Coming home in 1992 to a break-in in progress changed the priorities for Ellen Snortland. The author, filmmaker, performer, journalist, actor, coach and activist surprised and escaped a knife-wielding burglar with a loud scream.
Because of that close call, Snortland set about to make all women across the globe aware they need to be able to defend their own space.
“I’m a zealot,” Snortland says of her fierce advocacy for women.
“It is natural for any creature to defend herself,” says Snortland, who was one of the recent cohort of 50 Women Can Change The World in Media & Entertainment through Take The Lead.@EllenBitesBeast has set out to make all women across the globe aware they need to be able to defend their own space. Her documentary, Beauty Bites Beast, champions this goal with @DoloresHuerta. Click To Tweet
“People are full of praise when a woman defends her children, but defending herself? That’s different,” Snortland says.
Snortland’s recent documentary, “Beauty Bites Beast,” was released in 2016, and she presented it that year at the 2016 Islamic University Islamabad and the Punjabi Ministry in Lahore, Pakistan in association with the U.S. State Department. It is available now through Amazon Prime and she hopes on college campuses, in high schools and everywhere in countries across the world.
The documentary features legendary Mexican activist Dolores Huerta, along with Gavin DeBecker, and it follows the theme of Snortland’s first book, Beauty Bites Beast: Awakening the Warrior Within Women and Girls, first published in 2000, and now in its second edition. It was also featured on “Dateline NBC.”
“I know our movie saves lives,” Snortland says.
The recent abduction and murder of student Mollie Tibbetts while jogging alone in Iowa has sparked an increase in self-defense classes in that state and elsewhere, according to Keloland News.
“Because of the gruesome outcome I think people are really confronting A. the realities of violence, and B. the indiscriminate relationship of geography with violence. When you can in small town Iowa be victimized just like you could in an urban area, people notice that…and I think that caused a lot of reflection,” Self Defense Coach Mike Gillette tells KELO.
“Today, the U.S. is reckoning with its rape culture, one which excuses assault by men as normal, and asks women to bear that normalization in the form of jokes, glorified depictions of violence against women, online trolling, and the acts of violence themselves,” writes Thu-Huong Ha in Quartz.
“In 2011, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 19 percent of U.S. adult women reported having been raped in their lifetimes, with 79 percent raped before 25. In that same report, the CDC also found that 44 percent of U.S. adult women had experienced ‘other forms of sexual violence,’ which include ‘being made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences,’” Ha writes.
This is why Snortland earnestly pursues this work.
Calling herself “kind of an eclectic person,” Snortland has always been a high achiever. Born in Denver, she grew up in South Dakota, and after graduating high school at 16, she set off to study theater at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, Cal. She earned her degree in theater and film in 1974 at University of California-Irvine. And then she decided on law school.
She graduated in 1977 from Loyola University Law School, passed the bar exam and because she didn’t really want to practice law, set out to become an actor.
“I did very well in many short-lived TV series,” Snortland says, appearing in pilots and on daily talk shows, including “TV Lite” at the NBC affiliate in Sacramento. She was successful, busy in the 80s and 90s as she was actively producing, directing and performing on-camera.
“When you hit 35 in Hollywood as a female, you’re out of luck,” Snortland says.
Her 1992 brush with violence changed her thinking and her career trajectory, something she outlines in her TEDx Pasadena talk in 2011, “The Personal Safety Paradox.”
“There is such a taboo about women fighting back,” says Snortland, who also regularly performs in New York, Edinburgh and Los Angeles her one-woman show, Now That She’s Gone, a comic memoir about growing up Norwegian American.
Snortland’s work for personal safety and the expression of a woman’s power to keep herself safe aligns with the mission of Take The Lead and the training she participated in as one of the 50 Women Can Change The World in Media and Entertainment.
Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change The World in Media & Entertainment program’s first class of women leaders included industry executives, award-winning producers, writers, directors, agents, film and media educators, journalists and on-site production staff. (The inaugural 50 Women Can Change the World in Media & Entertainment full biographies are here.)
Owning personal power “goes to the heart of the essential prejudice that keeps women in their place,” says Snortland. “What I’ve seen when women get to their power is that it shifts how they speak and how they are” in the world, she says.
Take The Lead co-founder and president Gloria Feldt was on hand for the launch of 50 Women Can Change The World in Media & Entertainment.
“Ellen is one of the most talented, tenacious, and passionate advocates for women I know. She was ahead of her time in preaching and teaching women self protection. Now the rest of the world is finally catching up to the importance of her work,” Feldt says.
“Women are at an extraordinary moment when long-needed advances in gender equality and power balance can happen. Take The Lead was prescient in launching this program in Hollywood. After we say “#MeToo,” after the black dresses on the red carpet, and after creating a legal fund to help women once harassment has occurred comes Take The Lead’s critical work of giving women leadership tools and skills to create sustainable systemic change for the long term,” says Feldt. “The media and entertainment industry tells our stories to the world. That’s why 50 Women Can Change the World is so vitally important.”
Snortland was selected as a participant because of her advocacy and successful career in both media and entertainment. As president for UNA Pasadena/Foothills Chapter, Snortland has attended United Nations world conferences in Beijing and Durban, South Africa, and annual UN meetings in New York as an NGO delegate and journalist. She was a long-time weekly columnist for Pasadena Weekly.What are your tips for defending yourself as a woman? #WomenDefendingWomen Click To Tweet
She also serves on the board of Impact Personal Safety, presents personal safety talks and workshops for corporations, and educational institutions as The Safety Godmother, the title of her second book co-authored with Lisa Gaeta.
“Most of us who teach self-defense are survivors,” Snortland says.
A 2006 training she did in a factory in Tijuana, Mexico, was at the behest of the company owner who read her first book.
“I came down to train women to stand up for themselves,” says Snortland. “We work on emotional, verbal and physical skills and I said I would only do it during factory time,” she says.
She says 100 percent of the women working in fact said they had been assaulted. It was at this factory that she began filming the documentary.
“It is not just a Mexican story,” says Snortland. “We expanded the documentary to include self defense work all over the world.
Now hard at work on her third book, Biting the Hands That Squeeze Us, Snortland says it is a hybrid “biting” social commentary/memoir about her career in media and entertainment.
Her tips on how to succeed and navigate an often sexist culture in media can be extrapolated for any industry and is prime info in the time of #MeToo and #TimesUp. Snortland offers these tips:
- Talk about it, share your story, get in a support group. “Do not hold on to something. Get it outside of your head. I always blamed myself and thought I sent the wrong signals. Stop second guessing yourself.”
- Consider the consequences. “My lawyer self would never say to wholesale go report it, because I cannot predict the consequences. It could turn out badly and you never want to minimize the risk.”
- Thicken your skin. “Make good friends and help other women. Everyone is a human and they will only change if they want to change.”
With a host of projects and opportunities, Snortland now is prioritizing her documentary with the goal of it going international and helping women in every corner of the world.
“If I have to do this one persona at a time, I’ll do it.”