Photo courtesy of Lucre Diaz
In our quarterly Deep Dive series, we speak with leaders in the creative industries to hear about how they use their position to advocate for change, the challenges they have faced, and the personal and professional impact this has had on them.
This issue, we’re delighted to catch up with CLOCK Sector Expert Paula Arcila. With an acclaimed international career as a playwright, actress, radio and TV host, and author, Paula has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and uses her platform to speak on issues of gender equality and women’s rights. Here she tells us about her creativity, how her life experiences have informed her work and why young people make her feel hopeful about the future.
How did you get started in your career?
I started my career at 17 in my city, Medellin. My uncle, Alonso Arcila had and still has a very popular radio show called Los habitantes de la noche. I would visit him at the radio station during my holidays because I loved it and enjoyed learning how he made the show. As soon as I finished high school, he offered me the opportunity to work with him. I combined the job at the radio station with my time at college. Unfortunately, I never finished college, but since that time, I haven’t stopped working.
You use different mediums to express yourself creatively: broadcasting, theatre, literature, to name some of them. Why do you think that is? What informs those creative decisions?
I started expressing myself through radio and TV. As time went by, I felt the need to tell stories that required a different channel with more freedom. As a consequence, I took advantage of those mediums you mention. For example, my monologues and my first book are autobiographical. In the book, I address difficult subjects like a missing father figure, bullying, physical and psychological abuse, and the social pressure on women to get married and have children. For some of these topics, comedy wasn’t an option, but I wanted to address them. That was important to me. The book, Una reina sin medidas (A Queen Without Limits), was the medium I used to share these when I wasn’t comfortable using comedy or being in the theatre.
Once I shared my story with irony and humour, I felt the need to look at the other side, the suffering, and most of all how it affected my life and how I have overcome aggression, abuse, and trauma. In my monologues, I have a licence to use comedy although some subjects don’t allow that. I have shared other stories I need to tell by changing channels, platforms, and tone and can access varied audiences, which is the real purpose.
You use your position and work to advocate for gender equality and women’s rights issues. Please tell us more about that and why that’s important to you?
All my life, I suffered different degrees of abuse just for being a woman. It took me years to be aware of this abuse, to understand that it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t OK. That’s when I realised I need to tell my story in a book. In the book, I took a more active role in denouncing the abuse and aggression women suffer. When I share my stories, my followers feel encouraged to share theirs. A code of silence supports all sorts of abuse. My healing started when I broke this silence.
For me, it is fundamental to encourage women to talk and know their rights. If we don’t know these, it’s impossible to make use of them. I still have a lot to share about the discrimination I suffered at work when I had a successful radio show and career in Miami. The glass ceiling was one reason I left that job. I lost my motivation and felt very angry. I chose to do different work that I was more interested in and fight from other fronts.
How are these issues being addressed across your sector/industry?
These issues are still very persistent in the industry. It’s true that in the last years and with the Me Too movement, the problem is no longer invisible. We are all more conscious about behaviours that are right or wrong and what is unacceptable. We are far from close to solving abuse and inequality issues, even if professional and social environments are less permissive of certain behaviours. The first step is to condemn and denounce abuse and inequality, and that is starting to happen.
Gazing into the future and reflecting on the progress made towards gender equality and in women’s rights, what makes you feel positive, and what do you think still needs to change?
I am very optimistic because of the increasing visibility of these issues. It’s very encouraging to see young women and men involved in this process of change. When I visit schools or listen to my young nieces and nephews and see how conscious they are about respect and equality, I feel things are changing for the better.
In 2018 I had just moved to Madrid, I joined the Women’s March with a massive turnout, hundreds of thousands of women and men of all ages marching together for equality, more than a million in the whole country. It was a very emotional and happy moment that filled many with hope.
A broad change in education and culture is a must, that’s most important. Until society widely embraces equality of opportunity, respect for all genders, and respect for personal choice, problems will remain. Many centuries of patriarchy will not be so easy to wash away. We have to change the minds and mentalities of men and women.
Author: Liz Appleby
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