How to fight sexism in the film industry

Laura Day

Laura Day

About one month ago, I wrote an editorial in response to the Weinstein scandal. I wrote about my personal experiences working in the film industry — and those of my peers — and discussed how those experiences are symptomatic of a culture wherein abusers like Weinstein have been allowed to thrive.

This story is intended to offer a positive follow-up — a “what-can-you-do-to-help” perspective on the sexism in our industry.

But first, I want to address a bit of what I experienced after my last article.

I’m hoping my personal anecdotes will help readers understand why it’s so difficult for women to come forward, and why open dialog is crucial if we are to make progress.

I was ready for my last article to cause controversy, but one criticism I received stood out: some readers felt that, in writing about Harvey Weinstein, I should have narrowed my lens to only recount cases of sexual harassment and assault.

This criticism strikes me as particularly dangerous. Let’s not police the women who are working to address the many different types of institutional sexism. The small and big stuff is symptomatic of the same disease.

As with any sensitive subject matter, opinions will vary and emotions will run hot. What we can do is address controversy in a productive, positive dialogue rather than contribute to the fear that keeps women from being honest about their experiences in this industry.

I was grateful when a man mentioned in my last piece immediately called me to discuss what I’d written about him.

He was adamant that I had misinterpreted his words. It opened up a respectful and honest conversation. I explained that while I had found what he said to be sexist at the time, I had still perceived him as someone who made a committed effort to be fair and supportive of the people he employed.

When it happened, I had felt anxious confronting him. Instead, I carried the comment with me, keeping my frustrations to myself.

I talked to him about how everyone struggles with unconscious biases because we are raised in a society that indoctrinates us with prejudice at a young age. I still find myself working through internalized misogyny. He came back to reiterate that I had misinterpreted what he’d intended as a compliment to my work ethic.

We both agreed I should have simply come to him at the time to allow him to clarify. He deserved that opportunity and, in hindsight, I believe he would have put my mind at ease.

It would be beyond taxing for a woman to confront every man about any perceived slight, and it’s totally within our prerogative to protect ourselves from the potential consequence of doing so. That being said, I believe we must work to be honest with men who have and want to support us.

It’s not always easy to judge who will be able and willing to engage in a healthy dialogue, but in my case, if I had fully thought things through, I would have known this man would have been open to hearing me out and clarifying his intent.

As widespread as the problem of sexism is in our in our industry, there are steps every single one of us can take to help.

Men can learn from the incident described above: if a woman says you’ve done something sexist, even if you believe in your heart of hearts that it’s unfounded, be kind and hear her out.

Keep in mind that because women are so frequently faced with sexism from men, many of us are bound to get defensive. Understand that, even if you think her reaction is overblown, there are good reasons for it. See what you can learn from talking to her about her experience. Remain open to the possibility that you may have to confront some biases you may not realize you carry.

Never do anything that may make a woman feel like you are holding a carrot contingent upon her personal relationship with you.

My last article talked a lot about men who offered themselves as professional resources to me, only to reveal their romantic interest immediately after. Don’t do that.

All of us need to work harder to hire more women. Keep in mind there will be less women available with certain skill sets for a variety of reasons: they are dissuaded at a young age from pursuing industries which appear technical and “for the boys;” then, they are given less opportunities to develop their skills once they do make their way into film.

Let’s all work harder to hire the highly skilled and experienced women who are available. Additionally, if you see passion or talent in someone, but she doesn’t have the experience yet to work on your set, ask how you can help her. Ask your friends if they would take a shadow on their next job. Introduce her to any other education avenues you can think of.

Give her my email! I work with an organization that offers production workshops geared towards women.

After all this, give her the opportunity to apply her skills in a professional setting.

Invest your time and resources in female talent. Remember all women will struggle in this industry, but particularly women of color and those from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds. Their perspectives have value.

If works ranging from Chicago’s own Brown Girls to the blockbuster Wonder Woman have anything to teach us, it’s that female driven storylines and perspectives are profitable, don’t sleep on projects with this kind of potential.

There is more we can all be doing, and that’s a daunting but encouraging thing to realize. The sooner we’re all on the same team, the sooner we can be working together to create even better productions.

Thank you to the women who are speaking out, and specifically, to the many of you who expressed solidarity and gratitude after my last piece. We’re changing the game!

Laura Day is a freelance film and television producer, a creative producer for Women Of The Now, and a screening panelist for the Midwest Independent Film Festival.