the day to day of a professional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area

mostly the day to day of a professional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area, but also the home of the Counting Actors Project

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why I'm not an actress

I introduce myself as an actor. It's right there in the name of this blog. I can't remember when I last chose to call myself an actress.  I don't know if it was conscious at first, but here's why.

I'm an actor because actors have more options.  Actors play the hero or the comic relief or the villain.  They're at the center of the action, the one the story is about.  That's who I want to be.  Actors are the total package - a voice and a body and technique and more.

I can feel objectification in the word actress - it's not too different from the word starlet, somehow.  And starlets are usually hot or sultry or sexy, and not much beyond.  For me, there's also something in this word that connects to the ideas in the poem/story  'Ladies First'  written by Shel Silverstein and read by Marlo Thomas on Free to Be You & Me, the supremely awesome 70's collection of poems and songs and stories with an anti-gender stereotype message.  The protagonist of 'Ladies First' is a 'tender sweet young thing' who goes on safari, and keeps insisting on special treatment, and meets an untimely end.  I'm not looking to be treated differently because of my gender, and identifying as an actress feels like I'm asking for that.

Ultimately though, it comes down to this: there are women's films (chick flicks), women's novels (chick lit) and women's plays.  But the other category isn't men's films, men's novels or men's plays - those are just called films, novels and plays.
I'd like to see the various 'stories for women' categories become 'stories for humans' categories.  And I think part of the way to get there, is to use a gender-neutral term for what I do.  I act.  I'm an actor.

Do other people feel this way about the word actress?  I'm very curious...


  1. Well shoot, I've got the word Actress in my blog title...

    There's a gajillion connotations, but the masses aren't using actor yet as a gender neutral term and it's awkward when they try to correct me with "you mean, actress, don't you? ha ha!" So I go with and embrace it. Maybe it's an age thing too. I'm still playing 20s and feel like Actress is the new ingenue.

    Here's a slightly off-topic but not really note:
    My grandmother has return address labels that use the title Ms. [Her Name] and she writes an r in the middle of it every time, because she was married to my grandfather for over 60 years and finds it insulting that her status is reduced by the omission of the r. She's from a different time. I still write "Mrs. [My Grandpa's Name] on my letters to her as that is what she prefers.

  2. So glad I am simply a singer and never had to agonize over the issue. No one calls themselves a "singstress."

    I've been trying to get the terms "dick flick" and "dick lit" into circulation but the seeming impropriety is slowing my progress. But seriously, what else would you call movies like Rambo and Porky's 1,2, and 3?

  3. Lira - here's some more slightly off topic thoughts - I refer to the man I'm in a 10+ year relationship with as my partner - we're not married (we do have a domestic partnership certificate from San Francisco city & county), and don't want to be. It's a confusing word to use in introductions - are we in the same law firm? trapeze act? But we use it, even with the teenagers who he interacts with at work - most, if not all of them, have never heard someone refer to a partner in the way that we mean it. But if we didn't use it, they wouldn't learn about it.

    When someone in the 'masses' questions me on the actor/actress thing, it gives me a chance to have a conversation about why I use it.

    But, at the same time, I need to acknowledge that it's a branding thing too. For someone in LA, where you really need to brand yourself to stand out, actress might be the way to go.

  4. I like your thought on 'stories for humans' but I think it should be applied to both 'chick lit' and 'dick lit' (if those are the terms I'm limited to?) We're all humans first.

    One of my plays in progress has a scene with a female actor protesting to the author the use of the word "actress" in the script. (That sounds ridiculous but it's a good play, trust me.) This was based on an acting friend's insistence on being called an actor rather than an actress. She also gave me a lot to think about with her reaction to my use of the term "women of a certain age" in a conversation. (That ended up being the title of another play.) Words matter. Is a female doctor a doctress? Do we have lawyeresses? Chief Executive Officeress?