Ladies Night In The Themed Entertainment Industry

Posted by Sasha Bailyn on Monday, July 22nd, 2013

What could be better than cocktails and theme park talk? Answer: Cocktails and theme park talk with all women (and I bet even the men would agree). Last week, the TEA hosted a “Ladies of the TEA” mixer in Burbank, CA, with a turnout of a couple dozen lady attendees. This may not sound like high attendance, but for the male-dominated theme and entertainment industry, that’s pretty darn good.

The ladies’ mixer, which was not the first of its kind but was certainly a first for me, was more than a chance to hang out and network; it was an opportunity to observe the dynamics that occur when separated from our male peers. Before leaving, I thought to myself, “Is this going to be like Mean Girls or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?”

From a distance, our mixer appeared to be like any other, with people laughing, gesticulating, talking and holding drinks. But there were subtle differences that made it feel very different from a typical co-ed gathering. Namely, there was more openness and less of a feeling of competition and name-dropping. It seemed as if everyone there was more interested in the overall chemistry and experience of being together than sussing out each other’s usefulness (a common default for networking events). One of the best things about the mixer is how easy it was to approach new people out of the blue and strike up a conversation. I think that both the all-female attendance and the intimacy of the event helped make it a relaxing place to socialize.

The ease and comfort I felt at the ladies’ mixer made me reflect on other industry events – I asked myself, “Why was this event so much less work than every other?” Obviously, being in an all-women environment was the primary reason it felt different, but I knew there was more to the story.

At most co-ed events in this industry, being a man is not a distinct thing. It’s the norm, the majority; and therefore, women are the minority. It got me to thinking about whether being a woman in themed entertainment is a disadvantage – whether we are necessarily outsiders. After much thought, I believe the answer is no, for two reasons.

First, we’re all similar in a very important way. Every male-dominated field has its challenges and adversities, prejudices and glass ceilings for women. But thankfully, the themed entertainment industry has a strong bridge that helps span the gender divide, at least intellectually: Universal Love for All Things Awesome, Imaginative, Innovative and Fun. Of course, there are the high-powered tycoons that get hyped up about being corporate sharks, but at the end of the day, we’re all in this because our eyes never stopped lighting up at Disneyland, and dare I say, because we haven’t stopped dreaming. Our collective, gender-neutral idealism – whether inflated and projected gregariously or hanging by a thread and kept secret – is the primary reason why being a woman doesn’t feel so isolating.

Second, women aren’t outsiders in this industry because they seem to have learned not to emphasize their femininity. At co-ed events, far fewer women focus on bonding with ease and openness like at the ladies-only mixer. They’re often busy blending in with the men in an attempt to avoid the typical stereotypes of “bitch,” “doormat,” or “house wife.” As a result, women at co-ed events tend to be more competitive and uninviting. None of this is done on a conscious level; it is deeply ingrained that in order to be successful, we must de-emphasize the things that make us different from men. If we stand out as being feminine, it is disadvantageous because we no longer fit in with the majority, we become “other” and potentially threatening; it’s must easier for us to identify with being masculine than the other way around. There are very few sanctioned, acceptable forms of power associated with being feminine, and therefore we haven’t found a good way to navigate success and embrace femininity at the same time.

Hence, an all-ladies mixer is not just a chance for us to kick off our heels under the table and have a drink with each other; it’s a chance to subconsciously reconnect with the fact that we are different from the majority, and for that night we don’t have to err on the side of formality or competition to fit in and feel at home. It’s a break from the constraints that we all feel in a society and an industry that retains strong gender imbalances.

As for me, I look forward to more of these ladies’ mixers, where we can feel free to be women and entertainment designers at the same time.

Sasha Bailyn

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