IN SILICON VALLEY, THE GAME Will COST YOU EVERYTHING
Mirror Game is a new opera by Composer Celka Ojakangas with story and libretto by me, Amy Punt.
Gaming programmers, Cybil, Olivia and Melody get transported into a video game called, “Playing With The Big Boys,” the game that teaches you how to make it in a man’s world. In order to escape, they must win. In order to win they must eliminate one another from the game entirely as they compete for the same promotion in a Silicon Valley company.
It is about the silent messages that influence bedrock values driving gender bias.
Overtly the story explores the consequences of internalizing a masculine narrative and subverting the feminine. Cybil, (inspired by disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes) creates a lie that sky-rockets her to fame and success. Yet, it metastasizes within her, perverting the woman she once was. While it first appears she wins the game, once the lie is exposed, she loses everything, including the woman she loves, Olivia.
Why this story now?
I saw an opportunity to explore themes that, just a few years ago, didn’t feel culturally relevant to most people. This, despite the personal and individual costs many women pay for ambition, drive and achievement. While pursuing full time careers, women largely remain the primary domestic caregivers. Studies have shown that this decreases their chances at promotion over men and keeps their salaries a full 19.3% lower.
Our culture values men over women by a considerable margin.
A year or so ago I began seeing “Take Time To Be a Dad Today” billboards all over Los Angeles. It was a public service campaign created by World Wrestling Entertainment and the Ad Council. To be sure, Vince McMahon, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the WWE, is well known for his bigotry and misogyny. In fact, it’s his brand. So, if you want to discount this campaign as you consider the source, consider this. The Ad Council developed it on behalf of you and me, the tax-payers. Fatherhood.gov, run by The National Fatherhood Clearinghouse, is a “funded national resource for fathers, practitioners, programs/Federal grantees, states, and the public at-large who are serving or interested in supporting strong fathers and families.”
Why is this still a thing? Through it we further the regressive values of Leave It To Beaver-style parenting that continues to place the domestic burden squarely on women.
While Mirror Game is not about a married woman with children, it is about the silent messages that influence bedrock values driving gender bias. Simply put, our culture values men over women by a considerable margin. Embedded deep within our cultural psyche lies an idea so pernicious, many don’t even realize they believe it. Masculine good, feminine bad. Crying, for example, is considered so harmful to your career it can disqualify you for leadership roles. “Senior leaders consistently report that crying detracts from one’s executive presence,” says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, CEO, Center for Talent Innovation, “which rests on three pillars: gravitas (how you act), communication (how you speak) and appearance (how you look). Crying, I found in my research, is just one of a menu of communication blunders that, in a mere instant, can suck the executive presence right out of you.” Often, it’s the female executives who judge crying more harshly than their male counterparts.
Why Silicon Valley?
In Silicon Valley, masculinity reigns in a way that’s somewhat unique. It’s widely felt that young, nerdy, introverted males make the best programmers. The degree to which one reflects that narrative determines the level of her success. The traditional alpha male bombast and frat boy hijinks of say, Wall Street or even Hollywood, doesn’t exist. I’m hoping that placing the story in Silicon Valley offers a fresh and modern take.