Feminism – the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes. (Merriam Webster)
Looking back I’ve probably always been a feminist but I have an adverse reaction to labels. I didn’t tell people I was Buddhist until I was 21. I didn’t want to admit I was from the Midwest until I was 35. Labels seem to polarize people, putting them on one side or another of something. I just wanted (and still do) for people to see me as a person with hopes, dreams, success and failures, just like them.
But October 2012 I was asked to give a speech on what it means to be a female director. I felt the pressure greatly. Sure, I could talk about my experience but I wanted to dive into the experiences of the female directors that came before me. The process was eye opening. At the time 5% of directors were female. 16 films were released to the box office in 2012 that were directed by women. I researched what solutions were offered and found myself saying “that won’t work.” So I tried by best to get to the root of the problem. As I researched, I found myself down the perpetual Alice In Wonderland rabbit hole. I saw things I couldn’t ignore. I saw deeply upsetting accounts of the treatment of women in media.
I took heat for my first talk. “How dare you suggest it’s different for a female director than a male director” was general feedback before I even stepped to the microphone. I wanted to believe them. It would have been GREAT if it wasn’t a matter of gender and just a job. But I dug deep and thought about my start in filmmaking. When I was 10, I was told that directing was only for 50 year-old men. When I was 16, I was told should be an actress because I might see money in that where there would be no money in directing. When I was 19, I was told by my college professor that I wouldn’t succeed in the Hollywood system because I was female. It’s one thing to have your dreams crushed, it’s another that it’s because of the gender you were born into.
That talk in October was put on the web and I was asked to give more talks on the subject throughout 2013. The heat was still on me. Unfriending started. Being called “militant” and “man-hating” started. I was less surprised that it came but more surprised on who it came from. It didn’t come from a causal acquaintance but people I had known and worked with for awhile. But something else happened… Sure, I was being publicly chastised more than ever, but I was also being publicly (and privately) championed more than ever. Strangers were friending me because others said I was “spit-fire talker” who wasn’t scared to post things relating to the empowerment of women.
Throughout the year of talking publicly about females in filmmaking, I had women come up to me tell me how much my talk meant to them. I hugged a few women who were in tears because they too feared that their daughters would give up on their talents – like they did.
In 2013 I continued my study to try to figure out why there are so few female directors. This lead me to read books and articles on brain studies, leadership training, gender gap reports, analyzing media and its effects on self-esteem, looking more closely at our culture and women’s place in it. I found it to be a bigger problem than just the film industry. I was seeing women facing inequality everywhere, around the world and in each work environment. I was really getting scared, not of my future, but of my daughters future.
I remember when it all clicked for me. I was prepping for a speech at River Bend Film Festival. I was on a quick break and posted on Facebook about the Bechdel Test and how screenplay professors were asking students to remove any aspect of “women talking about what ever they talk about – even if it furthered the story” (link to the article)
Bechdel Test: by Allison Bechdel
1) Are there two female characters in the movie with names?
2) Do they talk to each other?
3) Do they talk about something other than a man?
I got into with a colleague and he posted “forcing elements into your story are dumb and won’t serve any purpose.”
Won’t Serve Any Purpose.
A few minutes before reading that comment, I read a news report of two 5th graders who conspired to rape and murder a fellow female student. My oldest daughter is in 5th Grade.
Maybe films with female characters that have names, friends and talk to each other is too silly. Maybe it’s not enough….But damn it, it’s a start!!
Maybe I can do more. Maybe I can try to serve a purpose.
I started a women’s group later that month because the problems I was seeing were getting too big for me to bear on my own. I was scared for my kids and I need women with names to come talk to each other about something other than men.
My group Women Empowering Balance (WEB) meets each month and this is what I’ve learned in our first year.
- What feminism is and how it scares people. We love the quote by George R. Martin “I’ve always considered women to be people.”
- I’ve learned to distrust and reject the media and how it makes me and my family feel about ourselves.
- My family now has weekly conversations on media, entertainment and culture.
- I learned that my 10 year-old thought she was ugly.
- I learned that my 5 year-old thought she was fat.
- I learned that social media can hurt the bottom line of bullies like Ambercrombie & Fitch. That it can make Facebook crack down on rape culture images. And that companies like Go Daddy choose to stop their sexist advertising.
- I learned that media creates our culture and only 5% of women are the decision makers in media. Sited Miss Representation
- I learned about the If She Can See It, She Can Be it campaign by the Genna Davis Institute on Gender in Media
- I’m working on stopping the fat talk. I see now that it doesn’t just hurt me but it perpetuates that size matters and being fat is wrong/shameful.
- I learned that 1 in 3 women (one billion women) will be or have been raped.
- I’ve learned that boys clubs keep women out by making the environment too toxic or hostile to endure.
- I championed the movie Gravity because #1 the director fought to have the lead role be female #2 the director fought for Sandra Bullock #3 it would show Warner Brothers that movies with female leads can dominate at the box office. (In 2007 they announced they would not make another movie with a female lead)
- I learned the saying “If they can’t kill your dreams they will try to assassinate your character.”
- I’ve learned that the films I make are “too feminist” for some distributors and “not feminist enough” for Feminist film festivals.
- I loved Kevin Smith’s take on marketing to girls “Do you f’ing job!”
- I’ve seen more women post on social media about women’s issues.
- I’ve seen more women stand up and comment of sexist posts.
- I’ve seen amazing changes coming.
- I’ve learned there is more work to be done.
Feminism is not a dirty word and no longer describes man-hating woman. Feminists are male and female and put most simply: Feminists believe women are people too.
I started this journey fearing a label. I’ve ended the year wearing that label like a badge of courage.
I believe that together through information and support we can make a less hostile and toxic environment for the women and girls who come after us. We can stop pretending that 51% of our population doesn’t have goals and voices. We can work together -equally- and strive for a richer and more diverse world. We all have hopes, dreams, success and failures. We can all learn from each other. Embrace the label of feminism or reject the label, that is up to you but please…just believe that women are people too.