Catherine Reitman - A Workin' Mom, Showing All the Colors of Women

by Margaret Gardiner March 8, 2019
Catherine Reitman

“Women head up 69% of key departments on the show,” says Workin' Moms' multi-hyphenate  Catherine Reitman, who conceptualized the idea of a series dealing with realistic, flawed women, struggling with the real issues that undo 51% of the population and make women feel alone and unworthy. She executes this task with humor and honesty. It’s as though Reitman is casting a lens on all our weakest moments, saying, ‘Relax, we all do it. You are not alone.’

“I have the luxury of being a showrunner,” she states forthrightly when asked about gender inequity. "(I saw it as my) personal responsibility to hire as many women as possible.” She’s also a writer, director, executive producer and star of the show. “Since I actively try to hire women, I know there is a lack of resume. I'm not giving men or women an excuse for not hiring women, but it is the reality. It would be inaccurate to say otherwise, because if 4% of women are making films, you know that’s not enough. You see a lack of resume experience and you go: why would I trust you? Why would I hire you?” What lack of resume really means, if you want to get into it – about not getting greenlit – it is the lack of trust. You have to trust someone who doesn't have the experience. And I don't think our business has a lot of trust towards the inexperienced, particularly women.”

The daughter of director Ivan Reitman and Genevieve Robert suggests a two-tier solution. “There have to be more women as key hires; with more women as department heads, the more the culture changes. And women have to stop apologizing for themselves.”

Although this too is a theme successful women mention, the mother of two provides an example that also highlights the need for women to ask for what they want. “I’ve pumped on many sets before Workin’ Moms when I was just an actress for hire. On one particular show, my breasts were so full because I had painfully resisted pumping while waiting all day to shoot a scene. I had pumped three times to be ready just in case they called, but when my scene came up, it took a long time to shoot. I needed 30 minutes to pump – 15 minutes for each breast. This is just the reality. They wanted me to go all the way back to my trailer – a 15-minute drive from the set. That's 30 minutes to drive there and back, and 30 minutes to do each breast so that’s an hour. To avoid that, I brought all of my equipment to pump in the bathroom. I’d done that on multiple television shows. I’ve pumped in more places than I care to remember – in the back of a car, on the plane, in an alleyway. It goes on and on. But that day, I ended up leaking in the scene because I was too embarrassed to say, “This is what I need medically; I need to pump now.” If I had a serious illness or a cold that required medicine, I would not have thought twice about telling that first AD, ‘Hey, I have to take medicine by this time.’ Not apologize. It would be a medical condition. I was creating life and sustenance for my child, who I was away from to do this job, and I loved working, but I didn't feel entitled to make that ask.”

Jessalyn Wanlim, Sarah McVie, and Katherine Barrell in Workin' Moms (2017)

Jessalyn Wanlim, Sarah McVie, and Katherine Barrell in Workin' Moms (2017)

 

Pumping while working, exhaustion from taking care of everyone else and not admitting to needing help, are just some of the real issues women will identify with. However, men are not the enemy in Workin’ Moms. Reitman’s real-life husband, Philip Sternberg, is cast as her on-screen hubby, who is neglected and comes at the bottom of the list in her quest for self-actualization. Other unattractive behaviors like women bullying other women, and the overtly seductive woman who is offended when her boss comes onto her, are also on display, but again, handled with humor. Men play the supporting roles normally occupied by women in men’s tales. The single dad raising his child is included too, showcasing non-traditional gender stereotypes. All themes are topical, but Working Moms has just wrapped its third season, so really it's prescient, addressing many #TimesUp issues before they become part of the zeitgeist.

It’s a tribute to FX CEO John Landgraf that the channel, known for manly men shows, initially responded to Workin’ Moms, and put it into development, before it was picked up by CBC in Toronto and finally found a home in the USA on Netflix. Fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Black-ish may recognize Reitman as a cast regular. In fact, it was working as an actress while dealing with postpartum depression that created the impetus for the show.

Workin’ Moms was spawned when she admitted in a Mommy and Me support group that she was so tired she’d thought of hurting herself just so she could land in a hospital for a day or two and get rest, without feeling guilty – an idea many mothers will secretly confess to having fantasized about – and was too embarrassed to return to the self-help group after being shamed by another mother. “When I shared the experience with my husband, he suggested it would make a great story. This experience and others inspired many of the scenes that make up Workin’ Moms. It will make women of every ilk laugh out loud and feel like finally, their story is being told, be it the woman who cannot have children or the one that chooses to stay home and is made to feel less by those who work. This is a show for women by women about women. "