According to Miriam Webster, FEMINISM is 2017’s word of the year. Prompted by a large series of events, Feminism has become one of the most searched words of 2017. Like any word in the English language, feminism has multiple meanings to different people. This was the definition I found on the Miriam Webster site:
FEMINISM1: The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes
2: Organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests
A week before my 24th birthday, I ventured out to Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. It was a bucket list item of mine, and I couldn’t think of a better time to go. While the quintessential American festival has often been the forefront of the social and political atmosphere, 2017’s festival would be different. The Hollywood elite were so confident in Hilary’s win, that they had worried about its impact on Sundance. When the opposite occurred on November 8th, 2016- they had nothing to worry about…When it came to A-list attendance that is.
On January 20th of this year, Park City was a bit more cramped than usual. The movie-going festivities would be on pause for a couple of hours in order to make way for the mass of women (and men) peacefully marching. For a little bit, I felt a sense of unity, but slowly began to notice some things that made me feel uneasy.
There were groups of women handing out different buttons and stickers. One woman offered me an “I STAND WITH MERYL” sticker. I was iffy about it, but took it anyway. Another young woman was passing out colorful buttons with Hollywood diversity statistics. I received a button that said “7% FEATURE FILM DIRECTORS” (Were women in the top 250 of 2016). Later on, I realized that while there thousands of women marching, many of them weren’t marching for the same reasons I was. There were thousands of angry white women with pink pussy hats, and a few specks of brown in between.
After a long march down Main Street, there was a rally. I don’t remember too much of it. One speech, however I do remember pretty well. I couldn’t see her from where I was standing, but I could hear Jessica Williams’ pain echoing from the mountaintops- literally. I found myself crying icy tears, overwhelmed with the reality of the situation. There were cheers across the hills, but I felt a tenseness in the air, and felt some awkward silence during her harsh words. More than anyone, people of color- particularly LGBT POC would be affected by the election. While we were aware racism and homophobia are still alive and kicking, the election was a heartbreaking reality about the state of this country.
It also brought forth the question: What is feminism anyway? 53% of white women voted for him, and more recently 63% of white women voted for Roy Moore in Alabama. It’s something I’m still trying to comprehend. In fact, many of the women screaming for equality were the same who would attempt to silence others who didn’t fit their narrative. And the same who would ignore POC entirely. And a lot of the same who turned their backs on their hurting sisters.
After the high from Sundance and the Women’s March, I had wondered how the momentum would continue. I remembered the anger throughout Park City. Hilary’s loss awakened a lot of people, but only intensified anger for creators of color who had been “awake” all along. I realized along the way, many of Hollywood’s sexual harassment stories weren’t set in Hollywood itself, but the wholesome town of Park City. Sundance is a winter playground for the industry’s elite, and there is much hearsay about the illicit activities that occur. Many of Hollywood’s accused men had films that debuted there. Weinstein was a Sundance staple for decades. It’s weird to think he was somewhere out there the same time I was…And at the same time thousands of women were marching in the name of equality.
Later on this year, Wonder Woman came out. The Fearless Girl statue was installed on Wall Street in honor of Women’s day. The Handmaid’s Tale came out. Feminism was alive again and a heated topic in everyday discussion. Since the election, women’s rights have been a constant political battleground. Other major events occurred and other shows and films were released that made the concept of Feminism chic once more.
I still grappled with it, especially when it came to Hollywood. Fast forward to October when the Weinstein story broke out. It was well-known in the Hollywood bubble that Weinstein was a monster, but The New Yorker made it public once and for all. Shortly after the floodgates were opened, a chorus of #METOO erupted on social media- forcing me to evaluate feminism once more. It was more so when it came to the taboo topic of women’s sexuality and career advancement.
I thought about the scores of talented women who haven’t had thriving careers because they refused some egomaniac’s advances, or the ones that couldn’t get ahead because they weren’t desirable enough. These kinds of things hold doubly true for women of color, who were/are largely absent from the Weinstein and #METOO narrative.
In my entertainment aspirations, I thought about what was said to me in tough love. Loved ones and friends had expressed concerns to me over my appearance and personality. They worried about my ability to get a job or fit in with other young professionals. Now that I have opened Pandora’s box, I began to understand their concern, however misplaced it may have been. Luckily, I’ve worked and interned at places where women were in charge, so I hadn’t had to deal with the Boys’ Club atmosphere that many other women do.
I had heard tidbits of advice that hinted at Hollywood’s toxic culture for women, specifically under-represented ones. At the end of last year, I interviewed at a very well-known talent agency. I had emailed my interviewer (A fellow WOC) later for feedback. She praised my intelligence and the fact I was a “go-getter” but mentioned my timidness. She said “You need more confidence to work at a place like this”. That exact same agency has been largely named and shamed in the Hollywood sexual assault discussion.
Months later, I had attended a panel about building an inclusive media. One woman mentioned vaguely: “You have to play the game.” and “You need to be around people who are different than you.” Her words stayed with me. I wondered, If we were in the majority, would we have to worry about befriending people who are different than us in order to succeed? In my life, I never had the luxury of being surrounded exclusively by people like myself. I’ve always been an outlier. How would my role as woman of color from a working class background effect my ascent in the entertainment industry?
I began to notice I could exploit my beauty if I wanted to. Some men seemed so willing to supply favors for no other reason than that I was attractive. More than money itself, sex is the world’s most powerful currency. Upon that realization, I felt horrible. I wondered, could I really say “ME TOO” if I had used my sexuality to get ahead? Would I be a victim of misogyny, or would I be playing right into it? Am I a manipulator, or am I the one being manipulated? There is so much gray area to decipher. I thought of a quote from Emily Meade (The Deuce, Nerve):
It’s really interesting to talk about that idea of , ‘What is the line between being a sexual victim, being manipulated, and being a sexually empowered woman?’
Having grown up with a religious background, I’m still coming around to the idea of sexual empowerment. I’m trying to free myself from the stigma against it and my own toxic relationship with shame. At times, I found myself ready to cast stones at victims as well as the silent, despite the scarlet letter on my own body.
She knew! Why did she wait so long to tell?
Yeah right! I don’t believe _____ would do that!
I think we all know who slept with _____ to get ahead.
I noticed _____ hasn’t said a word about this.
WHAT A SLUT!
As depicted in the media, the repression of sexuality and the liberation of it cause a host of problems either way. In the whole #METOO movement, I found myself with more questions than answers. The poison of misogyny is so great in our society, the victims of Weinstein and his fellow harassers were often crucified more than the men themselves. In recent days, there has been fighting about who speaks out, who is more outraged, if someone really was harassed. It never ends. Each woman deals with her truths in her own way. Just because she doesn’t speak out about it, doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. And even the smallest gesture of protest is still something. We sometimes forget that the United States was founded on puritanical principles. They still cling on to the fabric of society today. With our obsession with celebrity, we hold people to unrealistic standards. In normal peoples’ lives, we’re not expected to empty our baggage on the table, so why should a public figure have to? It’s not easy, and it can cause more harm than healing. Evan Rachel Wood stated it better than I ever would be able to:
Not without coincidence, Miriam Webster has documented the following words as runners up to FEMINISM:
COMPLICIT: “Helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.”
RECUSE: “To disqualify (oneself) as judge in a particular case” and “to remove (oneself) from participation to avoid a conflict of interest.”
EMPATHY: “The ability to share another person’s feelings”
Why don’t you give those words a thought and see how they relate to the conversations we’re having?
2017 certainly leaves a lot of things to ponder. As far as my personal life goes, it was a pretty lackluster year. However, the good thing about a desert year is that it leads to a lot of introspection. Solitude and trials strip you of distraction from what isn’t important. I’ve had time to get my mind right and finally find peace with where my life is going. I’ve even found some freedom in who I am.
As for defining feminism, I’ve come closer to defining it. To me, it’s intersectional. It supports women regardless of sexuality, class, appearance, and occupation…And of a woman’s past. Hopefully 2018 shows more of that kind of feminism.
Thanks for reading,
ADRIANA, THE CINEMA SOLOIST