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A festival for women — and men?

You cannot address the underrepresentation of women by including men

In 2023 the highest grossing film at the box office worldwide was Barbie, which took almost $1.5 billion. The female director was Greta Gertwig and the female protagonist in the title role was Margot Robbie. Neither woman received an Academy Award Nomination despite the immense success of the film. However, Robbie’s co-star, Ryan Gosling, did receive a nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and was careful to say how unfair he felt this was. Ryan Gosling, in case you were in any doubt, is male. 

Despite Robbie being the lead, both male and female actors received the same $12.5 million salary. Christopher Nolan made just under $100 million in earnings for directing Oppenheimer, the third highest grossing film of 2023. Gertwig’s earnings are undisclosed but it seems likely that it was far less.

The latest top ten list of highest paid Hollywood actors contains just two women, Margot Robbie and Jennifer Aniston. In a comment on the inequality rife in the film industry, the academy award winner Olivia Coleman commented recently that she would earn more if she was called Oliver. In US films, the percentage of women in speaking roles fell from 37 per cent in 2022 to 35 per cent in 2023. The percentage of films with female protagonists fell from 33 per cent in 2022 to 28 per cent in 2023 and just 7 per cent of films featured roles for women over 60. Over time the pattern of unfairness is stark and between 2007 and 2023, of the top 100 grossing films, just 6 per cent of directors were female. 

There is still a lot to address for women working in the film industry both inside and outside Hollywood, not just in terms of inequality of earnings, but also of opportunity. If female directors aren’t given equal opportunities, it is likely that the same lack of representation exists in other areas such as editing, camera work, cinematography, etc. 

It should, therefore, be a very welcome thing indeed that Sheffield and its iconic independent cinema, The Showroom, will host an international film festival specifically aimed at platforming, and thus promoting, the work of females in the lucrative creative industry of film. The project “Females, Films, Screens — Festival” or “FFS Sheffield” is organised by Dr Diane A Rodgers of Sheffield Hallam University and Melanie Gourlay, a Sheffield filmmaker and takes place in November 2024.

With grim predictability in the current gender-drunk climate, there can of course be no mention of “women”, without the inclusion of men who say they are women. Women are now well-versed in having to defend the term, ensuring it is used to denote a female human and to the exclusion of those born male. It is a daily and excruciating grind. 

The term “female”, however, has never allowed for ambiguity about who is meant. It is surely not possible for gender identity to impose its tentacles of nonsense on the factual female body. Lately we are seeing this increasingly as something we cannot take for granted. 

Promotional literature released by the festival organisers earlier this week stated:

The aim of FFStival is to provide an intersectional platform highlighting the work of women, female presenting and non binary people’s achievements in all incarnations of cinema.

And elsewhere:

In line with other similarly inclusive events we aim to provide a platform for films made by female-identifying and non-binary people, accessible to everyone.

This deliberate semantic obfuscation around the inclusion criteria for submissions to the “female” festival fools no one, and I am surprised the organisers believed it would. It isn’t possible for anyone to “female present” unless they actually are female. It is blatantly obvious to anyone who has been around the gender debate for any length of time, that this is an invitation to men who say they are women to submit their entries. The only need for the words “female presenting” is if you aim to include men who aren’t in fact female. The only thing needed to present as a female is to be one and show up. 

Some of the promotional material has been amended over the last day, after online objections, and today their website hosts the even more confusing qualifying criteria of female as “including female and non-binary people of all gender presentations and alignments”.

The simple word for this group is “people”. In reality, rather than exclusively female people, any people can submit to this film festival and film competition which was supposed to be aimed at promoting female visibility and success in the film industry. Nothing is “aligned” with being female. Presenting as a “gender” is not being female unless you are. I almost feel sympathy for Diane and Melanie. They are trying so hard to find words to hide the men they are so desperate to include and it is impossible. Female has meaning and it never means “men”. 

Even more nonsensically, Melanie Gourlay told Exposed magazine:

The festival is intersectional, with a genuinely diverse outlook, aimed at female-presenting and non-binary people, avoiding a restrictive definition of women, which seems increasingly important in this day and age.

As the author Lisse Evans said 

Well, if we’re going for ‘non-restrictive’, I think we should dispense with the narrow ‘human’ definition of the word ‘woman’, and include tigers, bulldozers and seventeen-storey buildings.

Louisa Jones, a lecturer in Film commented:

The Sheffield female film festival “FFS” exemplifies a type of entryism being suffered by women’s organisations and political representations around the world. A form of bastardised intersectional feminism has warped the entry submissions which purport to “highlight the work of women and women’s achievements in all incarnations of cinema”. The festival’s stated aims undermine the very reason for its existence – which is to amplify the representations of women in the language of film: producing, editing, cinematography, sound, directing etc.

Incidentally when women across the UK organised to screen Adult Human Female, a film which had a female co-director, they largely had to do it either in secret (as feminist women did in Sheffield, knowing potentially dangerous protest would be organised putting a small venue under pressure), or risk it being cancelled altogether, as happened in Nottingham. In Edinburgh it was only on the third attempt that the film was able to be shown at all. 

Dr Rodgers says that they have already had 650 films submitted. It is inevitable now that they have outlined their determination to be “inclusive” of male submissions, that some female submissions will be ignored in favour of those men, whether they are more talented or not. An unknown, but talented, woman in Sheffield may well be sitting it out in the stalls, as a man’s work is flashed on the big screen before her. They say that they have an “all-female judging panel” but what this means in the context of their meaningless understanding of female is difficult to know.

In time, perhaps the figures in studies of top box office films will show an improvement in the representation of women in film, but some of those women might actually be men. If Christopher Nolan ever begins wearing a wig and a frock, perhaps Greta Gertwig can sit out the Oscars altogether.

Judy Garland (female, the only kind) once said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself instead of a second-rate version of someone else.” Men aren’t second-rate females, they simply aren’t female at all, and women like Gourlay and Morgan should stop using ludicrous phrases in order to pretend they are. 

You can’t address under-representation of women in the film industry by “including” even more men.

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