By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood November 16, 2011 at 1:04PM
Most of my work as editor of a new online feminist film journal has involved crossing out the phrases “I think” and “according to me.” Sometimes “call me crazy” pops up, too, and automatically gets red lined. No, I want to shout, what you think IS the correct criticism. Editing these pieces by all female contributors on a variety of subjects—including the history of crying styles in cinema, the infantilization and burying of sexual stereotypes in a recent horror remake, and an examination of a sex symbol’s ignorance of her own sexuality—has been an emotional and empowering conversation.
Before the first issue has even been released, progress has been made. A community, even if only of two, has been formed. The writers are unearthing in these pieces what they already knew, and what I already knew, but that still hovered under the surface as hunches. These hunches were not just buried by isolation but the obviousness of these unexpressed feminist readings on films is further isolating; how could something so true not have been expressed in the film criticism community yet? Why does it take a woman knowing that she is communicating to another women to free these, once unleashed, obviously true thoughts? I wish that the phrase that I was crossing out instead of the ones above was a parenthetical, “duh.”
I started this journal because I wanted to see what could happen when a woman film writer wasn’t saddled with being the token female in a male-dominated world. I started this journal when I realized that, at one outlet I wrote for, 5.5% of the reviews were by women (and this was mostly me). I started this journal as a wild experiment. Most films in Hollywood are made by men for mostly male reviewers. What would happen if the critical community shifted? Would that change the basic “by men for men” formula that we accept as neutral, as Hollywood, as just what movies are.
When VIDA looked at the literary criticism world and found similar disheartening numbers, and revealed that most book reviews are by men on books written by men, there were some interesting responses. One of the best was published in Awl, by Eileen Myles. “I have a little exercise I do when I present my work or speak publicly or even write (like this). In order to build up my courage I try to imagine myself deeply loved.” she wrote. “A mother loves her son. And so does a country. And that is much to count on. So I try to conjure that for myself particularly when I’m writing or saying something that seems both vulnerable and important so I don’t have to be defending myself so hard. I try and act like its mine. The culture. That I’m its beloved son. It’s not an impossible conceit. But it’s hard.”
I’ve found that a solution to this kind of defensiveness that I experienced in my own writing life, whether necessary (when with certain patronizing editors) or unnecessary (when with myself), is not to seek out that love but to provide it.
I find, even before the journal’s release, that the most important feminist practice according to Sexual Difference, by the Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective (another all female collective), is in effect: “reading or rereading of women’s writings; taking other women’s words, thoughts, knowledges, and insights as frame of reference for one’s analyses, understanding, and self-definition; and trusting them to provide a symbolic mediation between oneself and others, one’s subjectivity and the world.” I’m looking forward to seeing how the film community in general responds to the journal, but before a single person has laid eyes on Joan’s Digest: A Film Quarterly, it’s already a success.
Miriam Bale is a critic and programmer based in New York. Joansdigest.com will be launched beginning on November 17, with articles released each day for a week.
There will be a screening and party at Anthology Film Archives on Thursday, November 17. Female on the Beach (with Joan Crawford) screens at 6:45 and The Woman on the Beach (with Joan Bennett) screens at 9pm. The reception is from 8:30 to 11:30 with complimentary Joan-themed bourbon cocktails provided by Buffalo Trace Bourbon.