Stories from the brainreels guests: Jane Vogel and Gigi Williams of AGE

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Do you get my newsletter in your email Inbox? If so, this is even more great stuff related to what you read in the last newsletter. If you don’t receive it, sign up! But either way, please check out this month’s podcast episode. I’m talking to Jane Vogel and Gigi Williams about Age & Gender Equity in the Arts‘s upcoming symposium. It’s called Unconscious Bias:  Achieving Gender Equity. Here is a pretty picture of it.

Unconscious Bias Symposium image with dates, location, and awareness, transformation, action. Background is interlocking shapes across the colors of the rainbow.

Do you know The Bechdel-Wallace Test? It’s that one where a movie passes if there are at least two women whose characters have names and who talk to each other about something other than a man. It’s surprisingly hard to find mainstream movies that pass it. Then again, just because a film can pass this simple test doesn’t mean it’s a good film, doesn’t mean it’s got good representations of gender or any other part of life, and it doesn’t mean you should feel like it’s got a feminist message. Anna Waletzko offers a nice description of some ways that this simple test of whether the ladies are doing their thing doesn’t go far enough, but it does create an amazing start. There’s no doubt that even asking these questions and getting fired up by the fact that it is so hard to find good media that can pass it is exactly what we need to be doing. Without it, we’ll continue with the same old-same old films where Tom Cruise not only saves the planet from the aliens but also gets to kiss the leading lady. Barf.

Why does it keep happening? There so many people who watch TV and movies who aren’t white, straight, cis, upper middle class, US-born, employed, housed, non-disabled, Judeo-Christian or secular men. Yet people in this grouping still get the best roles and have the movies catered to them. (See the Tom Cruise example above. I don’t even remember the name of this movie, but I saw it recently, and the leading woman character–played by Emily Blunt–was supposed to kill the leading alien character, but then Tom’s leading man character was very chivalrous and helpful and did it for her. Thanks, Tom’s character! Yours truly, All Damsels In Distress Who Aren’t Damsels and Don’t Need to Be In Distress Because This is Fiction, and Someone Can Write It Differently.)

It keeps happening because of serious power imbalances. And one thing that plays a role in keeping those imbalances is unchecked unconscious bias. Whether it’s the biased–and incorrect–belief that women are less capable at whatever thing than men, that trans women are less women than cis women in whatever way, that queer women are less whatever than hetero women, that Black women are less than white women, that disabled women are less than non-disabled women– I’m going to stop there. You see the pattern. So yes, whatever the belief about someone being supreme and superior by virtue of being alive, and someone else being inferior, you can feel that way about someone else, and you can believe it about yourself. And most of the time, we don’t even know we’re doing it.

Art and media reflect society and culture, and they help to create and shape it. I’m unabashedly someone who enjoys diversity, and so I find it a valuable gift to be in a diverse environment, one that prefers to pulverize white supremacy and feed it to that alien from earlier right before that alien gets obliterated and takes supremacist thoughts and practices with it. I find it valuable to have art and media that honors honesty, offers outstanding content and representations, and reflects the vast range of experiences and perspectives that we have. I do also prefer things made from the margins or art made by people who are more usually erased and silenced than those who regularly and easily get cameras and mics pointed at them and get the best funding.

So! Please come to the symposium. Ask for a scholarship if you don’t have the money to spare. Ask for an accommodation if you need one. Registration and accommodations requests must be done by February 24th through info@ageinthearts.org. I will be with you there at the symposium and look forward to it.

Click this sentence for an accessible transcript of podcast episode 056.