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What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Film School

What It's Like to Be a Woman in Film School

The following cross-post was originally published on Victoria Rozler’s blog. It has been lightly edited.

For the past two days, I have been more than prepared to flex my feminist muscles. Whether that’s because I’ve been watching the “Suffragette” trailer 29 times a day to prepare for the premiere this Friday or what, but I have been on edge. And SO luckily for me, there have been many instances I’ve come across (mainly during classes) that I’ve been forced to witness and experience the idiocy of bigoted minds around me. I’ve decided to share these moments not only to bring awareness to the small, misogynistic situations I already have to deal with, but also to hopefully start a conversation on the matter. 

This past Tuesday, my professor asked if anyone had seen any movies recently. A girl in my class raised her hand and said she saw “The Martian” (still on my list of movies I have to see, mainly for my #1 girl Jessica Chastain). We talked about the movie a little bit and towards the middle of the conversation, this girl said she didn’t like the main character (Matt Damon) too much because she couldn’t relate to him and that she liked “Gravity” better because Sandra Bullock was more relatable. I then had to endure 20 minutes of watching this girl get absolutely torn apart (by ALL male students) about how wrong her opinion was. They said “Gravity” was shit because it “didn’t have a storyline,” to which I loudly responded “Or was it because it starred a woman?” Not to my surprise, this question went unanswered and the belittling of this girl’s opinion continued.

For lack of a better term, I was fucking pissed for the rest of the class. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but watching a female classmate be attacked by her male peers for not relating to a male character is absolutely ridiculous. If a male student were to say he couldn’t relate to Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” because she was a woman, this statement would be passed as normal and understandable, probably with a lot of people agreeing with him. But when a woman says she can’t relate to a male character, she’s torn apart, belittled for stating her opinion and told “not all characters are meant to be relatable.”

Today, a male peer asked me if I was able to act in one of his projects (since we’re limited for resources, we mostly all use each other for actors in our projects). I said I would and asked what the story was about. He didn’t have a a clear idea yet, but to summarize, it starred a man who wanted to live his life but his needy girlfriend was holding him back (being female, I’m meant to play the needy girlfriend). I flat out told him no.

Even if these are short five-minute projects to build a portfolio, I was not about to play the dumb sidekick to build the male character up. I said she needed to be a well developed character and have an actual purpose for the story in order for me to act in it. He was flabbergasted and said, “Calm down, we don’t even have the full idea yet.” I stood my ground and said female characters are important too. Not to brag, especially since I’m not an actual actor, but I was pretty fucking proud of myself. I imagine this is how Meryl Streep or Jessica Chastain act in very important filmmaker meetings: demanding the respect of a decent female character. This may be a small production course in film school, but that is exactly why I felt I needed to demand a character with a PURPOSE.

Film school is where our filmmaking careers start. This is where we learn what we are good at, what works and what doesn’t work. This is where we build a portfolio and collect ideas for films we want to make. And when a man who is in his second year of film school is pitching ideas for short films with a big, strong man and a small, annoying female at his side, and the (mostly male) production professors are singing their praises, telling them how great the idea is, they’ll continue with this mentality — the mentality that movies starring men with adoring women all around them (like the only job of a woman is to build the male character up) are the movies that need to be made and seen.

And what’s sad and terrifying is, they’re mostly right. The predominantly male Hollywood system will buy these ideas from them and let them make films that’ll add to the list of movies containing meaningless female characters. They’ll be allowed to make their directing debut with millions of dollars backing them up. And when that movie flops, they’ll move on to their next (guaranteed) job with no repercussions. And the cycle will go on.

Already being subjected to this kind of misogyny, only halfway through my second year of film school, is honestly terrifying to me. I was already aware coming into the business that I will have to work twice as hard to get half of what my male peers will have. But the fact that I already have to deal with the idiocy of men that think their opinion is the end-all-be-all, men that greet me with “Your skirt is too short today” and “Where’s my hug?” It’s revolting. And don’t give me the “it’s meant to be a compliment” bullshit because it is not. It’s degrading.

But as a 19-year-old girl with dreams of making movies that’ll change the world, I guess I’ll just have to pull myself up and deal with it, because it’s not going to stop. This is just the beginning. I will be surrounded by men like this for the rest of my life, and all I can do is put on a smile and deal, while simultaneously demanding the respect I, and the rest of my female peers, rightly deserve.

READ MORE: The Unspoken Biases in Film School

Originally from Buffalo, Victoria Rozler is currently studying film and media in New York City. She aspires to make movies that can start a conversation and make people think.

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