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Elaine's Story

I love Elaines story and the way in which she views the world in a fair way. Everyone deserves an equal chance and this is highlighted throughout her story. It is inspiring how she isn’t afraid to stick up for what she believes in and how she views everyone as equal, regardless of their labels. A truly powerful perspective.

I’ve kept going. When life and the world around me told me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something or that what I saw wasn’t for the likes of me then I just did it. I don’t know why. I don’t see myself as brave or pioneering- those words get ascribed to me sometimes and I just don’t feel that. I didn’t wake up one day and think ‘I’m going to be brave or speak out” I just did. I don’t like that sort of posturing- people grab ideas to give them a sense of self or to get publicity or whatever. I don’t…politics and fairness are just there and have been for as long as I can remember. I had/have an inate sense of injustice about what is right orwrong….about what is fair. That runs through all of my politics from feminism and a woman’s equal place in the world, to Scotlands right to self determination to Black Lives matter…its all the same to me…its about fairness and justice as well as compassion and empathy for other people and the situations that they are in.
As a child when I was told to be quiet or go to bed cos the adults were talking and even then I just didn’t think that was fair. I was the first grandchild and first child in our family so I think I was spoiled and had a sense of being the centre of the world so couldn’t quite understand when I wasn’t treated that way- so I just carried on as if I was. My opinion is as valid as anyone elses- not more or less important because of gender or race or religion and any society that runs that way is flawed and wrong in my opinion.
From my schooldays I always wanted and question why things had to be a certain way. I had a father who had three daughters and never ever taught us that we didn’t have the right to an opinion or to achieve things in life. That got more tricky for him when as teenagers we started to question him and his views on life but he always believed we had the right to our own independent lives and pathways through. At a Lanarkshire Village primary school that confidence in a girl wasn’t really encouraged and I had some very dark and difficult times dealing with the punishments that were given for speaking out. And I just couldn’t understand why that was viewed as cheek or insolent. We had a horrible male head teacher who I thought cruel and vicious especially to the boys- he had a way of humiliating them that I thought was awful. I didn’t respect him and he knew it – he tolerated me because I could sing and was bright and he needed me for the school shows but he told my mother I was the most insolent and disobedient child he’d ever taught!! I got into trouble for that and had to buckle down to be seen as “good girl”. Essential in 1960’s Lanarkshire.
At High school I had a similar experience in that I was tolerated because I had talent but was seen as too lippy and mouthy for my own good… they were probably right but it all came from a sense of things not being fair or unreasonable. Fortunately I had a few teachers who liked kids and wanted to listen and thought that kids with ideas…even girls…were good to have around. In the end I thrived because of them…and it made me less afraid to question or challenge the status quo. But the eternal struggle in me has always been the desire to be a good girl and likeable and a rebel at the same time…not easy!
When I went to drama school I was again challenged why women had to have certain roles, two dimensional, rarely funny and very few women writers or directors were deemed as any good. And God forbid you use a Scottish accent in a serious piece of drama. It was all about class and gender…as well as race. A Scottish woman from a working class background become an actor? Get over yourself…
I became a High School teacher and found myself challenging the system there too…again about class and gender. I got very involved in my Trade Union and in feminist politics and a whole new world of like minded souls opened up. That challenged the life I had known and relationships with family and friends because I was questioning everything from a woman’s place to nuclear weapons and Thatcherism. Doesn’t always make you popular or a “nice” girl makes you “difficult”. And remember this was a time when there were few female producers, Artistic directors, playwrights, or women running colleges or universities or women consultants or Professors, or Business leaders or newspaper editors, very few politicians, no Scottish Parliament and no women leaders of Scottish political parties. So being seen as difficult was not unusual for any woman who was in many ways on her own and isolated. So being tricky or questioning was used as a weapon and has been attributed to me throughout my career from early work in theatre and Tv to standup and everything else. I speak up and out- not always right or even appropriate but I noticed if a man did that then he was respected and seen as forthright and listened to- a woman was seen as trouble and too difficult. And I am sad to say that I have viewed certain women that way too- I didn’t afford them the power and space that I afforded men. I judged them to a different standard as I did with myself at times…berating myself for not fitting in or being too difficult. Why could I not just keep quiet…I tried but I couldn’t! All the time watching many men behaving like the worst prima donnas and bullies. I have realised that equality is actually just allowing women to behave as badly and be as shit as many of the men are!!
I ended up being seen as brave or a pioneer because I had no choice. I wasn’t being given the respect or chances that I felt I should be and was left watching lesser talents forge on so I decided rather than wait for some guy I didn’t respect running a theatre or TV production to cast me I would do it myself. I was lucky enough to have a husband and partner who believed in me and to be at a time where more and more women were doing things for themselves. Ironically the public always stayed with me and they have come with me throughout this whole journey…
They came in their thousands to see “Shirley Valentine”, to see my standup shows, to see a women headline panto and I was lucky enough that a new generation of men came along who didn’t have the same baggage about women like top producer Michael Harrison- he has only ever cared about the audience and what they want to see that was a blessing and we have worked together for years now in panto, I Dreamed a Dream, Little Voice, Two and many other shows. To now be doing TV comedy in a show where half the cast are women and all allowed to be funny is just wonderful and quite liberating…I hope it is easier for other generations of women to see a pathway through to having a decent career. The more visible and forthright women are from politics, the more flack we will take but ultimately it will pay huge dividends for our daughter and granddaughters.
Its been quite a journey…not by design or from an intellectual stance…I just kept going.
~Elaine C. Smith ~
~ I am tenacity ~
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