Georgia Varjas’ new book is a call to arms for women and men to step up and challenge the rules that hold them back.
Georgia Varjas wants women to stand up and be counted, to understand and then break the rules that hold them back from achieving their full potential in relationships and at work.
Her new book – her first – is a call to arms. Part-memoir, part-polemic, she says now is the right time for it to come out in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Although she had initially planned to write a book about her life in showbusiness, the #MeToo movement galvanised her to use her experiences to show how women need to step up and speak out against the things that are holding them back.
MeToo made her angry that nothing much had changed for women over the years, although things looked better superficially.
“We’ve burnt our bras and got bank accounts and lots of women are doing amazing things,” she says, “but nothing much has changed.”
Varjas has had a varied career in showbusiness, from slam poetry to writing plays to performing as a saxophonist. It is a sector which is, like many others, heavily dominated by men and where behind the scenes, from writing to directing, there are very few women, where women performers are often finished after they reach 40, where the casting couch is clearly still a thing and where in music sexism is “rampant”.
She says she felt so passionately about the need for grassroots rebellion that she wrote the book in just over three months.
The book is very direct and Varjas, who lives in Spain, says nothing is going to change if people whisper about the challenges they face.
The name of the book sums up her approach, The Rule Breaker’s Guide to Step Up & Stand Out. “Women are not listened to or believed. The more of us who speak up the more likely it is that things will change,” she says.
Varjas speaks of the courage it stand up for yourself in a world where women are not valued as equals. “Feminine courage is a wonderful thing and hardly written about,” she says. “
Women have an extraordinary survival instinct. We need to encourage each other and stop judging each other.”
She mentions as an example the Hollywood casting couch. “You have a split second decision to make and you will not win whatever you do,” she says.
Through not judging each other, being kind and working together, sharing experiences and not taking ourselves too seriously, she says women can flourish.
Although her book is about rule breaking, she recognises that some rules are good and offer protection. She says it is important, however, to recognise those that hold you back and make you unhappy.
Varjas’ book pulls no punches in addressing some of the ways women can be undermined by those who seem to be offering them support.
For instance, it takes apart the whole idea of ‘being yourself’ at work that is so prominent these days. As someone from a showbiz background she makes the point that all interaction with people is a performance.
She says: “It amazes me, and honestly bothers me too, how people believe that being authentic is being different from who they are now. All day long, we are being ourselves, in all the different roles, disguises and activities we perform.”
She thinks we are too negative about the word performance and says that if we give the best of ourselves in each act of performing we are in fact being authentic because our personalities are multi-faceted and complex.
She offers another theatre-based example about confidence, saying it cannot be faked. It comes instead from putting in the work, ‘rehearsing’ and being prepared and she criticises certain coaches, advisors and mentors who sell self-improvement courses and peddle quick fixes to complex problems of socialisation which have sought to silence women.
She says these feed the tendency towards perfectionism and a feeling of never quite being good enough. Instead she says women should ditch the self-improvement and overthinking of everything and embrace what they can do and what they have achieved.
It’s not that she is against coaches per se – but she thinks the way to confidence is through understanding yourself, your abilities and the nature of the barriers placed in your way.
A coach who is rich in life experiences can bring out the best in people, she says, celebrating “a teacher or mentor with knowledge, imagination and your interests at heart”. These are “people who will expand your competence, courage and confidence and make it work for you”.
And in another theatre analogy, Varjas talks about the importance of teamwork, the ensemble approach as it were. “I believe in collaboration and teamwork,” she says.
That includes working with dads to address the whole work life balance issue and to campaign for universal free childcare. It also includes creating a private, professional and personal team to support ourselves as a working mum.
“Women are good at collaboration and we need to look after ourselves so we can look after others. We can do this by creating a team of others to help us,” she says.
Varjas, whose next book will be on sexuality and surviving sexual abuse, intends to spend the next months promoting her book through events and also retreats and workshops, once again emphasising a team approach. “Workshops create lightbulb moments, a sense of energy, confidence, passion, performance and personality. We need more of it,” she says.
*The Rule Breakers’ Guide to Step Up & Stand Out: a Manifesto for Rebels by Georgia Varjas is published by Filament Publishing, price £11.99.