Future of Feminism: Girls and Women, Don’t Be Camera-Shy!

When a Los Angeles Times article published just before the Oscars last month revealed the makeup of the Oscar voting pool–94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male!–many of us wondered what we could do to change such an entrenched institution. In fact, across the board, the representation of women and people of color in film, television, news and media formats is nowhere near where it should be.

But there’s hope. Several organizations have made it their mission to help increase the ranks of women in the entertainment/media industries.

A powerhouse organization founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem, the Women’s Media Center has a hand in just about every aspect of media, from research into “the status of women in the U.S. media” to media literacy to programs like Progressive Women’s Voices (and its sister initiative Progressive Girls’ Voices) that teach participants how to be media spokespeople in their fields, “thereby changing the conversation on issues that fill headlines.” The idea behind WMC is that women need to play a greater role in national and international conversations, and one of the best ways to do that is to advocate for greater gender parity in the media.

Women Make Movies, a nonprofit training program and production and distribution company with a larger mission to “address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry,” combats the startling gender and racial disparity in film production. Founded in the 1970s, WMM boasts an impressive catalog of films by and about women, including feminist documentaries such as I Was a Teenage Feminist, I Had an Abortion and A Boy Named Sue, as well as a host of shorts and feature-length films addressing issues ranging from the lives of women in South Asia to women in leadership and politics across the globe.

Finally, Girls Make Movies is an up-and-coming addition to this cadre of women’s media organizations. As its name suggests, GMM focuses on teaching girls to create their own films and other media projects in a collaborative setting, under the supervision of practicing filmmakers and film scholars. They hold a week-long summer camp housed at Southern Illinois University, the camp’s low tuition and Midwestern location making it an ideal place for girls from more rural areas to be exposed to filmmaking. “The need for the camp was born from the conditions I observed in the classroom,” says Angela Aguayo, who co-founded GMM along with fellow SIU faculty Sarah Lewison and Michele Torre:

Students would tell me about the ‘old boys club’ on the student production sets. I would witness young men taking charge in ways that were not collaborative, and this all resulted in the boys behind the camera while most of the ladies took on the producing roles of managing details and supporting the production. …We needed a space for young women to find their voice and feel empowered behind the camera before they arrive on a college campus.

Given the influence of the media, and particularly the way it portrays women and girls, encouraging women to engage in the media industry is paramount. These organizations take steps to do just that, getting us that much closer to a day when women can feel that they are essential contributors to our media culture, not just the subjects of it.

Part twenty-nine in a Women’s History Month series celebrating organizations and ideas that represent the future of feminism.

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Aviva Dove-Viebahn is an assistant professor of film and media studies at Arizona State University and a contributing editor for Ms.' Scholar Writing Program.