On Friday 22nd April three inspiring women hosted an event as part of the Belfast Film Festival, which demonstrated how women are treated and portrayed in this particular medium.
First to speak was Fiona McElroy, the Creative Enterprise Manager at Ulster University since 2006. Fiona founded the Honeycomb Creative Works project, a £3.58m program targeted at the digital content sector across the INTERREG IVA region of Northern Ireland, the six border counties of the Republic of Ireland and the western seaboard of Scotland.
She spoke about the work Honeycomb has done for women in particular. It conducted 19 research reports examining discrimination, bullying and sexism in the creative industries. It also works closely with women who want to either break into or get back into this kind of work. It is a particularly difficult place for young females as it is seen as a predominantly patriarchal occupation and Honeycomb helps them to find their niche. Furthermore, for women who have taken time out from the industry to have children and raise a family, the project works with them so they are not overwhelmed with having to re-join the workplace.
Honeycomb does this by nurturing talent and holds various workshops in order to build leadership skills and confidence as this is a tough industry and one must develop their own identity if they are to prove themselves.
To find out more about the Honeycomb Project please click below:
Next to speak was Sarah Edge, a professor in gender and film studies at Ulster University. She jokingly remarked that her course used to be called “feminism” but changed it to “gender studies” so as to attract more male students.
Sarah began by saying that in her opening class she asks her students to go out and ask others what a feminist is. Over the years the answer has gone from an ugly man-hating lesbian, to a ball-breaking career bitch who puts down other women who stay at home, then to a ladette, then finally the modern idea is a woman who simply wants equal rights for men and women.
Sarah gave an audiovisual talk, which explored how feminism has been portrayed in popular films over the decades and how the female role has changed throughout the post-feminist era.
The first films to be examined were Fatal Attraction (1979), Baby Boom (1987), Working Girl (1988), and Pretty Woman (1990). All of these films were released when the idea of feminism was a new concept. Each depict the clash between the new modern woman who is powerful and sexually liberated but is either damaged or un-fulfilled; and the ideal image of femininity which is what men really want.
Then after the year 2000, there were films like Miss Congeniality (2000), Legally Blonde (2001), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) and The Devil Wears Prada (2006) which featured women who have to alter themselves in order be successful, find romance, or be happy. Feminism is hinted at in each of these films but the women are not feminist characters even if they first appear to be.
Finally, with more recent films like Up in the Air (2009) and The Intern (2015) there is the introduction of the father figure. In each film the older man teaches the younger woman how be successful and happy in life, which presents the idea that women still need guidance from men.
The final speaker of the night was Margo Harkin, an award winning filmmaker from Co. Derry. Her work has spanned across many genres including documentary and feature films.
She spoke in detail about her lengthy career and said she wanted to become a filmmaker after Bloody Sunday as she felt the real stories weren’t being told on screen. Margo explains that workplace was “unbelievably sexist” when she started out and that “women were viewed in a suspicious light by men in the industry”. However, as she and her female colleagues proved themselves in their work it became a more supportive profession.
To find out more about Margo and her projects please click below:
One of the main objectives of this talk was to open up a dialogue between feminist researchers, academics, and women working in the creative industries themselves. It certainly was a superb demonstration of how far women have come over the years, and also how feminism has evolved in both the creative workplace and the work it produces.
For more info on the Belfast Film Festival please click below: