I first broke into the entertainment industry as a content development intern for the production company, Island Pictures. That's where I met my first mentor, Ms. Kathie Fong-Yoneda and learned the importance of having someone genuinely care about your growth.
She was giving with her experience and advice, affording us equal opportunity to participate on every level. Her mentorship was my original inspiration to do well and treat people nicely. I reflect back on that time and value the importance of being mentored by a strong female executive. Starting out, I never dreamed I'd one-day lead the global production for an award-winning visual effects studio, while balancing my own adaptive clothing company.
After graduating film school, I started as a VFX Producer on the TV show “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." When it came to visual effects, I loved the marriage between tech and creative and began putting in the time, energy and sacrifice to learn everything about it. When Zoic Studios started up in 2002, I came on board as the VFX Producer for the Emmy-winning television series Firefly and Battlestar: Galactica. Through thousands of television and feature film titles, I've moved from Head of Production to Executive Producer, and into my current role as Senior Vice President of Global Production. It's been a long haul, but it's certainly never dull.
In our industry, visual effects is still male-dominated, with the percentage averaging around 65 percent men, according to a poll of my peers. But speaking strictly from the VFX studio point of view, I've seen progress in those numbers.
It all begins with hiring qualified women who apply for the job postings. Visual effects is a niche tech industry and a lot of women don't think about it as a career opportunity. So we have work to do by spreading the word and getting more women to recognize VFX as a viable career path. At Zoic Studios, we have women working in every technical, creative and management department of the company. We can crew a show from top to bottom with women only and have done so. It's something to celebrate and keep talking about, so young girls can see opportunity, enter this more diverse tech industry, and excel in it.
Shifting the Conversation
Part of the diversity conversation should really include the idea of keeping women in the industry, not just recruiting women. Visual effects suffers from a heavy expand and contract employment model. Between international tax credits and shrinking budgets, you find companies having to fluctuate every few months in order to stay in business. The challenging aspect of this rollercoaster model is that VFX teams are forced to live abroad, chasing work from one country to the next, and living away from their families sometimes for long periods of time. It's tough financially, on relationships, and establishing roots which hit men and women equally hard. After a period of time, some will drop out of the industry, which was already comprised of a lower percentage of women.
It will take influential thought leaders to change the current system over time. But women have a powerful voice to bring to the table and I hope the next generation unites the industry on this issue.
Fueling My Passion With a Side Hustle
When a family member was born with cerebral palsy, resulting in loss of dexterity and mobility, it was the eye-opener that inspired me to launch Adaptive Life Company, a service, and adaptive clothing business. Faced with additional challenges related to her health and physical abilities, our family thought “what could we do to change the world for her, and others in similar situations to make it easier?" Currently, she's entering her early teens, so she's at an age where clothes and fashion are important to her. To normalize her dressing process, we're making clothes she can get on by herself using one hand and still look cool, young and trendy. With her input, we're re-engineering and re-thinking conventional clothing construction. We want to do away with buttons, zippers, lace ties, and buckles, but also conceal the fact that the clothes have been altered.
I knew from the get-go that launching my own company was going to be hard and it really is. It's been months of researching and educating myself on the process, wondering if people would "get it," be open to something new, and be supportive of the bigger impact this could have on people's lives. But inside of all of that, the biggest challenge so far has been to not give up through all of the mistakes. Every step in this new industry is unfamiliar territory, every plan has gone out the window, every mistake has cost extra time and money. But I own my mistakes, take a transparent approach, and do not make the same mistake twice.
It takes a lot of organization and planning ahead to make sure my jobs at Zoic and ALC don't cross focus paths. During the day, I dedicate my time to Zoic Studios, which is a busy and complex tech/creative company. There are always clients, employees, and shows that need special attention, so the days are full of budgeting, travel, operational oversight, and meeting with Hollywood's leading creative television and filmmakers. Adaptive Life Company requires a different approach and set of responsibilities than that of visual effects.
Luckily, all of the strong foundational skills crossover and are helpful for juggling both roles. Calendaring progressional milestones, due dates, heavy budgeting and negotiations, touch-base meetings with teams to monitor production- and a willingness to pick up the phone and call people instead of sending emails, are important in both positions. Both companies are "people" businesses, so communicating and connecting via phone calls, Skype and in-person all matter. I get more out of a 10-minute call or meeting than I can with 30 emails. I'm also a good listener and not afraid to ask questions. You'll always see me with a notebook writing down lists and checking off details.
There's a lot of support from individuals and families in the community which ALC represents.
We talked about ALC and its mission with focus groups, parents, clothing and product designers, as well as industry fashion and investment leaders. There's a lot of support from individuals and families in the community which ALC represents. But I'm also challenged by some people who believe it's not a worthy endeavor. Opinions range from thinking there are not enough people with disabilities to support manufacturers adapting their designs for commercial marketplace, thinking people with disabilities don't spend money on luxury items like fashion or products, and a feeling that adaptive products somehow enable people to become less active by making tasks too easy. I've heard it all.
I try to listen to the criticism and find the "message behind the message" so I don't close myself off from hearing it. It's important for me to address criticism with a goal of meeting in the middle, or hopefully winning people over based on simple facts.
There are 65 million people in the U.S. alone who have some form of an impairment or disability. Globally, there are one billion people with a disability. Everyone knows someone who's been seriously injured in an accident, fighting in the military, born with a disabling genetic condition, or challenged by the natural aging process. We can all benefit at some point in our lifetime by adaptive-designs created to make life easier when facing adversity.
Though the idea of making adaptive products, when the world has existed so long without them, may seem like a small endeavor- when a physical disability hits home and you're living in it- it's a huge deal. It's been amazing to see the connection between compassion and humanity as a throughline for my entire career. Working in entertainment can impact change by showing more diversity on screen and hiring more women and minorities behind the camera. And having the opportunity to further promote diversity and inclusion across both careers has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. When there's humanity in the mission, it makes the effort of juggling two careers worth it.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."