Behind the Scenes: Women in Film and Television

The What I See team recently attended a Women in Film and Television UK (WFTV) event, where we chatted to a selection of the exceptional women from the film, television and media industry. Each woman that we met is a shining example to all young girls.

It is clear from the statistics we heard from Women and Hollywood blogger Melissa Silverstein that females are massively underrepresented in front of the camera. But what about those behind the camera? According to the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, in 2012, only 26% of individuals working behind the scenes (such as directors, producers and writers) were women. The figures for the amount of women who worked on the top 250 films of 2012 are even more depressing; they stand at a mere 18%.

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Camera operator Lulu Elliott filming the Opening Ceremony at the London 2012 Olympics

What can be done to change this? Some women have taken it on themselves to bridge the gender inequality gap by taking matters into their own hands. Kristen Wigg penned the £198 million smash-hit film Bridesmaids after been quoted as saying: “It’s not that there aren’t good roles for women, there just aren’t enough.”

In May of this year, camera operator Lulu Elliott launched her own agency, Reel Angels, to help women who work behind the camera. “We hope to raise much needed awareness with Reel Angels as [it is] the first and only agency representing female camera, lighting and sound freelance crews,” she told us. “With 100 UK members and growing, it feels great to shine a light on skilled women who have been traditionally been under-represented.” The women that are represented by the agency already have a myriad of crew credits, everything from Hollywood blockbusters to British soap operas.

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Writer/Director Sarah Gray

We also met Sarah Gray, whose latest film Wicked Yeva, a psychological thriller about sibling rivalry, was featured as Film of the Day on Gerry Films. Sarah wrote and directed the film herself.

“I made Wicked Yeva because I’m fascinated with the cycles of behaviour created within families. Yeva’s revenge is fuelled by her need for her mother’s love, [which her mother] Heather is unable to give. The cycle continues as Yeva bullies her little sister Susie so she can control the family and ultimately Heather. I wanted to tell the story of siblings because it’s a relationship most of us understand and is often our first experience of rivalry. I find it frightening how we easily we pass on the unspoken darkness in our hearts to those who need us most.”

Sarah openly admits that she is using her film and talent to break common stereotypes about women that are held in the film and television industry. “I’ve found that, being a woman, my skills and vision are often automatically underestimated. It’s only when I can prove that I know what I want from my films, and have a clear vision of what I’m trying to achieve, that attitude changes. By being concise, calm, and communicative, I’ve managed to make it work so far!”

These women show that females are now finding new and creative ways to express themselves. How do you think we can further break down those barriers of ignorance and prejudice? Let us know in the comment section below.

Girls fight back against the stereotypical ‘pink toy aisle’

By Harlen Leonard

A new video has caused storm in cyberspace. Whatever could it be? Could it be women doing sport in heels? Dustin Hoffman crying over his once shallow views on women? Lil Bub‘s Birthday?

Actually, all of these videos have been causing a bit of a fuss, but The What I See Project team has fallen in love with this campaign.

The video below shows a group of young girls rebelling against stereotypical ‘girly toys’ (we even see a pair of ballet pumps get nailed to a skateboard to improve balance) and storm the ‘pink aisle’ of a local toy shop. I’m particularly impressed by their ‘Not Just a Princess’ T-shirts covered in dirt and grease.

The advert comes from GoldieBlox, a toy designed to get girls interested in engineering, and clearly shows that gender stereotypes need to be a thing of the past. This video is hilarious, full of emotion, and reminds me of being a young pink-hating girl!

The GoldieBlox YouTube description reads: “The odds are against us. We’ve been told that GoldieBlox can’t survive in mass stores next to Barbie. Convention says that engineering toys for girls are a ‘niche’ for the affluent and for the Internet. Together, we must prove convention wrong.”

I, for one, think that this advert and toy could not have come sooner.

BlondieBox gives young girls a chance to explore engineering at an early age. At last! A toy and advert for all the girls that hate the ‘pink toy aisle’ and prefer protective goggles over Barbie-branded sunglasses. Hurrah!

What I See Meets…Wimbledon

By Harlen Leonard & Marése O’Sullivan Today the What I See Project team braved the hussle and bussle of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. We walked the length of the queue and received contributions from women who were eager to become involved … Continue reading

What I See Meets…Leicester Square

What I See Meets…Leicester Square

By Harlen Leonard Today, the What I See team headed to Leicester Square to ask women what they see when they look in the mirror. We had a wonderful time chatting to everyone and hearing each woman’s different perceptions about … Continue reading

Are you going to watch the Battle of the Sexes?

By Harlen Leonard

Today (June 26th) will see the release of the much-anticipated documentary Battle of the Sexes.

Poster and trailer belonging to Live For Films

Poster and trailer were found on Live For Films. Click here for more details.

The film’s historical footage chronicles Billie Jean King‘s journey from amateur tennis player to her 1973 defeat of Bobby Riggs, the match that earned her instant respect as a feminist icon.

King was the number one American world tennis champion and won 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 singles, 16 women’s doubles, and 11 mixed doubles titles. She also founded the Women’s Tennis Association and Women’s Sports Foundation.

In 1973, Bobby Riggs challenged the leading women of the tennis world to beat him in a match. At the time, he was quoted as saying “I want to prove that women are lousy, [that] they stink [and] they don’t belong on the same court as a man.”

The 55-year-old first challenged Margaret Court, on the basis that no women could beat him even at his age, and he won on May 13, 1973. This caught Billie Jean’s attention.

Riggs said: “Billie Jean King is one of the all-time tennis greats. She’s one of the superstars, she’s ready for the big one, but she doesn’t stand a chance against me. Women’s tennis is so far beneath men’s tennis.”

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Image of Billie Jean King – courtesy of The Huffington Post.

On September 20, 1973, Riggs and King met each other at the Houston Astrodome, where Billie Jean went on to beat her competitor and instantly became a figurehead for the feminist movement. Over 1 million people watched the match on television and it is still considered to be the most-viewed match in tennis history.

This must-see film, produced by King, contains historical footage as well as interviews from Margaret Court, Chris Evert, and Venus and Serena Williams.

It is released in cinemas today. Let us know if you’re going to see it!

Watch the trailer below:

Is it ok to want to be a princess?

By Harlen Leonard

This week a hypothetical online letter on Salon.com, written from a father to his daughter, has captured the What I See team’s attention. The letter comes from Mo Elleithee, a Democratic political consultant in Washington D.C., and addresses his daughter’s misconception that she can never be the President of America.

He writes:

You and I were walking down the street and I pointed to the picture on the front page in the newspaper stand.
“Do you know who that is?” I asked.
Beaming with pride that you knew the answer, you looked up and said, “President Obama!”
“That’s right!” I congratulated you.  “President is a very important job.  Would you like to be President some day?”
Then, turning to me with a look as if I had just made the silliest suggestion ever, you laughed and said, “Daddy…I can’t be president! I’m not a boy!”
Talk about a verbal gut punch.

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Mo then goes on to note how he is aware that his daughter is only three and that her only frame of reference for ‘President’ is a man, and isn’t that sad? He points out that, in America, women make up only 20% of senators and only 10% of governors, and yet they make up over 50% of the population. He hopes that these numbers will change as she gets older.

But then it got worse.
When I asked you what you did want to be, you said with all the certainty in the world, that you wanted to be…a princess.
And not just any princess. You like Arielle, and Cinderella, and Jasmine, and Aurora, but you really wanted to be Belle. And I had to be the Beast.
Sigh…

Secondly – your mother and I really did not want you to fall into the “princess trap.” You know the one – where the helpless princess has only one singular path to happiness, and it revolves entirely around winning the affection of her Prince Charming. I thought those stories were lovely and cute before I met you. But when I began to realize the lesson that they were teaching in the context of what you might take from them, that all changed.

It’s not easy to avoid that message. It’s everywhere. We can’t walk through a store without finding some imagery of the glamorous princesses beckoning to you.

Brave (2012). Image belonging to IMDB

Now I understand exactly what Mo is saying. He wants his daughter to succeed in life, driven by her own independence and ambition. Not the so-called ambition forced on to young girls by the media.

I agree with him. I could understand his frustration, especially as he was the travelling Press Secretary for Hillary Clinton during her 2008 campaign.
However, is it really so wrong to want to be a princess? I am sure that people rolled their eyes at Kate Middleton when she said the very same line at the age of three. The idea of the princess waiting around and swooning is long gone. The Duchess of Cambridge has her own career and has certainly not done things by the ‘royal/traditional book’. Let us also consider recent Disney princesses, such as Tiana from Princess and the Frog, who actively worked to make her dreams come true, and the ever awesome Merida from Brave. Is wanting to be a princess such a bad thing with role models like this?

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Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. Image from Disney.co.uk.

It is clear that Mo’s issue is his daughter conforming to social and media pressures in regards to gender roles and careers. I can also understand that he doesn’t believe his child has chosen her definitive career path and he is simply using this experience as an example of the media presence in his child’s life and the pressures that befall her. After all, it is a sorry state that a child, who has never watched a princess film, is under the impression that she is expected to be a princess.

However, on another note…she is three. She is a three-year-old child and the chances are that her views will likely change as she gets older and is exposed to different role models and ideas.

Mo ends his letter on a positive note as it turns out it is his daughter that wants to rescue him:

“Daddy, I have to marry you!”
“You do?” I asked, more than a little amused.
“Yes. Because you’re the Beast and you didn’t turn into a prince yet. So I have to marry you.”
While the conversation went on a little longer (and got even more hilarious as you started ticking off your invite list, which included the Tooth Fairy), that moment struck me.
In your mind, you weren’t the demure little princess waiting for Prince Charming to come save you or sweep you off your feet. You were the one coming to my rescue, to help me reach my potential.

You were the one who was empowered.

On a final note, Belle was my favourite princess. She was sassy, smart, knew her own mind and defended her family. I still like to believe that, after getting married to the Beast, she went on to have a successful career as an archivist. However, this is my personal princess preference.

Does it matter what career a woman has, as long as she feels empowered?

Would you mind if your child wanted to be a princess? If so, please let us know in your comments.

Surfing in Heels

By Harlen Leonard

It was Marilyn Monroe who said “give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” While these women may not have conquered the world, they have certainly conquered the waves, and in heels no less.

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Image courtesy of Surfer Today.

These Russian surfers hopped on their boards at Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia, competing for the best ride. Sadly, it is hard to decipher which of these talented women won, but considering how difficult it is walk in heels, let alone surf in them, they are all winners in our eyes.

The event, held on May 6th, is the first of its kind, but organisers Surf Discovery say a similar one is planned to take place in the near future.

It is assumed that these women are trained professionals and that this should not be tried in the ocean or the bath. The original video was posted on Vimeo by Anna_Lazar, please feel free to watch it and be amazed!

Tate Modern: Ewa Partum and nudity as artistic expression

By Harlen Leonard

While on a recent trip to the Tate Modern, I came across the work of Polish artist Ewa Partum. A pioneer in conceptual and performance art, Ewa is now regarded as one of Poland’s great feminist artists. She was one of the first female artists to enter a public space in the nude, claiming that she would continue to perform nude until women were given equal rights artistically. By entering her environment naked, she made a very clear statement about herself as a female artist and how her work was based on her experiences as a woman.

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Ewa Partum’s ‘Active Poetry’ at the Tate Modern

Her art is a true example of ‘poetry through art.’ Ewa has been pursuing a new artistic language through the use of linguistic actions and installations. An amazing example of this is currently on display at the Tate Modern. It is a film re-enactment that documents some of her most significant actions from the early 1970’s, known as Active Poetry. During this time Ewa would cut out words from classical and historical texts, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, and scatter the letters in public spaces. This created non-linear ‘visual poetry’. From the image to the left you can see that the floor of the room where this work is presented is covered with large white letters.

Ewa is not the only woman to use her body as a political statement. It is said that Lady Godiva rode through the streets of Coventry naked on a horse in the 13th century to protest high taxation. In recent years, women have once again taken charge of their own bodies, using them as a medium for protest and self-expression.

The latest group of women to employ this tactic is Feman, a global protest group that demonstrates against the many forms of sexism that are present in society. Feman has made headlines all over the world, and some members have even been incarcerated, for their topless protests.

Another group of women choosing to express themselves through a lack of clothing is the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society. The book club takes advantage of the New York state law that allows public toplessness, in the hopes of removing the social taboo of women bearing their breasts, even though toplessness is considered acceptable for men. They are often spotted reading in Central Park, and it is important to note that they have not been met with any hostility from the NYPD.

Why do you think that nudity and toplessness are still used to express thoughts and ideals? Is the female form still a taboo? Please feel free to comment and share your views on the subject.

Here at What I See, we hope that you will contribute to our project focusing on self-expression. To do this, please answer our question: What do you see when you look in the mirror? We hope that our collective answers will inspire female empowerment.