On 10.20.15, students and alumni of the Mills College Book Art program got word that within 30 days the program might be completely cut. The program has existed for over 35 years, benefiting hundreds of students in the fields of book arts, bookbinding, and printmaking, and letterpress. My mother, Jill Tarlau, is a bookbinder and a graduate of the Book Art program at Mills. She wrote the blog below in response to the threat to end the program. Known for her work with needlepoint, the photos are of books she’s bound. At the end of the post, there’s a link to a petition to save the program. As of this posting, over 2,500 have signed. Please consider adding your name.
In 1983 my teenager daughters advised me to get a life.
It was the first year of the Book Art Masters program at Mills College, where I had been as an undergraduate from 1961-1965. As an English major I had been, of course, into books.
At that time my focus was on content, but I already cared about design, preferring to read Moby Dick in an attractive, hard cover edition for a little more money rather than struggle through yellow paper, gray type, and a spine that disassembled after the first 100 pages. Almost twenty years later, it was time to discover what contributed to book design.
Mills had unique advantages, already gifted the Florence Walter bindery, already famous examples of beautiful books in the Bender room, already its own type fonts and press. Also the Bay Area had for decades been a center for some of the greatest American fine presses, (The Allen, Tuscany Alley and Arion) several still functioning. Commercial publishers such as North Point employed experts willing to discuss with our class cover design, layout. What a lucky spot for me.
My degree took three years to complete. That final printing project is a story written my youngest daughter, illustrated by my oldest, with notes on the author set in type letter by letter on the back cover by my middle child.
Out of the many disciplines learned, I chose to pursue bookbinding, moving to Paris to concentrate on my career. I am proud to say that my embroidered bindings are in the collections of many French libraries, including the Bibliotheque Nationale, libraries of several other countries, Morocco, Luxembourg, Belgium, universities in the United States, Princeton, Harvard, and private collections.
The seriousness of the Book Art program at Mills, and the difficulties I had in fulfilling its requirements, got me to take my own possibilities more seriously. All I wanted was to be the best.
Mills College can’t afford a medical school, or a law school. It can and does have the very best book arts program in the country. Don’t give up that honor!
My fiftieth reunion was in September. I was so proud of my college, but today, with this devastating news, I am so ashamed.
Just weeks after getting rid of gender-segregated toy aisles, Target put out an inspiring new ad showing girl and boy “Star Wars” fans playing together. Check it out.
YAY Target! THANK YOU. I did all of my back to school shopping at your store and will continue to shop the hell out of your chain whenever I need supplies for my children. I’ve got to admit, part of me can’t believe this blog post has to be written at all, that I feel the need to congratulate Target and express my gratitude, that my headline isn’t satire that belongs on The Onion. But sadly, as the mom of 3 daughters, I speak from endless personal experience of the rampant sexism in kidworld where gender equality is hardly allowed to exist even in our imaginations. Here’s a video where my youngest child, like many kids in America, was teased at preschool for wearing “boy shoes” in her case, “Star Wars” sneakers.
It’s kids like her who Target is helping now, because in spite of my daughter’s promise to keep wearing those shoes, and in spite of having a feminist mom, she was “choosing” “gender appropriate” footwear by kindergarten.
In May, I went on Fox News to support Amazon’s similar decision to drop gender categories from its toys. After I was intro-ed by an annoying gender police siren, I was told, as I’m so often told, that children just “pick “the toys they want. I’ve been repeatedly “informed” that girls are just born obsessed with how they look while boys who are denied toy weapons will bite their toast into the shapes of guns. That’s just how we are. As I told Fox News, in nicer words, we don’t have a fucking clue how we are. Our brains are wired up based on actions we engage in, and these connections are never made more rapidly or elaborately than when we’re little kids. Why wouldn’t we want to expose our children to more stories, more experiences, more colors than pink?
On Facebook, I saw photos of Wonder Woman traveling all over Washington D.C. Turns out, she was hanging with my former colleague Christine Mathias. (We used to produce talk radio shows for KGO Radio in San Francisco.) Lucky for us, Christine agreed to share her adventures with Wonder Woman on Reel Girl. Check out this photo essay.
Some people celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary with an epic excursion to Paris. Some people relax, beachside, with something full of rum and bad ideas. Some people have reproduced by their tenth year of marriage, so they’re lucky if they can ditch the tiny human to take a weekend in Mendocino. We (the incredibly game Husband and I) didn’t do any of those things. We took Wonder Woman to a rainy, thunderstormy Washington DC instead. She’s been protecting us and fighting for our rights since the ’40’s, so really it was the least I could do. As an American woman I have taken her sacrifice to heart and try to live my life in pursuit of justice and equality and WHERE DO I FIND MY OWN LASSO OF TRUTH?
“Did you know, Christine, the Washington Monument is the tallest obelisk in the world?”
“No I didn’t, Wonder Woman! Thanks for layin’ down some truth!”
“Also — totally a penis.”
Capitol Hill is a ghost town on Fridays — this is when Wondy turned to me and was like “Don’t these people ever work? No wonder they can’t protect women’s reproductive rights or come up with a solid plan for universal pre-K.” That’s her eye-rolling face.
We fought off the other tourists to get this shot but Wonder Woman was pretty insistent. “Um, Christine, not only is Lincoln a pretty big deal, but did you know he met Sojourner Truth???”
One day we took the Metro past Howard University to historic U Street. I mean, it used to be called Black Broadway! Duke Ellington’s house is there! “Christine — Mary Ann Shadd Cary’s house is there.”
“Dude. She was an abolitionist, and one of the first black female journalists AND lawyers in the country. In like the 1880’s. Kind of a big deal.”
“Sorry Wonder Woman.” This is not the first time I disappoint her on this trip.
We ate A LOT. Wonder Woman was game to be a vegetarian for a week, so this veggie chili-dog from Ben’s Chili Bowl was a big hit. Except….
“Too bad about the Bill Cosby portrait on the side of the building. Since he’s a rapist.” Word.
“AMELIA!!!!!!” We totally fangirled BIG TIME at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Amelia Earhart is such an inspiration to me, to Wondy, to every little girl who ever liked science…. “Christine, take the picture, I want to go check out the Tuskegee exhibit.”
“It’s no Justice LEAGUE, of course….”
“Very funny Wonder Woman.”
“No seriously, Loretta Lynch’s stalled confirmation was an embarrassment driven by racism and misogyny and HELL YEA she’s the boss now!”
“OK that’s better.”
“So…..every female statue in this town has a) pointy nipples b) children all over it. CAN I GET A WARRIOR?” I agree, WW, it would be nice to see a fuller representation of the roles women fulfill in our society. “SERIOUSLY JUST ONE SWORD.”
At the Supreme Court.
“Is she here? Is she working today? Are any of them working? Can we meet them? Did you bring my Notorious RBG shirt?”
“Sorry, Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t here. No Sotomayor or Kagan either. And I didn’t bring your shirt because it’s my shirt, Wonder Woman.”
We got to see Sandra Day O’Connor’s chair and portrait, and Wonder Woman was glad to get at least this photo-op (if RBG was unavailable.)
“As I understand it, she is the best idea Ronal Reagan ever had?”
That is correct.
We visited the International Spy Museum and got acquainted with lady-spies like this Civil War-era cross-dressing Union operative Sarah Emma Edmonds. “She was so much more than a spy! She enlisted for three years, broke limbs, got malaria, was a stretcher-bearer on the front lines, she even eventually got a military pension and burial! OMG I DIE.”
“Hey you. It’s been a while.” Wonder Woman and FDR go waaaaay back, like WWII way-back. She and Eleanor were “like this,” and Wondy was a big fan of FDR’s Labor Secretary, Frances Perkins. She was the first female Cabinet member, and can be credited with the implementation of social security, unemployment insurance, and a federal minimum wage. “You know, the small stuff.” Wonder Woman + sarcasm = hilarious.
The mosaic of Minerva in the Library of Congress was….controversial.
“Wonder Woman it’s Minerva.”
“Dude, I’m Greek, that’s Athena.”
“They’re the same.”
“SHUT YOUR MOUTH.”
Wonder Woman loves vinyl (“it’s interacting with music, Christine”) so we took her to some great shops around town. She even made a friend at the awesome Joint Custody on U Street.
“Your hair is fab.”
“Thanks girl, nice lasso.”
And then we were done! It was a wonderful trip, incredibly educational and inspiring and full of great experiences. Got some pie and coffee for the ride home, and…
“Christine. I told you to get your own piece. Chocolate Pecan is my fave.”
Christine Mathias is a broadcaster, producer, writer, and Feminist Malcontent who has decided to make life as uncomfortable as possible for Supporters of the Patriarchy. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @NerdAlert19
Transgender actress Laverne Cox poses naked in this month’s Allure, telling the magazine:
“I said no initially, thought about it, and said no again. But I’m a black transgender woman. I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent. Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about her body might be inspiring for some folks. There’s a beauty in the things we think are imperfect. It sounds very cliché, but its true.”
Ideals of female beauty vary over time and geography, but what’s consistent in patriarchal culture, whether the idealized body happens to be Rubenesque or Twiggyish, is that women are shown naked. (For a gallery of images, please see my post Why do men feel entitled to women? A gallery of reasons) Cox has has a unique opportunity to publicly redefine what it means to be a woman, and I’m disappointed she’s sexualized here. There’s nothing new or celebratory or original about a woman posing naked.
I don’t get why all of a sudden, if the naked woman is over 50 (like Julia Louis Dreyfus on the cover of Rolling Stone) or plus size, we’re supposed to do a 180 and be grateful for the sexism. Look, she’s 50 and topless! Isn’t that wonderful? People still think she’s pretty, men still want to fuck her, she has value in the world!
I love this video by Isabel Magowan, my talented cousin and Yale MFA candidate. To me, the video depicts, with scary accuracy, the backhanded compliments people relentlessly give each other in the name of support; how often people use ‘honesty’ to justify being inappropriate or dismissive, and how girls and women are trained to cut each other– and themselves– down. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my 46 years, it’s that the awful voice inside my head, the one constantly doubting, asking– how do you know? are you sure? can you prove it? — is fueled by fear and anxiety. It’s not protective but abusive. It doesn’t help me grow but paralyzes me and keeps me small. Thank God I took the risk to stop listening. I’m so impressed Issy gets this before age 30! I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. Take a look at her startling video ‘Conversation.’
Here’s what Issy has to say about it:
Normally when I made things I am fairly improvisational, the same was the case for this piece. I thought about making a piece where all these voices are heard, the voices would be saying things I fear people think or say about me. Then I thought about all the cruel things I say to myself. I normalized this negative voice. Too often a critical thought I have about myself I just take as a truth, I forget to cognitively recognize that these negative beliefs, from an objective stand point are not true and if they were true to question what extent they might really matter. I am interested in psychology insofar as the idea of the conditions, the symptom, the diagnosis. I am interested in the ways in which our understanding of self is shaped by our upbringing, the values taught to us, the things that were presented to us as “normal.” Similarly, I interested in the extent to which one is self aware, their ability to be perceptive, to have a sense of the many factors historically and socially at work that complicate that individuals sense of self. So I combined these ideas and improvised a conversation. It is myself with myself, that being said the negative Issy is saying things she actually thinks and tells herself, but is also embodying the passive aggressive people she has encountered, people who have tried to control her through acts of physical modification (often out of love and in thinking these suggestions are helpful) quintessential mean girls, and things she fears and to a certain level knows people could say about her. Because I did not have a script editing afterward was a bit spotty. But I was amazed, delighted, and horrified by the result. It also made me sad. And that I could feel all these things, despite the fact that the piece could use a bit of a final edit, and about a minute or two or dialogue cut out, a success. The irony of course is that the success, even here, is always defined first by its imperfection. It, “will never be good enough” why this should matter, why I should care, why does approval matter, why enough is never enough is what I grapple with and is central somewhere in the core of the work I make. At a basic level I am scared of myself. I care psychologically about how we come to believe to see the world as do and how our perceptions and beliefs form. Of course I worry this inner dialogue will always haunt me, the enlightenment I seek is the acceptance of self.
Isabel Magowan is finishing her MFA in photography at Yale University this coming May. She began photographing back in 2010, during the end of her junior year of college at Wesleyan University. She is drawn to images that are quirky and is intrigued by the bizarre that can be found in the mundane. Her images attempt to offer a heightened reality that critiques the very thing she has taken an image of. See more of her work at www.isabelmagowan.com
The ideology behind these attacks – and there is ideology – is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, “adoration”
I’m reposting a blog I wrote after seeing Jimmy Fallon’s Vanity Fair cover. Look at these images. When will women in America be recognized as human beings equal to men?
Vanity Fair’s sexist Jimmy Fallon profile erases his wife, highlights Victoria Secret models
I’m a huge Jimmy Fallon fan. This is why I bought the new Vanity Fair where he’s on the cover even though it annoyed me that Fallon is shown in a suit while he’s flanked by two nameless women in bathing suits.
There are more pics of Fallon and naked women inside the magazine. Reading the caption, I learned that the women are Victoria Secret models.
There is a third picture of Fallon and the women at what looks like New York’s Natural History museum. Once again, the women are in skimpy bikinis and we get a full view of ass. Fallon is once again pictured in a suit.
Showing important, powerful men fully clothed while women appear as naked accessories underscores the idea that men valued for what they do and think, while women are valued for how they appear. Vanity Fair repetitively resorts to this sexism. There’s a famous photo featuring naked Scarlett Johanssen, Keira Knightly, and Tom Ford. When Rachel McAdams refused to undress, she was asked to leave.
Of course, Vanity Fair is hardly alone in promoting this sexist imagery. Here are five GQ covers that came out simultaneously: four men are shown in suits, one woman is shown naked.
What about Rolling Stone?
There’s Justin Timberlake’s “Tunnel Vision” video where he is clothed and the women are naked.
Many claimed Timberlake was copying Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video where he is clothed and the women are naked, a pairing repeated in the infamous Miley Cyrus performance (where Miley was blamed for being a slut.)
“Alternative” musicians resort to the same cliche. Did you see Nick Cave’s latest album cover?
The truth is, we’ve been dealing with the clothed man-naked woman pairing for a long time. Here’s a famous painting by Edouard Manet in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris that would make a perfect Vanity Fair cover.
But here’s what really pissed me off about the Jimmy Fallon article. As I wrote, I’m a fan of the comedian, but part of the reason I bought the magazine is because I wanted to know more about his wife, Nancy Juvonen. She’s a film producer and a business partner of Drew Barrymore. Both Barrymore and Juvonen are interested in making movies where cool women get to have adventures. I wanted to hear the whole story about how Juvonen and Fallon met and fell in love, just the kind of thing you’d expect to find in a Vanity Fair profile right? They recently had a daughter, Winnie, so I assumed Fallon would be asked about being a new father. I’m an avid reader of Us Weekly and People and I often see pictures of their family. Fallon is always cuddling his baby, playing with her, smiling at her, and I was curious about his thoughts on raising a girl in the world. Another thing I wanted to hear about: Fallon is 39 while Juvonen is 46, a rare gap in Hollywood where a woman’s age is measured closer to dog years than man years. Do you see my point here? Fallon married a successful career woman who is 7 years older than him, and this, besides his talent, is part of the reason I admire the guy. But here’s the weird thing: Nancy Juvonen is missing from Fallon’s profile.
Juvonen isn’t mentioned at all until 5 pages into the piece. After writing that Fallon always watched “SNL” alone, the text reads:
His one concession to adulthood is that he now watches the program with his wife, the film producer Nancy Juvonen, and if she is awake his baby daughter, Winnie, born last July.
Can you imagine Vanity Fair doing a profile on a famous woman and not mentioning her big time producer husband or her new baby until page 5? The piece goes on for two more pages and there are just two more brief references to Juvonen. Here’s all the magazine has to say on how they met and why they married.
Though the Fever Pitch experience had a saving grace–it was through the film that he met Juvonen, one of its producers who he would marry in 2007– he considers his LA years kind of a lost period.
Here’s the final reference to Juvonen, about persuading Fallon to become the “Tonight Show” host.
It was Fallon’s wife who persuaded him to go with Michael’s instinct. “Nancy was like, ‘You’ve got to try it. You’ll be one of three human beings who have done it– Letterman, Conan, and you. You have to do it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,’” Fallon said.
That’s it. WTF? All Fallon’s wife gets in a profile is a few sentences in passing coupled with a cover and three photos where he’s shown with naked women? That’s not the Jimmy Fallon I love or wanted to read about.
The screenwriter has said that “Belle” was initially inspired by her seeing the painting of Dido and Elizabeth at Scone Palace in Scotland. The painting, worth seeking out online, gets more beautiful the more you look at it. In the ease of their postures and the warm and confident expressions of their faces, one can see that those young women knew something – their own worth and each other’s.
While she was an undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in the 1990s, Misan Sagay visited the nearby Scone Palace, where a rare double portrait caught her eye. Painted in the Gainsborough style of aristocratic figures in an Arcadian landscape, the canvas showed two young women swathed in lustrous satin, gleaming pearls circling their swan necks. The vivacious one on the left is biracial; her unhurried companion is white.
Ms. Sagay, who is Anglo-Nigerian, studied the wall label. It read: “Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray, circa 1778.”
Naturally, Ms. Sagay was curious. What of the woman on the left, whose forearm Elizabeth clasps so fondly?
In 2009 Amma Asante, a British-born filmmaker of Ghanaian parentage, received a screenplay written by Ms. Sagay. Attached was a postcard reproduction of the painting. Even before reading the script, Ms. Asante recalled, “I was inspired by the image.” She said that in European paintings of the late 18th century, blacks were often depicted as lower-class figures to affirm the higher status of the white subject. “I knew how unique it was,” she said, “that the black woman was not looking with adoration at the white woman, and that the white woman was tenderly touching her companion.”
Last week, four black feminists participated in a panel discussion hosted by the New School titled: “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.” The talk– an in depth discussion about the influence of imagery and narrative on our culture and its role in creating our actual reality– went on for almost two hours. Yet, out of all this, the media reduced trenchant analysis into a sound byte, pitting one black woman against another: “Feminist scholar bell hooks calls Beyonce a terrorist.”
I encourage you to watch the whole talk. I know you probably won’t, because, as I wrote, it’s two hours long. I didn’t intend to sit through it all myself, but I was so excited and fascinated by what these women were saying, I couldn’t stop listening to them.
These 4 women are creating new narratives and images, beyond woman as victim, sex object, slave. The discussion about Beyonce, specifically her Time cover where she’s shown in her underwear (which totally bummed me out as well when I saw it– why, why, why, the issue is about the most influential people and she’s practically naked, do you know how few women make it to the cover of Time?) is a few minutes of a larger, important talk about women, power, and the nature of reality.
Here’s how bell hooks began the discussion:
Part of why I’m so excited and proud to be here today is that I’m up here with black women who are all about redefining and creating a different kind of image, liberating the black female body
Not a fan of “12 Years a Slave,” hooks says:
If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman on the screen as long as I live, I’ll be happy.
YES! I could not agree more. I am so sick of watching women get raped. After the talk, someone in the audience challenged hooks, saying she felt conflicted about hooks’ reaction to “12 Years:’
we still need to have those conversations about rape and violence on stage…how can we have those conversations, the role of slavery and colonization on women’s bodies? Can we make space for both?
Here’s how hooks responded:
Because we have been so saturated, I mean, I think one of the big lies that’s going around is, “Oh, we never talked about slavery, oh, we don’t have images of slavery.” We had “Roots” and more “Roots,” and there’ve been all these different books and productions, so that I think of that as a kind of myth building thing when people say, “Oh, we don’t have images.” Notice I didn’t say I don’t want to see anything about slavery. I don’t want to see those same tropes over and over again.
hooks speaks about some narratives that involve slavery she’d like to see, for example, when John Wollman and the Quakers met and decided they could not support slavery and believe in the god they believed in, that in fact, they owed back wages to slaves.
that would be an interesting film for me… more interesting to me as an image, as an idea than the repetitive image of victimhood, and I think that they’re all kinds of images and stories out there that could bring us into a different level of understanding.
hooks was making exactly the same point about Beyonce. She was referring to the repetition of sexualized images of women and how the inundation is an assault on our brains, especially for kids:
I see a part of Beyonce that is, in fact, anti-feminist, that is assaulting, that is a terrorist, in especially terms of the impact on young girls. I actually feel like the major assault of feminism in our society is has come from visual media… The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business…What I’m concerned about constantly in my critical imagination is why is it we don’t have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but our own sense of: what am I looking like when I am free?
The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business
hooks wants new images. She says:
I would never want my child to see “12 Years a Slave” because it’s the imprint of the black, female body as victimized.
Again, totally agree. Obviously, “12 Years” isn’t a movie for kids, but I see endless books and movies, supposedly feminist ones where girls are mocked for being girls, then they rise above it and prove everyone wrong. Fuck that. I hope in children’s media I never have to read about or watch another girl dressing up as a boy, fighting or cooking “as good as a boy can,” from Mulan to Tamora Pierce to Elena’s Serenade to endless Minority Feisty. The reason this trope is awful for girls– and boys– is because before your child can understand the narrative, she needs to understand sexism. Instead of having Colette in “Ratatouille” give a whole speech about male dominated kitchens, why not make a movie with a female top chef and her best friend is a female talking-cooking rat? Audiences will buy that a rodent can run a three star restaurant but not a female? Like hooks says, we are saturated with this same old, same old. If we weren’t, it would be a different story (ha.) The slavery narrative in all its forms has its place, but we need a break. It’s too dominant. There are many other stories to tell.
By the way, hooks walks her talk. She wrote Happy to be Nappy for kids in 2001, and in this discussion, she says she includes it in her most important, favorite works.
Another speaker on the panel, Shola Lynch, is a filmmaker whose most recent production is a documentary about Angela Davis.
In referring to her film as “a political crime drama with a love story at the center,” she reframes Davis’ narrative. Next, Lynch is making a movie about Harriet Tubman, who she calls an “action heroine.” Can you believe there hasn’t been a movie about Harriet Tubman? Lynch says that even though Tubman’s story is true, people don’t “believe” it. The same phenomenon happened with the Davis movie. About selling that film, Lynch says:
So then I have conversations where somebody’s like, “Oh, it’s a great film as a documentary, but the only reason I would support it is I have to know who the main male characters are because it’ll be flipped to be a narrative, women’s stories don’t sell”… Her story is true, but not possible. People don’t believe it. But it’s all true.”
Talking about why she would rather make movies about heroes than victims, Lynch refers to “symbolic annihilation:”
Symbolic annihilation is two things: not seeing yourself, but it’s also seeing yourself only denigrated, victimized etc, and what that does to you. We can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze, and look for the images and the people and the places that feed me. I really do think, you talk about children, the more we create our culture, our cultural images– the books you write, the films I make, the alternatives, that these are artifacts that live, and they speak to people whether we’re there or not, bodies of work, and that is critical. I want to give one example. My daughter, she’s 4. She’s never known me not working on the Angela Davis film which took 8 years. She was so excited when I could show her the trailer. ..The trailer is like 2 minutes long and she watched that trailer over and over and over again…She would point out all the characters, she loved going ‘That’s Angela’s mom.” So she created Angela’s family and a sense of community just by watching this thing over and over again. But that’s not what I wanted to share. So she’s a little girl, she wants to be a princess, I’m trying to convince her she wants to be a warrior princess, that’s blonde and poofy and glam. She woke up one morning and her hair was all out, just like, you know, big, out, out, out. Usually it’s like, “Oh mom, my hair is too puffy.” This morning, after watching the trailer over and over again, she said, “I have Angela Davis hair.” So I thought I was making this political crime drama with a love story at the center etcetera, etcetera, etcetra, but I was also making another image for young people to see and to perhaps relate to. And I was blown away, because I can tell her she’s beautiful all day long. I’m her mom, doesn’t count. The more we create the alternative universe which then becomes the universe.
Another panelist, writer Marci Blackman, echoes Lynch’s point:
My characters are the people who I grew up seeing every day who I don’t see, not just in literature, I don’t see them on TV…They weren’t there in the worlds that I was inhabiting when I would sit and go to the library and read, so I decided I wanted to write them, and I wanted to write people like me who I wasn’t seeing in the books either. I wanted to create these characters and put them out there, and I think what you say about self-representation and putting it out there to count as a counteract against these other images.
The journey to freedom has also been so much about the journey of imagination, the capacity to imagine yourself differently, counter-hegemonically, and that’s why the imagination is so important because Shola imagined Angela Davis in a different way from the images we had of her. That imagination of oneself, I would like us to end on that note and people can speak about creativity, because it is striking to me and I didn’t think about this when we were putting the panel together that for each of us, creativity and the uses of imagination have been what led us into the freedom we have. It has been what enhances my life every day. To be able to think and create and leap and jump beyond where I feel like we have been told, theoretically, intellectually that we should go.
Imagination inspires reality inspires imagination in an endless loop. It’s magic. That’s the point bell hooks was making about Beyonce. If you still don’t get it, here’s one last quote from hooks and then watch the video for yourself.
We can gather strength from the diversity of people’s stories, the diversity of people’s imagination.
Last year, Esther Pearl and Zoe Boxer founded Camp Reel Stories, a media camp in the Bay Area for girls ages 13 – 18. Excited by the concept and curious about how the camp helps girls turn big dreams into practical action, I interviewed Pearl. Her responses are below. I cannot wait until my kids are old enough to experience this magical place.
What inspired you to found Camp Reel Stories?
I have worked in film and media production for 15 years, and though I really loved my work I was often disappointed in the lack of female characters on the projects I worked on and how few female colleagues I had. When I became a parent to a little girl I dug deeper into this inequity and what I found was astonishing.
From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, law, politics, or as a business leader. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946. These statistics are enormously detrimental to young women’s impressions of themselves and their perceived value in the world. While this is disheartening, this also means there is a vast untapped market for both talent and products that represent the diversity of our society.
I look at this as a great opportunity to create change in not only the lack of equity in the industry, but a creative opportunity to create new filmmakers and producers that are excited about creating characters and storylines that interest them.
My partner and I created Camp Reel Stories (CRS) as a fun way to connect young women with professional mentors, give them story telling and production skills to tell stories that reflect their unique point of view, while incorporating media literacy and leadership workshops. CRS believes that when women and girls are better reflected behind the scenes they will be better reflected on the screen.
What do you teach the girls during the sessions? What do you think they get out of their time at the camp?
Our campers get a lot! They learn filmmaking and production from leaders in the field, they take media literacy and leadership workshops. The girls work in small teams and have an adult producer that guides them the process and in just one week they write, shoot and edit a short film. Last year we had six films completed and this year we will have even more! They also have the collaboration and creative skill building process mirrored for them as they see they professional mentors work together to create not only great short films, but a fun camp experience.
How many campers attend?
In 2013 we held our inaugural camp and we had 32 campers. This year we will have 2 summer camps and can take up to 90 girls, and those spaces are filling fast. You can apply at http://campreelstories.com/apply
What do the alumni go on to do?
Thus far we have 50% of of campers signed up again this year. We have elected 2 student board members from our first cohort to the CRS board to help grow our organization. Two of CRS films were accepted into a local film festival and were screened for a huge audience just this past Friday night and other festivals have asked me to submit their work. 100% of attendees surveyed from the CRS pilot camp said through CRS they learned how gender equity in the media affects the way women are perceived in the media, 85% now view the media more critically and 92% felt more comfortable in their leadership ability, felt their skills as filmmakers improved and plan to continue making films. 20% of our campers have made changes or created an educational plan for a career in the media.
Also many of our campers have used what they learned in camp to speak to their classes and schools about gender inequity in the media, sharing knowledge about the Bechdel test and to organize screenings of films with strong female characters.
What are some examples of media that you think promotes positive images or girls and women?
This is a tough one, because as an adult and a parent of young children I have a different lens than our campers about what a positive image is. The media has made it harder and harder to decipher between a celebrity and a role model. This is something I talk about a lot with my own kids and with our campers. There is a difference between a Kardashian and an actress, it’s important to acknowledge that.
Personally I have seen a lot of films that have really interesting characters and relationships that wouldn’t always be appropriate for a younger audience and I like complicated characters. Recently I saw and loved, Enough Said, Short Term 12, The Bling Ring, Philomena and Frances Ha.
With my daughter and son I find it so hard to find interesting characters in films that we all can enjoy. We all really like the Miyazaki films and we are introducing films from awhile ago since the pickings are slim currently. Some of those are Bend it like Beckham, Black Stallion, Mary Poppins. And everyone loved Brave and Despicable Me.
The campers also seem to be able to access to Netflix, Hulu and other online resources to search out media that they can relate to. I was surprised that so many teenagers were familiar with some 80 and 90s classics, such as Breakfast Club, Harold and Maude, Amelie since they can’t find a lot of current media they can relate to.
What do you do during the rest of the year? Do you plan to expand? What are your goals for the camp?
The rest of the year is spent planning the future of Camp Reel Stories. This year we will triple in size, we will offer 2 summer camps and an afterschool program in the fall. 40% of our campers are on financial aid so I am always fundraising to make sure that anyone that wants to attend can. The films from last year have been entered in several film festivals and now are being selected and screened. I also try to collaborate with as many like minded organizations as possible.
We hope to offer camps in other locations the just the Bay Area in 2015 and we are researching those opportunities now.
What is a typical day at camp like?
Each day is a little different, but we incorporate icebreaking and leadership activities into every morning. The girls are on an accelerated schedule, so they have to get to know one another AND learn filmmaking quickly so that they can get to creating their films. Everyday they learn about some part of the creative process and immediately get hands on experience in that area. On Monday morning 30-40 girls who don’t know one another walk into a room, but the end of the day the have formed a small team and have an idea of what they want to make. That process is impressive and we are amazed at how quickly the girls can set aside their differences to get on to the creative process.
Tuesday they learn storyboarding, audio and video and work with their team to finalize their story. They also take a media literacy workshop so that they can see the direct correlation to the lack of representation both behind and in front of the camera. Wednesday they shoot, Thursday they learn to edit, and they edit a rough cut of their project and then at the end of the day show it to their fellow campers and get creative feedback. Friday they fix, by either reshooting or reediting, anything that they want and on Saturday they screen it at a Camp Reel Stories film festival which 250 people attend.
It is amazing to see these young women come out of their shell in the course of the week and I can’t wait to see what this year brings. We are restructuring a bit since we got requests for both more time to shoot and more media literacy.
It sounds like a lot of work, but we also have a lot of fun. In the end we are so proud of the work that the campers have done and the community created, not only with the campers, but with our volunteers, professional mentors and families. It’s quite exciting to see everyone fired up to create media that is more interesting and reflects the diverse fabric of our lives.
On animator Dave Pressler’s blog, he writes about his biggest pet peeve: being asked by male and female execs to put a bow or long eyelashes on his female characters.
Any boy / man character can be a lump, a ball, or a bucket. The second it’s a girl we must feminize and give sexuality to the character…That’s how we know she’s a female. Even when we were making Robot and Monster an executive wanted me to make J.D. more slim and “Sexy”.
Along with male artists Marc Crilley and David Bolk, I’m thrilled Pressler is writing about this sexism, but here’s my issue with his blog:
This is Hank, he is outgoing and a real story teller. Phil is Hanks other friend. Phil is a glass half empty kind of guy, but always there when you need him. Then there’s Julie, the cutest girl in town. She sees the good in everyone. These would be my initial rough ideas for the characters.
While urging artists to “Make Interesting Choices when you are designing, Illustrating etc. And don’t fall into this unimaginative trap” why is Julie described as the hot girl? And how much hope do we have of not defining her physically as “sexy” when she doesn’t get to be a described as something interesting or funny like a “storyteller” or “a glass half empty gal”?
Defending his female monster, Pressler writes. “She already is the sexiest monster in the show, exactly how she is.” While I appreciate this monster is beautiful as she is, without a bow or eyelashes, why must we be concerned with her beauty? Isn’t that the larger issue? I’m not familiar enough with Pressler’s work, but from this blog, it seems as if he is focused on changing the stereotypical look without changing the stereotypical narrative. Altering the look is no small feat, especially for our kids who are subjected to this kind of sexism constantly. In animation, female characters from Anna in Frozen to Kim Possible would be so much cooler if they weren’t shown super skinny with giant eyes or bare midriffs. But the goal has to be much bigger than changing the character’s appearance. The narrative for a female characters has to involve them being funny or cynical, encompassing a whole range of characteristics not typically understood as feminine, and also playing at least half the characters or getting to exist in the majority as well, or getting to be the protagonist way more often, like half the time.
What about making two female best friends, one an “outgoing storyteller,” the other a “glass half empty gal,” and then a male who is the cutest guy in town and always sees the good in everyone? If the narrative changes, it could unlock physical stereotypes as well. Otherwise, kidworld will be stuck with toys and media that look like this.