Jess Jacobs, 25
Actress and Co-Founder of Invisible Pictures
In Hollywood, withstanding bias, sexism and ridicule is an everyday occurrence for women, given men’s executive positions in the industry. Actress Jess Jacobs, for one, was 24 when she started feeling a lack of respect from the companies she was auditioning for. “I was reading scripts where women characters were passive recipients of the world around them rather than active participants in it,” says Jacobs, who then launched a female-led, female-sourced production outfit of her own. “I wanted to use content creation and my experience as a storyteller to change the narrative.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I have worked as an actor since I was 15, so it’s really the only job I’ve ever known. As I’ve grown in the industry and as a woman, I have found empathy to be a critical trait, and being an actor is being a professional empathizer. My job is to put myself in other people’s shoes, to find the humanity in even the most difficult of individuals. However, after a number of years and a number of exciting successes, I was looking around and finding myself often feeling uninspired. I was watching women’s stories turned into niche films and television. I was reading scripts where women characters were passive recipients of the world around them rather than active participants in it. So it became obvious rather quickly: I wanted to use content creation and my experience as a storyteller to change the narrative and work towards bringing underrepresented communities who have been made invisible by systems and institutions around the world into the mainstream. And so Invisible Pictures was born. Between being an actor and being a producer, I am honored to embody multiple stages of the storytelling process. My greatest achievement has been my contribution to the building of a space to make all of those things possible, always in community with other artists and producers and creative minds.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Ask any young woman in Hollywood, and they’ll tell you that some version of “you’re too…” is a daily occurrence. Actresses, especially, are subject to every judgement under the sun. I also have been told throughout my career numerous absurd things. Besides the classic “you’re too old for…” right after “you’re too young for…” and so on. I was once told that I was tough to cast because I “didn’t have a quirk, like frizzy red hair,” as if that physical “quirk” was somehow my missing link.
I think the spark for me, though, really came when I wanted to produce my own content because I was tired of reading passive women characters, and someone told me that I couldn’t be a producer and be taken seriously as an actor simultaneously so early in my career. I was told I was too unknown to make a difference. I was told I was too small to change things. I was told I couldn’t pursue two passions at the same time. So, of course, I knew I had to go out and do just that.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
The biggest limitation I have faced in my career is the immense amount of unintentional sexism that seeps into content at all levels of the media, from small independent projects to major network TV shows. This kind of content is not only uninspiring to me as an individual, but also sends the message of disempowerment to all women who consume the content and internalize these messages around the world.
The biggest stereotype I have faced in my career is the fact that walking into rooms with heavy hitters as a young woman is often met with a twice up-and-down and a patronizing smile indicating an obvious lowering of expectations. A lot of these limitations and stereotypes led me, in more ways than one, to rely on other people to tell me how to live my life. The messaging I had received was that I was not in a position to own my power or to be a leader. I was waiting for someone to give me a shot, rather than standing up and building my life, my career and my passion for myself.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
I overcame the stereotypes and limitations I faced by looking at all of them as opportunities. Every obstacle was a chance to learn something, to take a risk, to show myself what I was capable of. If the stereotype says pretty women can’t be intelligent and successful in business, then I would be sure to put on my favorite outfit for a meeting. If the stereotype says young women can’t be trusted with important responsibilities, I would take on more than anyone thought I could handle and confirm myself capable. And as much as I’ve learned, I am still working everyday to approach things as a woman rather than trying to beat a man at a man’s game. As a millennial, I have an instinct for digital content which is so valuable in the industry today and finding a producing partner with an expertise in traditional media was, and is, so much more fulfilling than trying to act like I can do it all alone. Before my 25th birthday, I co-founded Invisible Pictures, with my producing partner, Emmy-nominated industry veteran and one of the most incredible women I know, Audrey Rosenberg. We are dedicated to authentic stories which are not normally represented or elevated in dominant culture.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
My one piece of advice: Do it anyway. Society’s limitations are perpetuated by our willingness to let them have power over us. Preconceived notions are only notions. Go make your own rules.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.