Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Men in Film

It may seem ridiculous to discuss "men in film." Isn't it obvious that men make films? Aren't most filmmakers men? Why would we need to use the qualifier?

We assume that filmmakers are men unless we are told otherwise, and most of the time it is, unfortunately, true.

I like to think that we are making progress. Maybe Kathryn Bigelow will win an Academy Award this year. Maybe people will start thinking of filmmaking as something that people can do regardless of gender.

When I go to University Film Organization meetings or take film-related classes, I see that at least half the people present are women. Women clearly do not a lack an interest in filmmaking. Women have the desire and they are making the effort to learn the skills.

So why are "women filmmakers" such a rarity?

Certainly in the past there have been a lot of barriers. My grandmother wrote in her diaries about her love of film. She went to the movies multiple times a week in the 30s and 40s. When I was growing up everyone in the family went to her to ask whether a film was worth seeing. Years after her death, we go to movies together in her memory.

Early in her life she wrote of her desire to act, but eventually decided she was too shy and gave up on the idea. She was a talented writer, but never in her diary did she write of a desire to write a screenplay. The notion probably would have been laughable. She also loved photography. She kept a huge collection of family photos and always had a camera ready at family get-togethers. Would she ever have had the audacity to dream of being a cinematographer?

My grandmother worked tedious secretary jobs until she married my grandfather and spent the rest of her life raising their five children. That's what women of her generation did.

Today most women work. Too many women are still stuck in pink collar jobs, but many women have positions that they wouldn't have dreamed of holding a few decades ago.

Why have so few women made it as filmmakers?

A few months ago I attended What is Film? in Portland. It was a really interesting and informative conference, but I was really struck by how few women speakers were present. All three of the keynote speakers were men and most of the panelists who work in the film industry were men. Many women were in the academic panels on the second day. This suggests that women can find their way into positions where they get to talk and write about films, but most of the films are still made by men.

Lately I've spent a lot of time looking for production jobs and internships on Craig's List, both in Portland and Eugene and I've been shocked by the number of listings that use male gender pronouns such as "cameraman" and "sound guy." The people (presumably men) posting these ads may not be deliberately excluding women, but their oversight has an impact.

I am certainly hesitant to apply for any such position.

Will a woman be considered based on her experience and abilities or will these producers automatically assume that she's not what they had in mind?

If a woman is hired by someone who thinks of a position as something a man does, will she be scrutinized? Will he assume that any mistake or shortcoming is the result of her gender? Will she have to work twice as hard to prove herself?

If these filmmakers assume that people with production skills are men, what other areas does their sexism permeate? If they do hire a woman, how will she be treated? Will she be seen as a novelty? Will she be sexually harassed? Will she be given "pink collar" duties like making coffee for the men? Will her input be taken seriously?

If a woman feels men on the set are being sexist will anyone take her complaints seriously? Will anyone back her up?

I wonder if the men who post these ads ever think about these things or if they care. I wonder if they know that they may be the gatekeepers preventing another generation of women from becoming filmmakers.

No comments: