“Here’s a skeleton key to what has to change,” Gloria Steinem told Boston Globe’s Feature Writer Beth Teitell for today’s article “Gloria Steinem’s message about gender, then and now.” “Women still require an adjective and males don’t. There is a ‘novelist’ and a ‘woman novelist,’ [as there is a] ‘doctor’ and a ‘black doctor.’ ” Basically, we will know we’ve made major strides when we get rid of the automatic tendency to add the word “woman” before stating a professional position.
I have been thinking about this topic all month, as I just went live with an issue about Jewish women filmmakers for 614: the HBI ezine (an online magazine I edit about hot topics for Jewish women). I interviewed a half-dozen smart and gutsy “women filmmakers” about the process of shepherding their film from an idea to a screening. On the one hand, they should just be called filmmakers; on the other hand, the fact that they are women is a badge of honor in my book, given that only an estimated 10 percent of filmmakers today are female. It means something significant that these ladies got the job done.
As a female filmmaker myself, I know how hard it is to get a movie out in the world; it’s a money-sucking and altogether time-consuming endeavor. It wears you down and drives you to tears on a regular basis. (We do it, of course, because it’s also an exhilarating wild journey of telling your story and vision in your own voice.) It is unquestionably harder if you’re a parent because filmmaking is also a job that pulls you constantly out of your house– for filming, meetings, festivals, and screenings (if you’re lucky). Making movies is best suited for a single 20-something dude with a trust-fund. It is an extreme sport for women who are balancing filmmaking with their kids’ after-school homework and activities, being truly present with a spouse/partner, and trying to establish any kind of work-life balance. “Work” is often our stable jobs that bring in a regular paycheck, while making films falls somewhere under the enormous category of “life.”
I add the word “woman” before filmmaker as a celebratory marker for beating the odds and opening the door a little wider for the next female filmmaker.
I also know first-hand what it’s like to hear from film distributors “I really like the idea, but the bottom line is that women just don’t watch films.” Don’t bother trying to explain that women do indeed watch films they can relate to; they just don’t open their wallets for tickets to shoot-’em-up actions films made for 14-year-old boys. It will fall on deaf ears. Thank God for distributors who do understand the simple notion that women pay to watch stories that resonate with them.
I long for the day when we don’t feel the need to add “woman” before the word “filmmaker” (or any position). That will come as more and more of us pick up a videocamera to tell our own stories. There are signs this is happening, such as the fact that at Sundance this year there was, for the first time ever, an equal number of male and female-directed films vying for top prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition But until this is commonplace, I add the word “woman” as a celebratory marker for beating the odds and opening the door a little wider for the next female filmmaker.
I loved the advice that Tina Fey gave to a female film student this week on Bravo TV’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio”: Don’t ever make a point about being a woman filmmaker – just do your job well. That’s how we make change. Her additional bit of advice was “Don’t eat diet foods like Lean Cuisine in front of men,” because it makes women appear weak and also feel weak. Which is just more evidence that we should soak in the mighty wisdom of Ms. Fey.
I am a journalist, filmmaker, author, wife, and mom to an 8-year-old daughter. My most recent project is I Love Mondays: And other confessions from devoted working moms. Other projects explore raising only children, happily ever after, raising strong girls, and hot topics for Jewish women.
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