Isabel Monk Cade: on Fratboy Assholes, Infantilization of Women, and the Importance of Solitude
On her career: I just graduated from an acting conservatory. I make money right now in a bar in the East Village, but I’ve been auditioning and acting - there’s nothing else I want to do. Everyone always said to me “Look out, this industry is hard!”, and I was like “Okay, okay, but I’m gonna be an exception!”. But after graduating it was a hard slap in the face. It’s a tremendous amount of active work in the face of constant rejection. But I take a lot of pride in going through the hustle of it, and seeing my growth as an actor in just a year out of school. I don’t give a shit about fame - I just want to be working on great material all the time. I look up to actors who are always doing something, workshopping, growing. Right now, my career is my absolute focus. It’s the one thing I care about - every day I try to do something towards it.
On sexuality: I am straight...for the most part. I’ve been with a woman - wasn’t for me. I’ve primarily been attracted to men, but it’s really about a moment.
On first love: My first boyfriend was manipulative, but I think I was also really broken - I had a broken home, I was dependent on him...it was too much for a sixteen year old. It was definitely unhealthy. We’ve since talked about us and how it was so fucked. But the things he’s done to me are also really awful. I look back on it and I see all of the bad, but I also see that person who knew me better than anybody in the world at one time. That’s a beautiful thing.
On the first catcaller: I was 12. In lived in Stuy Town (very safe neighborhood). It was Halloween and everyone wore the costumes to school, and I dressed up as Amy Winehouse. I had these tattoo sleeves, I was wearing a wifebeater, I had a giant wig and a plaid skirt. I loved the costume, my mom loved the costume... I was walking to the bus and I crossed the street and this truck driver honked at me. I looked up, and he honked at me again and kept calling out the window. When I realized what was happening, I was shocked. I wasn’t naive to it, though.I was there when my mom or my sister got catcalled. B for the first time, it was happening to me. In school, we had these meetings with lawyers every week, they would come and talk to us. Women’s rights came up, and I started to speak in class, and I told them what happened that morning on my way to school. And in the middle of class, I just started crying about it, and I really felt that pain for the first time in my life- I felt the experience of turning from a human to an object for that second. The guys were laughing at me because I was taking it so seriously.
On competition: It’s hard not to compare yourself with your female friends who are actors. The way my mom raised me and my sister, unknowingly, made us both really competitive. And in high school, I always had to be the best. And so redefining female friendships has been something I’m working on. I’ve been learning to grow together, parallel to each other, in friendships. A friend’s success does not mean my failure. It’s so hard to get this out of my system - it's something that has been taught to us from day one.
On femininity: A societal standard; it’s a woman who is ageless and beautiful, soft, petite, not taking up too much space. I think I get stuck trying to be that all the time. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to love my body - I’m short and I have big breasts, and I’m curvy and womanly in places that we’re told maybe you shouldn’t be. I’ve been trying to embrace womanhood in all aspects, because when you really describe what society finds sexy it’s very similar to how you would describe a girl-child. I think it comes from control. A society that wants to control women is afraid of fully realized women in all shapes and forms. Women have to be tiny, pink, soft, and delicate - and then, they are seen as non-threatening. A fully realized woman is strong. The infantilization of womanhood teaches us that weakness and fragility are what we should aspire to.
On shaving: My first boyfriend wanted me to fully shave my vagina. Completely. And boys in high school used to say “oh that’s gross” about pubic hair. My second boyfriend said “you don’t have to shave” and of course I knew that - but I think he felt like I thought I had to shave for him. It was strangely liberating. Because I grew up around full bush! My mom and my sister, and all these women around me that are hippies were always super comfortable with their hair! I would tell my mom that I wanted a Brazilian when I was a teenager, and she would take me, but I could tell that it was weird for her. But it’s awesome that she never said anything, and let my body be my body. I wish I didn’t wax or shave back then, because now I have scarring. And I can’t get rid of it. Its fucking awful. But those scars are a reminder now - to just be myself.
On solitude: After leaving school, I fell into a deep depression. For the first time in my life I was alone. My mom left the city in April. My school was two years and it was 12 hour days of non stop working, scripts, memorizing, and rehearsing. So I never really had time to process some of the trauma that I’ve been through, some of the pain and the sadness I was feeling. I’ve never had to be truly alone with myself because I’ve had this distraction of constant go go go. And for the last few years I’ve been without a boyfriend, which didn’t really happen before in my adult life. I would sleep all day, go to work, and go out after work - it wasn’t about drinking - it was about not wanting to go home and be alone with myself. I would call up friends and desperately make plans. Or I always had a guy on the backburner to hit up when I needed attention or validation. The deep-rooted dread of having to go home and sit with my thoughts was unbearable to me. I couldn’t been alone. So for the last months, I’ve been working really hard on solitude and self-love. And it started as something like going to a bench and just sitting there for two minutes without checking my phone or doing anything. And slowly but surely, I’ve become more comfortable, it got easier with time. These days I relish my solitude!
On fratboy assholes: When I was in high school, my friend and I went to pregame at an NYU dorm with these really lame guys - you know the type - super rich private school kids. This one kid booked an SUV stretch limo with all this booze in the back. One of the guys kept hitting on me, trying to touch me and put his arm around me. I said to my friend, can you sit between us, because this guy won’t leave me alone. He started being really aggressive towards me, started calling me out. All this belligerent, entitled male behavior. I was getting out of the limo in front of him, and he shoved me on my way out, deliberately. I wasn’t used to this preppy boarding school privilege. These horrible frat boys who feel that they’re owed everything and you’re an object they can buy.
On advice to herself at 16: Focus on your career! Focus on the things you love! Listen to yourself more. Focus on your work more, theater.
On losing weight for a role: Emma Thompson once said something along the lines of - if someone ever asks you to lose weight for a role, you ask them if the character is anorexic, is the character a drug addict, does the character or the script call for a skinny actress - because if not, what you’re looking for is a model, not an actor. I feel pressure all the time to lose weight for this industry, but I have to remind myself that it’s not about being a model, it’s about the work.
On embracing yourself: I never felt insecure about my nose until high school. On day, my boyfriend told me that I had a weird nose. In passing, as a joke. And then another guy friend of mine mentioned it as a joke too. So I really started to look at my nose and thought, yeah it’s not “beautiful”. And I still struggle with that every day. But my nose is my heritage. I’m a Russian/ Polish Jewish on my dad’s side, and my nose is my grandpa’s and my grandma’s nose. I’m learning to love that part of me. When it comes to my body....I loved my body until high school, when I really started to feel pressure from the guys around me. And at that time, I just started to ignore my body, as if it wasn’t there.
On coming: I used to fake it a lot. I felt at a disadvantage because of what happened to me. I felt so numb there and detached, that I felt I had to make up for it by being hot. It was all about the man - I thought coming was male-centric. The female orgasm has been made in some way a commodity to guys, something the man “achieves”. As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown into learning what I do and don’t like, and making hard lines about what works for me. Boundaries. I’m now in a relationship with this guy who is incredibly self aware and understands my experience with sex in a really beautiful and intimate way. He’s wonderful and understanding and it’s great!
On therapy: I love my therapist! I’ve been with her for three years now. She is a bad ass lady, and an immense support system for me.
On abuse: I was a baby. I didn’t know for most of my life that it happened. When I first found out what happened, I repressed it for about two years. It was about three years ago I said to myself, “This is part of me, I need to deal with this, I can’t live with this pain every day.” I was maybe two years old, and I started showing signs. I always thought I was slightly strange in the way that I thought about sex and felt about it from a young age. I had little quirks about me that I didn’t understand that I just thought were normal. We come from a family of mothers who were sexually abused. It was really painful for my mom too, because she was trying to protect me from that. She felt powerless.
On taking up space: Men are taught to take up space, get bigger, get stronger, get louder. Women are taught to get smaller…. to shrink. It’s so fucked up. How many times have you sat in a room with a lot of pizza - and contemplated how it would appear if you take a second slice of pizza or even finish your first?!
On catcalling: Catcalling is the worst. It is such a small way to dehumanize a woman. You know this feeling, I know this feeling: when you’re walking down the street and for that moment - it sucks a little bit of your soul and makes you feel less-than. I think about what I wear when I leave the house and how it’s going to affect my commute. When I was younger, I used to say “Fuck that! Fuck you!” and really talk back to catcallers, but as I’m getting older I realize that it’s not the safest option.
On totally lifechanging books: Spinster by Kate Bolick. READ IT.