3. November 2018 Johannes Wolters

Women in Animation: Letter from WIA President Marge Dean

November 2, 2018

Dear Friends of WIA,

We have just surpassed the one-year anniversary of when the world changed: Weinstein was fired. Savino was fired. Men, for the first time in my recollection, publicly paid consequences for their bad behavior. It opened the door for all of us to feel emboldened to speak up about the dark secrets. And most importantly, we all listened and believed the women who have quietly held on to these painful histories for so long.

It is a paradigm shift, a complete change in the critical assumptions about behavior between men and women; between employers and employees; and in general, between humans. There is a lot of confusion about how we should connect with each other in healthy, safe and respectful ways. The podcast “Radio Lab” has a three-part series called “In the No.”

https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/no-part-1  

It’s a study of consent: what it means and how little we actually understand about it.

But the confusion is ok because it shows that we’re trying to figure it out. Culturally, we had come to accept norms with no idea that things could be different, and now we recognize that it can be different and so we need to reimagine the parameters.

I believe that the change we’re currently experiencing is real and not just a passing trend. I am hearing conversations that I haven’t heard before, conversations led by women about the concrete things we can and need to do to take leadership and fix what’s broken. There are many powerful and brilliant women leaders in key positions making a huge impact. But, sadly, the percentage is small. We need to figure out how to get more women into influential roles in order to make change permanent.

I listened to a great Ted Talk by Caroline Paul, a San Francisco Firefighter, about bravery.

She talks about the difference in how we teach our daughters about risk and fear.  Boys are encouraged to take chances, get hurt and generally push themselves physically. But girls are taught to be cautious, are seen as fragile and needing of help at a time in their lives when they are not really any different from boys physically.

Caroline says she experiences fear but points out that she also feels many other emotions at the same time: exhilaration, curiosity, building confidence. What she does in those circumstances is assess the relevance of the fear and usually decides that it is not as important as the other experiential feelings, so she puts fear aside. What she is describing is how bravery works.

It is a focus on fear that leads women to be hesitant in their opinions, show deference to others and have a general lack of confidence. But it is possible, even as adults, for that to change.

BRAVERY CAN BE LEARNED.  IT JUST TAKES PRACTICE!

Where in your professional and personal situations can you practice bravery? What are the steps you can take to face a fearful situation for what it really is? Per Caroline, fear and exhilaration feel very similar. Maybe at the moment, you’re about to step away from a challenge because of fear, you might consider the exhilaration of embracing what’s in front of you.

I know for myself that one of the biggest fears I have is that I may not be perfect. And I know that I’m not alone in this one–so many women speak of it. There are studies that show that men will go after a job when they think they are only 30-40% qualified whereas women need to think they are over 80% qualified before they’ll even try. Somehow, we have to get used to the idea of “winging it,” trusting our brains and resourcefulness to make us successful. (Just writing that still gives me the heebie-jeebies…but I’m trying on bravery here.)

We may not have gotten the regimen for courage as we were growing up, but there is nothing stopping us from getting in shape now.  Just as one trains for a race or other competitive events, it takes practice, and we all approach it differently. Maybe you need a coach; maybe you need a support group; maybe you should keep a log or have daily routines. Regardless of what activities you use, the practice of bravery starts with a commitment–a commitment to yourself, your future, and a meaningful life.

To the moms out there, I know this is especially hard. I’ve been there. I raised two kids as a single mother while I worked in production. It was not easy and not necessarily something that I recommend. But I know 100% that my children, who are now adults, have benefited greatly by my commitment to my own continued growth and learning right alongside them. It was critical that both my son and daughter saw that I did not give up on myself for them.

The critical theme in all of this is that there are things we can learn, things we can do to make significant changes in our lives. It doesn’t matter what your age is–you’re not too old and you’re not too young. And there are resources out there to assist you in growing and developing as an artist, a producer or whatever job you choose, supporting you into reaching a leadership situation that allows you to impact your world.

On the note of fear and recognizing the anniversary of the world shifting, it seems that we are experiencing a lot of backlash. Every week there is another horrible thing that happens or backward step that is made. In the age of social media, I’ll confess that I’m not sure how strong the backlash is actually. Is it just a few loud voices or is it an uproar reflecting a reactionary movement? Is it the eve of a real Handmaid’s Tale scenario or is it the last dying gasp of the old ways?

I don’t know, and in a lot of ways it doesn’t matter to me. My response is the same either way. If the worst-case scenario is true, then our best defense is building community. It seems like there have always been those who believed the end is near. When I first was exposed to the idea and got really frightened by it, a wise friend said to me that if it does happen (“it” being societal collapse), the only thing we have is each other. It is through our connections with each other that we will survive. It is only through building a community that we’ll make it.

And if we’re headed toward the best-case scenario then it is still the connections between us that will be the basis of how we live. We will still need to build and nurture our community. I believe that is the model for the future and there is a new definition of community forming around us.

Over the next couple of months, the WIA board is doing its annual goal setting. We spend a good amount of time discussing where we want to be 12 months from now and strategizing how we’re going to get there. One of my personal goals is to figure out how to engage the membership more in the organization. Thus far, we have been doing programs for the membership and the public to attend. We also have been very focused on advocacy, keeping the discussion alive and relevant to the industry so as to strengthen the commitment of employers to step outside their unconscious biases; to look at different ways of hiring; to try different voices in telling stories and creating innovative entertainment. But now we want to focus on building and engaging the community.

I’m not sure what this means or what it will look like. I suspect that a virtual community will be a cornerstone to the work we do. I am looking for people to help me figure this out. If you have experience with community building (virtual or otherwise) and an interest in volunteering for WIA, please contact us through the website or here.

And finally, if you live in the USA, please VOTE!!! Statistically, the higher the turnout at the polls, the better the results. It’s a precarious time and we all need to assure that we are heard. Show up if you haven’t already, and remind everyone around you to get out to vote as well.

I am a worrier; so I do that. But in general, I am also optimistic. The changes we’ve experienced over the last year are too good, too strong and embraced by so many that I believe we will keep moving forward.  We’re headed in the right direction. If we don’t pause, get distracted or give up, then we’ll get there.

Best,

Marge Dean
WIA President

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