Feminist concerns about a project

Thanks for your Ask a Geek Feminist questions. There are many many questions left, and selected questions will be appearing twice a week for quite a while for our commenters to have input into. Here’s the first one:

I’m currently working on an animated short film project with several other people (mostly guys), and I feel on fairly equal footing with everyone else (i.e. just because someone is a “director” or whatnot doesn’t make me feel like I can’t speak my mind). The main character of our short is female.

So here’s the problem.

I fear that the visual design of her character is sexualized. She’s not wearing bikini armor or anything like that, but she’s clearly designed to be particularly sexually attractive. I also feel like the story exploits the stereotype of women being maternal in not-so-sane ways.

I’ve been vocal on both of these points. I fought to keep the character design more down-to-earth. And during development of the story I pointed out things that I felt were problematic (though I was a bit timid on this point because the writer is a woman). And I continue to speak up about these things with the team when it seems reasonably relevant, and I’ve made it clear that I’m not happy about this.

I know I’ve made real impacts here, and particularly the director has said that the things I’ve talked about have really made him start looking at things differently. But I wonder if there’s more that I should do? Or should have done? At this point we can’t change the character design or story, because we’re too far into production, and deadlines are looming fast.

A feminist friend of mine believes really strongly that I should drop out of the project entirely, and is really upset with me for staying on. But dropping out is a really difficult proposition for me for a variety of reasons, including the typical “hurting relationships” and “endangering future employment” reasons. But I would also feel really bad abandoning people working long hours to meet deadlines when the team is so small.

I could really use some outside perspective on this.

How have other people dealt with working on projects where they’ve had feminist concerns about aspects of it but for other reasons haven’t walked away entirely?

7 thoughts on “Feminist concerns about a project

  1. Restructure!

    How have other people dealt with working on projects where they’ve had feminist concerns about aspects of it but for other reasons haven’t walked away entirely?

    Yes, except I was not on equal footing, and I kept with it for employment reasons. Unfortunately, the people I worked with are not socially progressive at all, and my objections had to be framed in how it hurts sales, and the customer base was male-majority anyway.

    I do not think dropping out will really help, as it would be just a symbolic gesture.

    However, thank you for bringing up this issue. Just because there are women on the team, it doesn’t mean that the product was approved by all the women working on it.

  2. Anonymous Guy

    I’m the original poster of the question.

    I just want to make clear (in case it wasn’t) that I’m male, as I think that can justifiably change people’s response to my predicament.

    And thank you in advance for everyone’s advice and feedback.

  3. Cheryl Trooskin-Zoller

    For me, one of the criteria for staying is whether I’m actually making a difference.

    This: “I know I’ve made real impacts here, and particularly the director has said that the things I’ve talked about have really made him start looking at things differently.” is a big deal. Actual feminist impact on the product. Actually opening the mind of somebody with the power to do something. This is something to be proud of!

  4. jskye

    Well, you can’t have it all.

    First off I’d like to say that in a lot of movies in general, the lead character is often sexualized or beautiful/handsome in order to appeal to people. That’s just business. The problem is that this often crosses the line when it comes to women because media often (if not usually) objectifies women.

    Changing social attitudes is not a one-day thing. It requires years of effort, therefore progress should not be undermined or written off as ‘not enough.’ If you feel that you’ve enabled your director to see in a different way, that’s good. You’ve made some progress, and you should be happy about that because hey, that’s is better than just sitting at home and getting angry at them for sexualizing the character.

    I’m glad that you’ve managed to contribute to making the character less sexualized. Now, you don’t need to change her completely in order to prove yourself as a feminist. It’s important, I believe, but if you quit your job over it or abandon the project it isn’t going to make them reconsider. As a mass movement that would succeed and force people to rethink what they’re doing. However, as this is only an individual level, I think it’s important that you made an impact at all.

  5. Bob Futrelle

    You have to make progress one step at a time. You cannot, single-handedly, morph the entire project into the form you would desire. Sadly, the males on your project suffer from nature problems (their genes) and tons of nurture problems – everything they’ve experienced in their lives, which is loaded with sexist content in every direction, at every turn.

    Educate these guys as best you can but work with other women to develop projects in which women are in charge. Just keep high in your thoughts women like Kathryn Bigelow. Hurt L0cker is *her* movie.

    I managed to mentor a student to eventually win the top prize in the nation for computer science for women undergraduates. She was great but I had to work for years to raise her self-esteem. It was a struggle, even though she is a brilliant and talented woman.

    – Bob

  6. Lin Clark

    I think walking away entirely can often hurt a feminist’s case more than help it.

    The best option you have here is to actually persuade the people on your team to think about these issues, in this release and in future ones. While it may be slow progress, the only way to do that is by consistently influencing them over time, little by little.

    I’ve found that just by consistently stating my feminist opinion to colleagues, I’ve been able to influence many to a surprising degree. I make sure that I don’t try to force my opinion on them, just consistently let them know that “I see it this way”. It generates a lot of respect both for you and for your opinions, which is the most promising way to change the status quo.

  7. bitsandbats

    I agree with the above sentiment of babysteps. You’ve already managed to get people thinking differently about some things and that’s a good start.

    And, as much as the truth hurts, they will probably listen to your voice on these matters because of male privilege. If a woman brings these things up, it’s easy to dismiss her as angry feminist/lesbian/woman (I don’t think I have to spell out anti-feminist bingo at this point, you get the drift). If a man speaks up then it’s a lot more difficult to dismiss. So…keep doing that thing you do!

    Don’t give up on this project; continue working to your best and work on taking the system down from the inside. Explain that to your friend –you’ve done the best you could, the next project you’re on you’ll do better, you can’t change anything if you have a bad professional reputation. There is a time and a place for certain kinds of action but this isn’t one of them.

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