentors. When
a studio exec bemoaned that she had recently wanted to hire a female director
for a particular project but couldn’t find any qualified names to even put on
the list, I asked her directly what I had to do to get on that list. The
project is one I would have loved the opportunity to direct. What did I have to do to be considered?
Another exec immediately piped in, “Here’s the problem: Even
after directing a Sundance-winning film, you still think you’re not worthy of
being on the list — whereas men expect
to be on it, even before they’ve directed a single feature.” Basically, she was saying that I wasn’t on the
list because I didn’t have the confidence. On the one hand, I was dismayed: I feel like I’m pretty damn ballsy much of
the time, and the problem of getting on the list feels more about agents and
managers fighting for you to be on it rather than me not being confident enough
to think I should be considered. On the other
hand, when this exec went on to describe a twenty-something Brett Ratner
audaciously talking himself into his first directing gig, I had to admit she
might be on to something. After directing
only a couple of music videos, I doubt there’s many women who would have the
confidence to say they could helm a multi-million-dollar studio flick. (Young
female directors: Take note and go for it).
The thing I can’t help asking is, why do women lack confidence? Why do women
ask what they need to do to get on the list, rather than assume they’re on it? Why don’t we feel entitled to power and to
big jobs the way men often do?
One day, while writing “Bleeding Heart” at my local café,
where CNN runs constantly in the background on a silent TV, I watched intermittently
to see the following stories play one after another: a piece about Monica
Lewinsky, a story about three women who had been held in captivity for a
decade, an account of the mass kidnapping and rape of young women in
Nigeria. This day was nothing special; watch the news any day of the week and
you’ll see the same thing. Women are only visible when they are victims.
And it’s not only the news. Watch any number of mainstream
TV shows and the same story will unfold: Women as wives and girlfriends, women
as sex objects, women as victims.
How are we meant to be confident when our media consistently
sells us this story? Where are the
“Bleeding Heart” tells the story of an affluent yoga teacher,
May (played by Jessica Biel), who meets her biological sister (Zosia Mamet) for
the first time and discovers that she is a young sex worker trapped in an
abusive relationship. Their journey
together is one of mutual self-empowerment — they both learn that they have far
more strength than they ever knew, and this changes both their lives in
unexpected ways. May is called upon to
physically step up and protect her sister — and she rises to the challenge,
When I was writing it, the desire to celebrate the sisterly
love between two women and to see them kicking some ass together was a very
conscious motive. I wanted to see a woman onscreen, who was not living with her
full power, step up and claim it in order to protect her sister. This is what we are capable of. I was moved by an account I had heard one day while volunteering at a local homeless
shelter of a young sex worker, who described the day that her mother had come
into a motel room in Vegas where she was with a client and literally picked
her up and carried her out of there. Women do these heroic things in real life — why don’t we see them on the screen?
The thing is, the stories we tell don’t just reflect our
reality; they create it. If we want to
feel empowered and confident, we need to see examples of that in our media. We
need to seek out stories in which women on the screen take charge of their own
lives, because the more we do that, the more I believe we will see it in real
life, and finally every glass ceiling will finally be shattered for good.
“Bleeding Heart” opened December 11 in theaters.