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How To Be A #WomeninFilm Activist :Sophie Mayer's Manifesto

I love Sophie Mayer and her work and her generosity. If you’re not familiar with her, check out my interview with her, when she launched her latest book, Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, in 2016; she is also a poet.

I endorse everything she writes in this post, originally published on Facebook.

by Sophie Mayer

So. Over the last few days, several dozen people have approached me about setting up, moderating or endorsing various kinds of closed/secret/anonymous groups or portals for disclosure of harassment and assault in the screen sector. I'm glad people are ready to talk, but here's

(a) why I think they're asking me; and

(b) why I've said no, and what I think we do instead. Take a deep breath -- I'm going long. If you like it, Paypal me.

a) I am public about being a survivor of serial sexual abuse, rape and assault.

b) Going public is not for everyone, for reasons we know; I'm not going to tell you that disclosure is empowering, but I will tell you that – having seen them in several sectors – private groups circulating information protect no-one, and especially not the most vulnerable. Cultural change doesn't depend on naming names; it's about breaking the silence in ourselves, and challenging the omertà.


a) I am a feminist film activist.

b) I have been writing about gendered violence on screen and resistance thereto for 20 years -- and I'm not alone. I'm so glad people are finally listening. You want our advice and insight? We've done the work -- Google it. Read it. for example. Pay us for it. Feminists have been addressing both the practical and political aspects of how to deal with gendered violence for years. Do your fucking homework, make a considered plan, then pay us to consult on it or deliver it, respecting our expertise and exhaustion. 

Sophie (far left) moderating a panel at London's Korean Film Festival, Regent Street Cinema, London

a) I'm a non-aligned individual not employed by any institution or organisation, but widely connected. 

b) I am exhausted, unemployed and broke. Growing up with sexual abuse has left me with significant physical and mental health issues that are making it hard for me to take employment right now; I've also decided to be a troublemaker as a survival strategy, so there's no employment that would have me. I appreciate that you want my opinion or approval or support, but I can't pay my bills with coffee. If I could, I still wouldn't have the spoons to respond positively to 1/2 dozen requests a day to pick my brain. If you value my expertise, pay me. Especially if you're an institution, organisation or company. If I was paid fairly for all the work I do, I could take care of health and debt issues and be way more available for community work.

At the Fringe Film Fest, London, Maja Borg and Jayne Parker talk with Sophie about their films Man and Almost Out  photoBernardo Giannone


a) See above re: troublemaker who speaks her mind.

b) Yes. So don't come at me about going softly-softly. We have a huge chance here to change everything. And yes, I have ideas for how but you probably won't like them: they're unglamorous hard work.

So how, in Rebecca Solnit's phrase, do we build a 'disaster community' in the wreckage of the film industry? In ascending order of probability–

A) Are you a straight white cismale in the industry? Are you starting to rethink some past behaviours? Resign. Do you employ or work with such? Advise them to resign. If you're looking at a stack of complaints and NDAs, fire the person who caused them. Now. Because it will come out. We're coming for you. (Also: all companies and individuals that have benefited from perpetuating harassment or abuse should return all their profits, for a reparation fund for ruined lives, stalled careers and all the fucking emotional labour done by those of us who are worst affected and most exhausted).

Added benefit to cleaning house: a range of senior and executive positions open across the sector. Hire people that have previously faced discrimination, give them any requisite training or support. They'll know how to address the problem in your company. Regime change AND cultural change in one.

B) Are you an employer? Stop perpetuating the culture of fear in which discrimination, harassment and assault occur. Have transparent hiring processes and employment policies (check out Raising Films' 'Raising Our Game' checklists). It's the legal thing to do. 

Look at your work culture: does it assume a dependent-free able-bodied middle class employee? Change it. Pay contractors fairly and on time. Don't hire by word of mouth. Don't assume you know all the available talent. Do the work -- reach out, enlarge and diversify your networks. Don't say "there aren't any women/POC/people with disabilities." It makes you look ignorant. Oh and when someone makes a complaint: take action. Fuck your NDAs. Silencing will not protect you.

C) Join a union or guild. Support strikers. Together we can change legislation and support workers. Unions provide talking shops, legal advice and solidarity. Let's make what Wanuri Kahiu calls 'just a humane industry'. Everyone can contribute, and we can do it collectively.

D) Boycotts work. They take organising and commitment, but they work. Pick a target, stick to it, get involved in supporting it. Build something local. Or change your personal viewing practices. Change what you consider "important." Watch more widely, listen for new/different voices and narrative forms. We have seen what happens when dominant culture assumes a comfort zone -- disrupt it.

E) And yes, keep up the peer support networks. Exchange emotional and practical labour in mutual aid. Don't ask other people to do the work for you -- but also, don't reinvent the wheel. It doesn't have to be about starting something, it can be about joining in. Listen respectfully when you do. Do your share of the boring work -- the note-taking, the list-making, the budget-drafting, the copy-editing, the digesting. Share information and skills widely. Listen for the quieter voices that are not being heard -- acknowledge that we have all internalised the culture of domination and need to work to dismantle it.

These strategies work. But they are laborious and time-intensive and unglamorous and seem invisible. They're not. You're not. I see you.

Also: remember to honour each other. And to rest.

The Bechdel Test Fest 2016: Natalie PetrouSimran HansJenn NkiruNia ChildsCharlie OughtonCorrina AntrobusSophie MayerTara Brown & Sophie Monks Kaufman
 Sophie's tumblr & twitter

Sophie has also just released this– 

FROM RAPE TO RESISTANCE: TAKING BACK THE SCREEN. It’s not just a handy slogan, it’s a book! Rage is a powerful editing tool… I’ve been slowly working on a manuscript collecting my harder-to-find reviews, talks and essays, and lo and behold, it turned out 50% of them were about gender(ed violence), sexuality and resistance. If you’d like a copy, Paypal me £5 and I will send you the PDF. It’s 150 pages of sheer feminist bravado and Ghibling.


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