The Consciousness Raising of a Writers’ PA Born at the Wrong Time
by Jaz Persing
In January of 2016, I started my first job in television. I was a writers’ PA, (Production Assistant) for a show called Good Girls Revolt.
The short version? That’s exactly what I did.
But what does that mean, Good Girls Revolt? In truth, I still hesitate a little when I say the title of the show, because there’s something about it that’s vaguely both titillating and infantilizing—like Good Girls Gone Bad or Girls Gone Wild, I suppose.
But the truth is, what makes us good girls, part of what it means to be truly good, is to step out of the box that you’re given—the comfort zone and expectations you grow up in.
I’ve been reluctant to put language to the box I was given—probably out of a fear of isolating one or both of the two communities of which I am most often a part. But as a moderately conservative Christian woman, YES -there was a box that came with that, and that’s where I was living.
And Good Girls Revolt was significant because, as my first real industry job, it was the first time I was really out of that box.
Now, in talking about this box, I want to be clear—I’m not denigrating it. My faith is everything to me. It is so much of my truest self. And I love my community of faith, the people I grew up with. But it is a box nonetheless.
And that’s not specific to Christianity or any faith or community, for that matter. We all are born in bubbles and boxes. And when we stay in them, that’s not the box’s fault.
It’s our responsibility as girls, as women, as fully evolved human beings. It’s part of our becoming to step out of that box.
If anything, GGR taught me that it’s only because of the brave women who fought before me that I have so much freedom to step out of that box.
For centuries before me, people have been telling women to stay in their box, that they have no right to step out of it.
I am not oblivious to how blessed I am to have had an understanding from birth that I could be whatever I wanted to be.
This is something made possible by the love and struggle of my parents who raised me in this freeing knowledge.
But even in growing up this way, in knowing this more intrinsically, I still have to step out of where I’m comfortable. And I’m grateful for the women who stepped out of where they were comfortable when their lives were threatened, when their job security was at stake, when their acceptance from their respective communities was suddenly on the line.
I’m also aware that these kind of threats to women are far from over—we don’t have to look far in the news, on the internet, even in our own circle of friends to find women who have been intimidated farther into their boxes to protect themselves. The world is a dark place, and though we’ve made great progress, the fight is far from over.
The systemic sexism that I witnessed even in the process of putting on a show literally about systemic sexism was astonishing.
If you don’t believe me, read any one of the umpteen articles about why this show was cancelled by Amazon.
And when the dust settles, one day, down the road, there will be more specific discussion about how that all went down. But that, as they say, is a story for another day. Back to boxes.
So what did I learn outside of my box?
There’s always been an idea of “the worldly television industry”, and how it would inevitably corrupt me, to which I’ve occasionally been susceptible. And I won’t say that that’s entirely untrue.
Yes, the values and boundaries of my faith are largely counter-cultural.
And yes, working on a show that takes place during the sexual revolution was a bit of a culture shock.
And it’s embarrassing, but yes, there were early days in the writers’ room where more frank sexual discussions left me needing to excuse myself, wondering if my cheeks would be in a permanent state of blushed red.
But if I’m being really honest with myself, I think there was also a part of me that wrongly associated feminism with being forced into one viewpoint—which was mostly represented by a shrill, oversexed, angry stereotype of a woman who would pin me down and force me into giving up all the values I hold dear.
I’m not proud of this, but I had to admit it in order to move away from it. And all I can say is thank God for Amy Poehler and all her Galentines-Day-Smart-Girls-at-the-Party-Yes-Please work for women and girls everywhere that started my gradual re-understanding of feminism over the last two years, more or less born of the key phrase she repeats in her memoir: “Good for her, not for me.”
I wanted to be her kind of feminist. And eventually I saw that what it means to be a feminist is to fight for all women to have to autonomy and space to be whatever kind of woman they choose… and that’s not all the same woman.
That’s the heart of GGR as I came to understand it.
And rather than “corrupting” me with the worldliness—this perspective only gave me tools that encouraged my autonomy, that strengthened my faith in the long run more than ever.
I am in no one’s box.
I am fearfully and wonderfully—singularly—made.
Thank God for that.
And thank God for that writers’ room, and the myriad of things it taught me.
The fact that I was even allowed in that room speaks to the incredible warmth, openness, and mentorship of Dana Calvo and Darlene Hunt, the incredible women I worked for. For most writers’ PAs, entrance in that room was strictly prohibited. So the fact that I got to listen and even contribute at times? It still seems somewhat unreal.
But I was there, and I heard all of the different experiences of the strong, smart women and highly evolved, progressive men writing this show.
I heard of their most difficult encounters and biggest triumphs in the workplace, the challenges and ebbs and flows of their relationships, navigating the balance of romantic life and work life, clashes with their families of origin as their ideals were formed, breaks in communication between men and women.
It was an enlightening and singular privilege.
To be honest—it could be overwhelming at times.
Not just because of my timidity around sexual conversation, (eventually I adjusted to that, and I think I’ve come into a more healthy balance.) But sometimes five hours’ worth of other people’s life experience over decades was just a lot to take in.
Sometimes I felt like a sponge, absorbing so much of the world so quickly, with little idea of where I could find an appropriate avenue to wring it all out.
But even having this dilemma was something I needed to learn how to do as a forming adult. I needed to learn how to have an identity that wasn’t just present in me speaking. I needed to be secure enough in what I believed that I would still be fully myself even if I didn’t speak a single word in that room. I needed to be able to hear everything, understand that my life was different, accept the occasional disparity without panic—that was okay.
What this show was about, what this room was about, was fighting for those opportunities for all women to develop a full sense of self—exactly what I was trying to do in those moments.
And I can’t tell you how strange and transcendent and beautiful an experience it was to watch these stories being formed, and to relate so deeply to these fictional characters. Though their lives took place in another time and situation, we were the same age, and I felt so much of them, their same struggles and victories.
And the more the show went on, the more it felt: I was them.
I was Patti.
I was indignant and outspoken and passionate. I wanted change and justice that I don’t know how to make happen, and sometimes I felt like it might kill me. I would talk all day about what I wished was different. I vacillated from enraged to overjoyed. I could let love and lust and obsession get in the way of finding myself, of fighting for what I know to be right. I was a free spirit who marched to her own drummer.
I was Cindy.
I was shy, timid. I was overwhelmed and wide-eyed at so much of life that’s new to me. I was afraid to step outside myself and try new things. I was afraid to pitch myself to other people. I didn’t stand up for the quality of my own work. But as I watched the people around me become bolder, step outside themselves, I was inspired to be bolder, to step outside myself. I stopped worrying about the consequences of what people would think of me. I accepted that part of my life at the moment was just going to have to involve making some mess along the way to freedom.
And I was Jane. Good Lord was I Jane.
Growing up with certain ideas of what it is to be a woman, of what it is to be successful, the plan for my life that I was supposed to follow to a T. I was Jane, suddenly realizing that she wanted more, that these plans were not set in stone—that you couldn’t rely on them. I was Jane, realizing there was a whole world I’ve just closed myself off to. I was Jane, deciding that I didn’t want to color inside the lines anymore. I wanted to be in the world, and I could do that without sacrificing the things I value deeply. I did some silly things, yes. But I stopped being afraid to make mistakes. Because when I made them, I discovered that I don’t have to take all of it. If something makes me uncomfortable, I don’t have to put up with it. I can stand up for myself.
I’ve been all of these women.
And I am them now.
And also not at all.
And that’s beautiful.
Because we as women are magnificently complex individuals, like each other and not at all…and that’s what I learned on this show, from the incredible women around me.
So I covered the office wall with all my records and hung mugs on hooks with the writers’ names on them, trying to make our office a home, because it was my home for seven months.
It was a home where I was pulled from my comfort zone and embraced in the same space.
I dealt with my own milestones and firsts, (a list far too long and too personal to share here,) but suffice it to say that I worked in a place where I could trust women of all ages and walks of life with my journey.
I felt safe. It was family to me.
It was an adventure—that I badly needed.
An adventure that made me step into womanhood.
It made me shine inside to list all the things I’d had no idea how to DO when I started, whether I had come to figure them out myself—or had the help of trustworthy, supportive coworkers around me.
It made me realize that I had to ask for what I wanted and needed sometimes—that people weren’t thinking about me all the time, imagine that. If I wanted something badly, I needed to speak up and stop being afraid of the result.
It made me work to discern between the time to listen and the time to speak—and how to speak, and how to do so respectfully, and how to express myself without desperately needing a pat on the back at the end of my sentences.
Because in that place, I was there primarily to learn, to listen, and to support.
And I tried to.
And yet—it was also place where even when I had so little to give, when I was completely burned out, when I was dealing with things having nothing at all to do with work, I could be so deeply encouraged by the people around me.
And that’s not every workplace. It made all the difference.
On one of my worst days, when I was so thoroughly spent from working too many hours trying to be a background actor and a writers’ PA (fun but ill-advised in the long run), I had this incredible moment.
Even though I was completely emotionally drained, I walked onto the stage before leaving for the day and stood with Bronwyn behind the monitor.
It was one of my favorite scenes of the show, from her episode.
It was a scene between Patti and Jane on the fire escape, sharing new confidences and confessions and fears, things they were once ashamed of that now seemed laughable in the open air, as they screamed into the fake New York night with glee, growing closer and bolder on the cusp of great change approaching.
I watched the scene, smiling, then turned around.
And Bronwyn saw what I saw—the female showrunner, female director, the female actor/director shadowing her, female DP, female script coordinator, female script supervisor, female writer, all watching this scene of two women sharing a real moment.
And Bronwyn said exactly what I was thinking:
“Look at that. That’s amazing. All these women, all that talent, that mentoring. Incredible.”
That was the real miracle of Good Girls Revolt. That even on your worst day, you could turn around and see that, knowing how rare it was, and savoring that hope.
I had a hope of progress every day I walked into work. What else could I want?
How does this happen? How was this my first job in television? If I tried to invent an ideal show for myself to work on, I still would have fallen short of Good Girls Revolt. What did I do to deserve this? Probably nothing. But all I know is that I’ll never be the same.
Then the show came out. And another miracle happened—the same effect the show had on me in the writing and production process continued. So many women, especially those in my “box” who I never thought would ever watch a show involving the sexual revolution reached out to me in beautiful messages, sharing their stories, telling me what the show had meant to them.
One friend told me that it made her angry and relieved to see that she wasn’t alone in the frustrations of working in a male-dominated industry today.
Another friend shared how she had been a whistle-blower in a sexual harassment situation at work, and how watched the show had stirred that righteous anger again.
Another simply remarked—after watching Patti ask Cindy if she knows what she’s doing (Cindy shakes her head), then says, “But you’re gonna do it anyway.” (Cindy nods. Patti hugs her sympathetically)...
“I’ve had that exact conversation with every woman in my life.”
That’s the beauty of Good Girls Revolt. When you fight for the freedom for women to be their own woman, you start to see all the women in your life finding more bold individuality, more community even in their differences.
And in these troubling, difficult times for our nation and our world, that’s the kind of hope I want to fight for.
That’s the heart of Dressember, of The Body Journal, of Good Girls Revolt:
Fighting for autonomy, for respect, for our voices.
Fighting against oppression, against our own tendency to compete and compare, to tear each other down to feel better about ourselves.
And in accepting each other’s imperfections and differences, we’re able to have more grace for our own.
Okay, yes, I know. I’m assigning a lot to a television show. "It’s just a TV show."
But… no. I’m sorry. It just isn’t.
It changed my life. And maybe my life would have changed anyway. Maybe I was just 25-years-old and some of these things were a long time coming. But I don’t know that I can really believe that. I’ll always be a different person because of Good Girls Revolt, and the women, the family I met there. My consciousness was raised. I feel a solidarity with all the women in my life that I don’t know I would have outside of this show, or not in quite the same way.
Anyway… I’m grateful.
And it was fun. God, it was fun. Everything on this show made me want to be everywhere at once.
I got to fake-live in 1969/1970.
I got to sit on the floor and listen to records with the writers while we tried to pick episode songs.
I got to sit with our prop master for an hour talking about life and our respective writing processes while he made fifty pancakes for a scene at 10:30 PM.
I got to sit in the emptied-out offices with our executive assistant seeking her advice on moral dilemmas.
I got to comb through Nora Ephron articles and pieces for hints at who she was outside the office.
I got to dance with big hair, waving my arms like crazy to “Good Lovin’” by the Rascals.
I got to watch as Hunter Parrish got fake-beat up on the streets of fake New York, and a typewriter really got thrown through a window.
I got to sit in Finn’s office with fake 5:00 PM daylight until two in the morning, pretending the night never ended.
I shared so much with these people.
To Dana, who created this show, to Darlene who gave me my first crack at the opportunity, to so many wise men and women on this project who helped me navigate new situations I didn’t understand, new professional boundaries and politics, relationship drama that I both roll my eyes and smile at in remembering...
To all the writers, cast & crew, office friends, and background artists... you are my GGR family, and I love you!
At this point I’ve more or less accepted that I’ll probably spend the rest of my life writing about this show in some way or another. I’ll always be trying and falling short in finding an adequate way to thank the amazing women who let me be a part of this. I’ll always be writing about this because this show has informed who I am. It’s shaped my voice forever, writing and otherwise.
As Cameron Crowe said:
“This is the circus. Everybody’s trying not to go home. Nobody’s saying goodbye.”
I’ve been avoiding this blog post for weeks because I don’t want to say goodbye. I don’t want to go home, to admit it’s over. And maybe it isn’t. Maybe there’s still hope out there, a new network home for us. But nothing lasts forever. And I have to say my goodbye-in-case. So I guess that’s what this is.
I started work on this show as a girl. And now, as it fades away, I’m a woman.
Good Girls Revolt. And I did.