Into or Out of the Woods

Do you ever wonder whether you are going into or coming out of the woods? In this metaphor about our busy lives, the woods represent complicated areas that may be entangled with conflict and fear. Two women in entertainment unleashed powerful messages relating to the woods they deal with in their careers where they face unfair biases and obstacles.

The entertainment industry provides us pleasure, life lessons, and even views on business. Like any other industry, the entertainment industry must make money and appeal to its customers. But unlike less visible industries, the entertainment industry spotlights today’s issues, yesterday’s mistakes, and visions of the future. Music and movies guide us through our own daily woes and bring us joy, surprise, adventure, and most importantly, hope that we can find our way through the “woods.”

Recently, Taylor Swift was again in the spotlight when she won the 2016 Grammy for Album of the Year. As opposed to the male and female vocalists of the year, this award is not gender-specific. This award is the pinnacle of achievement where your music is judged on whether it speaks to people.

Taylor Swift has been fraught with challenges in her own “woods.” As a 14-year-old country singer in a male dominated genre, Swift decided she could conquer the challenges. She has bounced between country and pop and won people over with her engaging music and videos. It was a video, in fact, that led to the notorious conflict with Kanye West, who as the story goes, claimed he made her what she is today.

Swift, instead of playing the victim, got on stage and used her public voice to send a positive message.

Swift, instead of playing the victim, got on stage and used her public voice to send a positive message: “I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But if you just focus on the work and you don’t let those people sidetrack you, someday, when you get where you are going, you will look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world.”

Swift’s hit single “Out of the Woods” tells us that a breakup has the ability to tear you apart but can also help you find yourself and become a better person in the process. She overcame a struggle and figured out how to make a positive message, getting herself out of the woods and into being a role model for handling conflict.

During any Oscar season we undoubtedly think of another powerful woman who decided much later in her career to go into the woods. Meryl Streep, a 19-time nominated actress and 3-time winner tells us about her struggles in a male dominated world. The movie industry is embroiled in a bitter debate about unequal pay between the sexes and a lack of non-white actors in the main acting nominations for a second year in a row.

Streep, 66, told young actors at the Berlin film festival Sunday that Hollywood would never resolve the diversity row until studio boardrooms became less white and male. “I think it’s moving in a very positive direction. I think you have to make noise to have room at the table, for people to move aside and let you pull your chair up to the conversation,” she said.

Streep has blazed many paths wandering into and out of the embroiled woods. As a successful female, she thought her career would end when she was around 38 years old because she would run out of traditional roles to play.

“In those days I had no reason to think that I would work past 40. You could work until age 40 and then start playing hags and witches,” she said.

Streep, now 66, didn’t play a witch until 2014, although she been offered that many times. She was afraid that playing a witch was the “trough that women fall into when they’re no longer fertile.”

Streep believed if she was finally going to agree to play a witch that she wanted to find her own inner witch. To grow as an actor (or singer) you look to those who have gone before you. Interestingly, Streep says she usually steals ideas from men because nobody notices when you steal their stuff. But in this role, she made her own path.

Ironically, for Streep’s witch role, the “Into the Woods” plot is driven by the witch’s desire to locate a potion that will reverse a curse and make her young and beautiful again. It’s a tragic error that sets in motion all sorts of bad events. “It’s a mistake a lot of women make,” Streep says.

Learning from Taylor Swift’s example of handling conflict or Meryl Streep’s resistance to stereotypical roles, let’s go into the woods with vigor and come out a stronger woman!

Lisa Hannusch
By Lisa Hannusch, CEO of UniMed