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Double Vision: The Interconnectedness of Film and Women's Studies In Higher Education  

By Julia Stitely

When I first broke the news to my family that I was a Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGS) minor, my aunt’s response was to ask my thoughts of “them” (who?) getting rid of Mother’s Day and changing it to a more gender-neutral term. There was outrage amongst my family because of it. I didn’t really know what to say because: one, I had never heard of that (because it’s not really an issue, the closest I found of it being a thing is in Australia, and they changed both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to offer more inclusion for kids who might not have either or both). Secondly, I hated that the first sentence, in response to my talking about my minor, asked my thoughts on a subject that was only meant to create outrage. What, were Congress or the Senate going to hear my thoughts on the subject and instantly change Mother’s Day to Parent’s Day/Family’s Day? Later, my minor would turn into a second major. 

Unlike my first major, Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media, which luckily I had the support of from a very young age, no one ever asked my thoughts on certain films or my thoughts on the state of Hollywood. Obviously, being in the film school, you’re there to learn from the “best” and work on your craft. However, it’s hard to work on that craft when it’s based in an institution built on exclusion and hierarchy, and continually screening films from directors like Alfred Hitchcock and D. W. Griffith, whose films include their horrifying ideologies like racism, misogyny, transphobia, etc. etc. Instead of replacing them with films that use those same filmmaking techniques and are better, we are meant to sit there and just praise them without examining why films like Gone With the Wind are problematic in their romanticization of the Confederacy and slavery, and how many films continue these narratives.

The more and more WGS classes I took, the more I was open to questioning the world around me, including the film world. Even though, yes, the film industry has been making progress towards inclusion, like many industries, they shout out support but don’t put it into what is being produced and the procedures on set. For example, recently, Amazon scrapped the writers’ room for the Silk: Spider Society show to “creatively refocus towards a male-skewing audience”. Which is ironic, because the Spiderman character, Silk/Cindy Moon is an Asian young woman. 

And when I talk about WGS, all of my classes include the concept of intersectionality and if intersectionality isn’t included in a class, especially a WGS class, it is failing to do what it is supposed to do. The term of intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, focuses on the overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. This is important to understand because all social identities are affected by the same patriarchal structure to different degrees. 

When my film degree tried to combine WGS class, there was a lack of focus on highlighting these ideas and ties within film. The class focused on examining the film canon regularly taught in film schools like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner—films with a lack of inclusion since the majority of the directors were cis White men. Even though the inclusion of these films for the purpose of criticizing them is a good idea, there wasn’t a thought of uplifting other films that are as good as them that focused on women, queer people, or people of color. There wasn’t much thought of intersectionality or mention of it throughout the class, which threw me off. The class was only two months long and one class a week, not allowing for enough time for the professors to delve into those topics. But the idea of intersectionality and race is as important as teaching the terms “misogyny” and “feminism.” When final presentations rolled around, White students resulted in presentations that lacked the conversation of race (even if the film they chose explicitly addressed race), and students of color had to continue to sit in discomfort with their history and life experiences being laughed off. 

The focus I’ve had on inclusion in the world comes from both of my degrees. I want to represent people like myself and people unlike myself on screen and change how they and others see themselves on screen. I learned from my film degree how to write and produce that, but the way I can do that respectfully is through the new ideals and education I’ve received through my Women, Gender, and Sexuality classes. 

It’s weird filling out the forms that allow me to only choose one major rather than both since I became a double major. Because one without the other, I would be different, and my education would be different. The theories and examinations I learned from WGS bleed into the way I examine films and write scripts. The way I watch and write allows me to talk about subjects during WGS classes. 

It was interesting when I switched my WGS minor to a major because my parents were the ones that encouraged me. I’m lucky enough to have these classes. Sadly, throughout the country, classes like these have been banned. These classes have proven to be important through my own experiences and I hope that others are allowed to have access to them too. 

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