Women in Film and Television Germany at Remake. Frankfurter Frauen Film Tage
By Christina Schultz
Perhaps this is not a secret to you but the world generally still thinks in binary terms: the proverbial black or white. This logic of course applies to gender: male or female. Even in the (supposedly) incredibly modern and progressive era in which we live, with the recognition of transgender, asexual and non-conforming people, as well as other groups of the population that have long been forced to shame and/or silence, we still tend to see things one way (male) or another (female).
Without sounding too reductive, anyone that is not male is automatically at a disadvantage. If we add the aspect of race, sexuality or even religion, it becomes even more complicated. But the fact still stands that males (and in particular white males) still have the upper hand in society. I have actually been called racist - ironically enough by white males - for holding this view. White men feel threatened when any other group of people speaks up. They are downright scared to lose their power and privilege. We have seen it time and again, especially recently - and so this post doesn’t turn into a giant rant against Trump, Putin, Erdogan and cohort, I’ll stop myself here.
So how can we smash that good old patriarchy that has been so repressive and oppressive since the beginning of time? The answer lies in a restructuring of how we think and view gender. This of course might not shock you either. It’s been said and done before. But as we know with many things, unfortunately the deeply ingrained binary mindset won’t change anytime soon, so the next best answer would be to study “male” behavior and use it against the oppressors.
Marianne Brandt, with the organization “Women in Film and Television Germany,” advised precisely that in her talk as part of the Remake. Frankfurter Frauen Film Tage. If you are working on a film or television set, you need to develop smart strategies to communicate effectively. You need to understand how men communicate and recognize that empathy, typically considered a feminine trait, will not get you very far, at least at first. Ms. Brandt suggests instead that you exert your dominance by channeling male aggression and power trips in meetings or verbal smackdowns and turn it against the source. You need to be able to quickly read the room, make space for yourself, exude confidence and size up the competition (among other things, but these are the salient points). If you make a dominant alpha male feel insecure, you can then prove your value, worth, expertise, professionalism and overall right to do your job like a boss.
I myself am guilty of being bowled over by men telling me my business; it’s so demoralizing, degrading and demotivating. However, getting past this is more nuanced than simply being aggressive and demanding, displaying your power and getting what you want (what usually earns a woman the title of “bitch”). If one views sensitivity as a strength like our hero Hannah Gadsby (read Christian Berger’s review of her show here), it can also be combined with the aforementioned “male” qualities. And this is where working with women proves to be a real joy, as the women in the industry with whom I have spoken on this subject can confirm. A female producer or director can get the job done while still empathizing with her crew on a personal level, creating a positive environment for growth and empowerment - a vast improvement over a tyrannical dictatorship on set. There is nothing wrong with “non-violent communication” (gewaltfreie Kommunikation) or the female tendency, according to Ms. Brandt, to have an “inhibition toward aggression” (Aggressionshemmung), yet if women in film and/or television carrie themselves more in the way that a male colleague would, they too can speak the (male) language of success. Rather than being doubted and questioned every step of the way, women could walk into a board room or a set, take charge and still retain their feminine qualities...if they exist, we are trying to move away from the dangerous binaries here. But the point is, the “male” and “female” qualities can coexist, and, as Ms. Brandt agrees, with great results.
So the bottom line is to think like a man without compromising yourself too much. Once you reach a certain level of respect and enough fame (the name Ava Duvernay particularly comes to mind here), these issues diminish and hopefully will even vanish. But anyone not at the top of the hierarchy has to work so much harder to receive the same level of trust and respect, which is why we need to stick together more than ever.
So if you work on the production side, as a director, writer, camera person, or are part of the editorial staff, you should consider becoming a member of WIFT Germany or applying for membership in your area, such as Women in Film Los Angeles, New York Women in Film and Television or Women in Film & Television UK.
Perhaps that ultimately is the best way to flip the script: by continuing to grow the network of women who help, support and empower one another. But when dealing with men, it usually helps to speak their language.