This is a guest post by Heidi Philipsen-Meissner.
When I was a little girl, I had two all-time favorite hobbies. One was to get all the neighborhood kids together to create some sort of production. We didn’t have a film camera back then and video did not yet exist (at least not in my 1970s world), so that narrowed it down to micro-circus performances (the tire swing served as a trapeze act) or Xanadu-inspired roller skate music productions (complete with a ramp).
I was the writer, director, production manager, creative marketing manager, and the lead act. We had all the parents lined up at our very own, homemade, popcorn stand created from cardboard, and we charged 25 cents per bag. The entry fee for the act was a dollar.
My favorite performance included all of us girls and my brother dressed either as Wonder Woman with a lasso or as Sandy from Grease decked out in a “Pinkie” jacket and black leotard. We were fierce in our power to command the stage and demanded attention for our impromptu performance. I felt on top of the world. It never occurred to me that I might not be.
The other all-time favorite hobby of mine also involved performance, but this time as the spectator: going to the movies with my dad.
As I learned from episodes of The Brady Bunch and the occasional trip to my Auntie Neva’s house, most families during the 70s and 80s (when I was in elementary school and middle school) enjoyed a day devoted to the idea of the American family as a unit. They shared the day throwing a football around, playing cards, and eating a ceremonial meal together.
Not my family.
On those days, we split up, mom with son and dad with daughter, hitting the movies and celebrating cinema as if our lives depended on it. (Later in my life, after I had been raped in college, I would watch movies to escape and repress the post-traumatic stress I could not handle and, thus, my life did depend on cinema as therapy.)
It was around the age of 9 that I first started to realize that, as a girl, I might be getting the raw end of the deal in society. I was watching Superman. (Hard to believe that almost 40 years later they are still investing time, energy and money to bring that movie to the box office, but, heh, who am I to criticize?)
I loved the movie Superman. I had dreams of Christopher Reeve dressed up in tights for months thereafter and—I kid you not—every night after watching the movie, I chanted a silent prayer to myself before falling asleep: “Please let there be a real Superman, please let there be a real Superman, please let there be a real Superman!”
Movies with special effects were still a thing of unbelievable magic back then, and as a result of the persuasive productions, people often left movie theatres convinced of realities outside the one we know. I remember the local news aired a report encouraging parents to warn their kids not to jump out of windows or off roofs. Because, unlike what the movie made us believe, humans did not truly possess the mystical, physical power of flight with nothing but a cape to propel them up, up and away.
So here I was, a girl of 9, watching Superman with my dad and taking in this story about a guy who is not just the smartest on the block, but who could also defy the expectations of everyone around him. He ends up the strongest, sexiest, most handsome and genuinely wonderful man when trouble comes into town, and his helpless girl is threatened.
But that is not to say that Lois is completely devoid of talent. She is a smart, beautiful woman with great ambition and courage, going after the best story under the most dangerous of circumstances. Every guy in the movie (and movie theater, most likely) wanted her.
And yet, SHE wasn’t the hero. HE was.
So I suddenly realized, at 9, watching that movie, I came to a realization: “Why couldn’t I have been born a boy?” I thought sincerely, “Boys are able to DO so much more and be taken seriously.”
The rest, unfortunately still, as they say, is “his” story. Skip forward nearly 40 years later: I am still putting together “neighborhood productions,” only this time, on a much larger scale and with more “kids from around the block.”
Currently, I’m producing my second feature film, This is Nowhere, which I’m also co-directing and acting in. Fittingly enough, it is about a teenage girl who’s struggling to match the world of her dreams with the actual, uninspiring world that she wishes she could rise above or escape.
Otherwise, things have changed in the world around me, but not that much. (Remember what I mentioned earlier about the Superman sequel— it’s currently being shot, again, in Detroit – but this time with Batman!) And when it comes to opportunities within film industry— the industry in which I work —men still metaphorically soar above women.
According to an article in the Hollywood Reporter earlier this year, “A new report by the Women’s Media Center finds that women are still underrepresented on screen and behind the scenes in film and television. The report, which is a summary of original research done at USC, San Diego State and elsewhere over the past year, declared that ‘the American media have exceedingly more distance to travel on the road to gender-blind parity.”
Lois Lane still hasn’t gotten her shot at that front-page story.
Don’t get me wrong, women are making strides when it comes to our place in movies, but in comparison to our male counterparts, we’re still just like Superman and Lois Lane. One of us can fly while the other is stuck with the bus.
And though I sometimes miss being 9, I don’t miss the 1970s when there were only a couple of channels on TV and when the Internet did not exist. The latest movies could only be exhibited in controlled movie theatres.
Today, with all of the viable outlets for digital distribution and crowdfunding platforms (like Seed&Spark), we, as women, have our very own special power: the power of numbers and support. Locating content that fills the gender gap in storytelling has never been easier; we’re only a click away from watching films that appeal to us.
And THAT is an amazing power to possess. We can BE the change we want —and need —to see, both on and off screen, earning our wings in “her” side of history.
Heidi Philipsen-Meissner is a producer, writer, actress and director with 15 years of professional experience in international film, television and communications. Currently, she’s producing and co-directing her second feature film, This is Nowhere.