HOW TO DESCRIBE Sarah Sophie Flicker? She’s a performer, an activist, a writer, a mother, a wife, an aerialist, a director, a dancer. In photos, impossibly long limbs extended, Flicker appears to be a Degas ballerina all grown up. In person, she’s incredibly easy to talk to about a range of subjects; from the roller coaster experience of motherhood to her engagement with political activism, Flicker is nothing if not involved with the community around her. And so, on a sunny spring day we met at a favorite Brooklyn Heights spot, Iris Cafe, and over avocado toast and lattes, we spoke (and spoke!) about the many things Flicker is involved with and what she’s planning on doing next.
“She’s so ethereal,” a friend of mine said after I showed her a photo of Sarah Sophie Flicker. The image was of Flicker balanced on one leg, three other impossibly long limbs extended; framed by a large window and backlit by a radiant sun; she was a Degas ballerina all grown up. But while Flicker’s pose conveyed her extensive training as a dancer, rather than reveal fragility, what came across most clearly was strength—inside this graceful form exists a spine of steel.
It was this strength that first interested me in Flicker, along with her ability to reconcile so many different aspects of herself—performer, director, activist, mother, wife, writer, friend, advocate—into a cohesive whole. In a time and place (yeah, I’m talking about you, New York City) in which women are incessantly judged for the choices and compromises they make both as mothers and as professionals, it’s a relief to find a woman whose life contains a multitude of disparate parts, but who manages to embrace the chaos in order to find some kind of balance.
And so when I met Flicker for the first time, on a beautiful spring day at Iris Café in Brooklyn Heights, I was more than a little eager to talk to her about the complexities inherent with being a woman who engages with the public sphere while also maintaining a busy private life. Recent Brooklyn transplants, Flicker, husband Jesse Peretz (director of Girls, My Idiot Brother) and their three children settled here in order to be closer to the community of close friends that Flicker holds so dear—and also to escape the competitive parenting scene that had become pervasive in their part of Manhattan.
“Brooklyn has been a huge relief to me,” Flicker says, “because I’ve always been the mom who forgot the wipes or forgot the snacks. It always seemed that everyone else was well prepared. But that’s partly what I like about it here. People admittedly don’t have their shit together.”
Of course, to many people, Flicker is the type of person who seems to have everything firmly in place. After all, her professional resume includes founding the Citizen’s Band, a political/cabaret group which has been active in raising both funds—and awareness—for years; writing for places like Rookie and Hello Giggles; conceptualizing and directing videos in support of women’s issues (notably 2012’s pre-election PSA “You Don’t Own Me”); and, most recently, collaborating with Lizz Winstead (co-founder of The Daily Show) on the political advocacy group Lady Parts Justice, which focuses on women’s issues with a keen eye toward this year’s midterm elections. With a work schedule like this and a home life that involves raising three young kids it would seem like Flicker has figured out that elusive balance that so many mothers seek.
Flicker insists, though, that she doesn’t have the answer to anything. She says, “You don’t figure it out. The best thing to do is create a community around you, so that you can talk about things. Most of the things that I’m passionate about doing have something to do with this universal human drama. We all share these experiences, and we forget that because we get so caught up in our own thing. I never feel like I’m balancing my home life! But when I know everyone else is feeling the same way? I don’t feel so badly about it.”
For Flicker, it’s the act of finding or creating a community that drives her in every part of her life. As a first-time mother, she quickly discovered that parenting wasn’t the relatively intuitive experience that pregnancy had been. She says, “I realized that all mothers are struggling. But because it’s so important to feel like you’re doing it right, if someone’s doing something differently than you, it just stirs up so many issues that can be so easily transformed into judgment or rage. In some ways one of the greatest bonding mechanisms that women have is over motherhood, and so it’s crazy to me that there would be any friction over that because it’s actually this unifying thing.”
Unity has long been the goal for Flicker professionally as well. Since her interests and talents range far and wide, Flicker sought a way to combine the seemingly disparate elements of her life and first wound up doing that when she founded the Citizens Band, her political/cabaret group. Flicker says, “I never just wanted to do one thing. I always gravitated toward film, fashion, art, politics, performing. And dance! Somehow in my mind all those things make sense together.”
What’s so refreshing, and even liberating, about Flicker’s drive to pursue so many things at once is that each element of her life unites to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. Flicker says, “It used to be that when someone asked me at a dinner party, ‘What do you do?’ I would shrink in terror. And now I’m able to just say that I do a lot of things and here is what I’m working on currently.”
And even before talking with Flicker, I’d been thinking a lot about hyphens and about how it’s usually women who are defined by their dual (or triple or even quadruple!) roles in our culture. And whether it’s because a woman is a mother and a professional, or because she holds down more than one job at a time (i.e. writer-director or actress-artist or activist-author), the tendency to hyphenate the Janes-of-all-trades in our culture instead of the Jacks can feel like an aggressive act—diminishing the whole by fragmenting it. In the book I Love Dick, artist-writer-academic Chris Kraus talks about this phenomenon—the “and-and-and”-ing of women—and how our culture would rather reduce women to one thing, thus ignoring their complexity in favor of seeking out some sort of feminine sincerity—a simplicity—which is easy enough to dismiss as being unworthy of serious consideration.
Flicker, though, flies in the face of any attempt to reduce who she is or what she does. She embraces the complicated and asks, “Why does it need to be simple? I’m complicated. Women are complicated. Granted, I’m in a really privileged place to be able to say that I want to do all of these different things—and some of them make money and some of them don’t. So I understand that I’m in a unique position, but I feel really lucky that I’ve created a life that is really flexible.”
But beyond just creating that type of life for herself, what is extraordinary about Flicker is her work to make that type of life possible for other women who might not have her advantages or privileges. Particularly through her political advocacy and her writing, Flicker’s efforts to keep women’s issues—especially those concerning reproductive rights—at the forefront of our collective attention, is admirable and speaks strongly to her belief in the power of community and the collective whole. By writing for a young female audience at places like Rookie on issues ranging from reproductive freedoms to the importance of voting in the midterm elections, Flicker gets her political stance across to a much larger group than she would with solely live performances. That said, the ground-up mentality that Flicker possesses that has led to her making videos like “You Don’t Own Me” with her friends or performing with the Citizens Band speak to a level of engagement that is inspiring.
Flicker proves that being a working mother isn’t about having the answer to anything, but is instead having the drive and curiosity to continue to ask questions and seek solutions outside of yourself, without forgetting that the issues that matter to you probably matter to most other people as well. As Flicker says, “That’s why ‘the personal is the political’ never gets old.”
Ink Duchess satin trapeze gown, Sally LaPointe; vintage headband.