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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

“confessions of a former MRA”

Reader BraveGamgee — who drew the Angry Woman Power Beaver — sent me an interesting email recently, which I am reprinting here with his permission:

I’ve been a longtime reader (about 12 years, I think), and have been itching to write to you for the longest time. You see, I owe you a debt of thanks helping to change the way that I think of women (and in turn, men as well). I grew up in a small Mennonite community, and was surrounded by a way of thinking that definitely put men in charge, and had women in the “supporting roles”. There was nothing to contradict it, except for one girl I went to school with who identified herself as a feminist. Unfortunately, the principles she stood for weren’t truly feminist. She liked to say that everything men said was stupid and/or evil, and that all men should die. As this was the only thing I had to go on in regards to feminism, I was fiercely against it. I rallied against anything she said, and eventually came to think of myself as a Men’s Rights Activist. I honestly didn’t even know this was a thing outside of myself. I was just dick-headed enough to think that I was the only one who knew how truly downtrodden men were, and that women weren’t respecting the “sovereignty of men” (disgusting, I know. Please bear with me).

Around 12 years ago (shortly after I graduated university), I stumbled upon your site. I was so incredibly annoyed with you, at first. For disliking movies that I liked. For focussing so much on representation of women rather than just enjoying the films for what they were. But then… well… I decided to pay attention to the things you said were problematic in movies. I mean, I focussed on these things only so that I could prove you were imagining things (gosh, I was a dick. I realize now that thinking that women’s problems were all things they imagined was part of that patriarchal society I grew up in). But yeah, I had a mission. I was gonna study this, and prove you wrong. But the more I watched for it in films, the more I realized that you were right. It took me a few years to identify as a feminist, because that word had such a horrible connotation to me. But now I am so gung-ho about feminism. I still have many MRA friends, but have slowly been turning several of them into feminists over the years.

You are one of my heroes, MaryAnn. I know that every time an MRA douchebag comments on your site, it seems useless to respond to him. But please know that you may just have the most amazing effect on their life. You rule.

I asked BraveGamgee if I might post this because (as I told him) things are very bad with me right now: I’m very disheartened over the lack of interest that the Where Are the Women Project? has gotten, and I’m debating what to do now with the six-month duration of the project coming up (but that’s a post for another day). I’m once again seriously considering having to give up writing about film because I’m really tired of being broke and living like a student at my age. It often doesn’t seem like I have much of an impact and that I’m wasting my time. So it was nice to hear from someone that my work hasn’t been totally in vain.

I would be very interested in hearing other stories like BraveGamgee’s, even if you prefer that I not post them.

posted in:
maryann buzz
  • Danielm80

    More and more often, it’s impossible to watch a TV show or a movie, or read the news, or scroll through any comment thread on the Internet, without seeing an example of sexism or outright harassment of women. I come to the Flick Filosopher website because your writing, and the posts from commenters like BraveGamgee, remind me that there are people in the world who don’t think that way. I need this site.

  • LaSargenta

    Glad you’re here.

  • Bluejay

    What a fantastic email. And it’s so heartening to know that you *can* change someone’s mind on the Internet, no matter how impossible that often feels. Bravo to BraveGamgee for honestly examining his own views and being willing to change them when they didn’t hold up. And now he’s turning *his* MRA friends into feminists? You started a ripple, MaryAnn, and ripples grow.

    Your writing *is* necessary, for a lot of people. And it *is* making a difference in people’s lives, as comments from BraveGamgee and Nina (and, uh, myself) and others show. It sucks that it’s not making you a comfortable living, and you’re certainly not obligated to keep writing just because we want you to; but you *should* know that there’s a community of people here who truly appreciate what you do. Thank you.

  • LaSargenta

    I stand by my earlier reply. But, I’m still gonna FIFY: More and more often, it’s impossible FOR ME to watch a TV show or a movie, or
    read the news, or scroll through any comment thread on the Internet,
    without seeing an example of sexism or outright harassment of women.


  • leah

    MaryAnn, what would you like to see happen with your most excellent ‘Where Are The Women?’ project — is the lack of interest you mentioned measured in, for instance, a lack of hits or comments in the individual posts about the films themselves, or were you hoping for some outside source(s) to pick up on your project here to help make the WATW study more widely read and possibly propagated somehow outside of flick filosopher into the wider conversation? (which would be tremendous, such a well considered, one-of-a-kind tool)
    I feel bummed out reading this, for you because you seem so discouraged, and the possibility of losing your unique voice in film criticism and commentary is upsetting. I hope you don’t give up your work here, I can imagine doing this in such a pure way without ad revenue and the like must be challenging in terms of making a living in your profession. I just wanted to chime in that you’d be sorely missed, I hope things look up and work out.

  • Max Urai

    I really hope you won’t quit Where Are The Women? It’s been so fascinating (and sometimes depressing) to read an actual quantitative analyisis on female representation in movies, instead of just vague mentions about whether a movie is sexist or not sexist.

  • Hits, comments (less so, though), and outside sources picking it up. I’ve been trying to drum up interest (through email and directed social media), but I’ve had very little luck. It’s most disappointing how little support I’ve gotten from the feminist web, especially those that focus on media. But I keep trying.

  • I thought a lot more people would be interested in that sort of analysis. So far, it doesn’t look like that’s the case. :-(

  • leah

    Oh this is baffling, I don’t understand why WATW hasn’t gotten some traction in the film media sphere at a time when the subject is being discussed and debated quite openly. I know I’ve mentioned it to several people who’ve responded with interest, but I’m not into the whole social media thing; how to get WATW to the next level where it deserves to be? :-/

  • Jess Haskins

    I backed the Kickstarter project, and was excited to support WATW. I agree that with a lot more general interest in women’s representation in Hollywood, it should be a big attention-getter, and I hoped it would get you more traction

    I wonder if some slight adjustments to the format might improve your results? Tabbed interfaces can be kind of a pain to click through — since none of the sections are that long, I’ve always thought it would be really nice if I could just scroll through and read the whole tally on a single page. Cheap news sites insert clicks by creating slideshows and listicles, sacrificing readers’ convenience to maximize ad impressions, but I can’t think of a reason you’d want your features to require extra clicks!

    I would also be interested in reading a somewhat more in-depth article format about the details of each score. I come to your site primarily for the writing (ok, and for the female gazing features!). Personally I would find a mini-essay contextualizing each of the scored elements and considering the film as a whole through the prism of representation (still distinct from your reviews) more interesting than a line about each separate aspect in isolation. I realize that’s more writing work overall, which might be beyond the scope of the project, but I also think it would make the feature a much bigger draw and more engaging to readers.

    These are the thoughts that have been going through my head as I read the WATW posts, anyway — it may or not be useful feedback for you. Maybe other readers have felt the same way, or have differing views?

    Anyway, I’ve said before and will say again that I love the work you do, and dearly hope it brings you the rewards you deserve. It’s really nice to hear about it having positive effects in the world — thanks to BraveGamgee for writing and to you for sharing!

  • Constable

    I regret that I haven’t been able to donate past the subscription fee as I myself am living as a student as a student. I think perhaps the lack of interest has more to do with your site’s visibility than anything else. I only stumbled upon your magnificent work while looking at IMDB pages through their critics list. Other media platforms are much more popular right now.
    Your WATW posts could be summarized and posted as tweets and link back to your main site. You could also make use of YouTube… somehow (not sure how your content would transfer into video content).

    I just hope you can find a way to continue to enjoy writing as much as we enjoy reading it.

  • Faith in humanity: a tiny bit restored.

    I have no dramatic conversion story because I was already a big ol’ feminist when I started reading your reviews 15 years ago. I hope you keep fighting the good fight.

  • It’s probably not meme-y enough. Too academic. I need cats saying shit to movies, or something. :-/

  • Tabbed interfaces can be kind of a pain to click through

    It was meant to make it easier to read. :-( It certainly does not generate extra page views.

    a mini-essay contextualizing each of the scored elements and considering the film as a whole

    That really is beyond the scope of this project.

    But thanks for all the feedback. I’ll have a think on it.

  • I do already post links on Facebook, Google+, tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter. I’m considering joining Instagram to do the same.

    I don’t see how what I do can be easily translated to YouTube in a form that doesn’t look amateurish.

  • Danielm80

    I’m going to make an alternate suggestion: Don’t change anything.

  • RogerBW

    Current setup works for me – I don’t care about layout, but I read it in plain text on the subscribers’ full-text RSS feed so that’s not a problem.

  • LaSargenta

    I think the problem is that at this stage, it is data. You are gathering data through observation. This is both an exciting phase of any scientific enquiry — for the PI, ie: Principal Investigator, and the research assistants — and a dull one — for everyone on the outside who is waiting for the Capital-R-Results. So, those of us who some of the trolls regard as your sock puppets since we spend so much time and energy here and posting here are kinda like your research assistants in our emotional connection. Others, less so, and they are looking for a bigger picture analysis. It might be time to do an interim statistical analysis on it.

    Was it amanohyo’s offer to do some bigger statistical work after you had data? Or was that someone else?

    The thing is, getting some pithy, broad statement gets a soundbite that can be posted and might make the interested but not hanging on each data decision people more interested in the data itself.

    Edited to add: I know you are maxed out on time already, but, any chance of taking some previous period, or some category like Academy Winners or Everything By William Friedkin or some such thing, and running the WATW on them?

  • RogerBW

    I don’t know if I made the offer before, but I’ll be happy to work on analysis.

  • Annalise Keating

    Don’t bother with YouTube — there are other effective ways to share podcasts and such, and I’ve never seen video essays here. Instagram seems to be more effective — especially if people see the photo of the said film, they will most definitely be enticed to click it and well, *see more*. If you join Instagram I recommend you have a specific bio on your page and use specific hastags like #womeninfilm or simply hashtag the title of the film.

    By the way, do you have other ciritc friends to get advice from? Have you considered selling your reviews? I mean, you have extensive credentials and connections — i’m sure you’d be hired with ease.

  • LaSargenta

    She does sell her reviews, not just by the subscription to this site. If you go to her About page, you’ll see some of the media she’s published in. The thing is, syndication is not the money earner it once was.

  • Danielm80

    You did, and I upvoted the comment. I’m upvoting this one, too. It would be great to have a chart to point to every time someone says: “But every film these days is about a strong, empowered woman.” That’s just one of the many reasons I helped fund the Where are the Women? project.

  • It might be time to do an interim statistical analysis on it.

    I will definitely be doing that at the six-month point. (It’s the thing I’ve been pitched to bigger outlets, with little luck so far.)

    any chance of taking some previous period

    That could be problematic not only timewise but because the criteria were developed for films today. I’m not sure they would work specifically on older films. A general analysis might.

  • What you suggest for Instagram is basically what I’m doing on tumblr. I haven’t noticed that it generates much interest. But thanks for the tips.

    Of course I talk to other critics, and I do sell some reviews. The problem is hardly anyone is paying, and even those who do pay pay very little. No one wants to pay for *any* arts criticism anymore.

  • It would be great to have a chart to point to

    You know this exists now, right? The 2015 Where Are the Women? ranking is here.

  • Danielm80

    Well, yes, I’ve pointed to it many times. But it would be nice to have a table with a small line representing female protagonists and a big line representing male protagonists. (Ideally, the numbers will even out very soon.)

  • Constable

    I’m not sure how it works but I’ve heard good things of Patreon. It’s a little like Kickstarter in that it makes it easy for people to donate to content creators they want to support. I know a few film critics on Youtube who play clips of film over them reading off a set of paragraphs about some topic of point. It’d require expensive editing software and some experimentation to pull off though :/

  • LaSargenta

    She’s got a Patreon link at the bottom of every WATW post.

  • LaSargenta

    That’s an interesting thought. I disagree that these would be inappropriate, though. These issues didn’t recently arise; they’ve been embedded in our culture a long time. Showing how little has changed — or how much better things were pre-Hays Code for instance — might also be interesting.

  • Constable

    Silly me.

  • I’ll see what I can come up with.

  • The issues are longstanding. The way they show up onscreen have changed, I suspect. I don’t think we’d find a single film in the 1930s, for instance, that introduced a woman with the camera crawling up her body. But there probably are other offensive visual shorthands that I wouldn’t recognize as cliché until I’d seen hundreds of movies from that time.

  • LaSargenta

    That happened in The Postman Always Rings Twice. 1940s?

    I’m pretty sure it happened to Joan Crawford in Gold Diggers of 1933.

  • LaSargenta

    RogerBW offered….

    I’d take him up on it.

  • The analysis is already done. It’s represented in the 2015 ranking. It sounds like Danielm80 is just asking for another way to present that information. Am I misunderstanding?

  • RogerBW

    The sort of thing I might do with access to the raw data:

    – how does the score correlate with red/yellow/green ratings? What are the outliers, the high-scoring reds and the low-scoring greens?
    – what items are correlated with what other items?

    – are specific items correlated with specific directors, scriptwriters, actors, etc.?

  • Fraga123

    So brave.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Given that Joan Crawford was not in Gold Diggers of 1933, that would have been a neat trick.

    But seriously, folks….

    I never saw the 1940s movie version of The Postman Always Rings Twice so I can’t comment on that flick at this time. Perhaps some time in the future…

  • LaSargenta

    Shit. I must be mixing that up with Dancing Lady. Ruby Keeler then? Or maybe I’m the scene up with Dancing Lady, too.

  • I’m not sure that correlating the WATW scores with my green/yellow/red ratings is useful in any larger way, though. I was thinking about perhaps correlating them with Rotten Tomatoes scores (for a better idea of the overall critical consensus), production budgets, and final box office tally (to see if movies that represent women better do better with audiences or critics, for example). But RT scores and box office are numbers that are still in flux for many of these movies.

  • RogerBW

    All of these things would be easy enough to do once the data are in. (Correlating against box office divided by production budget would also be a reasonable measure of financial success.)

  • Exactly. And I will probably do that. :-)

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