Like many freshmen, DePaul film student Alex Wren strived to make new connections and friends. While strolling through the Quad with a male friend one brisk autumn afternoon, she experienced her first run-in with misogyny on campus. A group of male peers approached Wren’s friend, discussed what they were working on at length, and asked to collaborate on a project. Once the group ambled away, her friend remarked, “They didn’t even acknowledge you. They didn’t even look at you.”
Now a senior, the situation still affects Wren’s outlook on film at DePaul. Gender inequity in DePaul’s film production program involves women experiencing patterns of being dismissed and overshadowed on a daily basis. Misogyny in the program negatively impacts female students’ level of comfort in the classroom and on set, causing them to feel undermined and alienated. The lack of acknowledgement that Wren experienced leaks into nearly every facet of education. It affects class discussions, relationships within the program, and long days working on set.
“I still want to feel like I can be a girl because I have to suppress my gender in order to be taken seriously … I feel like my authority is not as strong as it would be if I was a guy … My requests are not as respected,” Wren said.
Gender inequity saturates the male-dominated film program at DePaul and produces difficult power dynamics for women to overcome. The high-stress environment of sets and unspoken hierarchies in film already present challenges for students, so adding the extra complexity of gender can feel overwhelming and exhausting.
When addressing her male peers, DePaul student Emma Soto also feels a lack of acknowledgement regarding her creative ideas. “When you start speaking, you wonder, ‘Are they even listening? Or do they even care about the opinions you do have?,’” said Soto.
When others do hear her opinions, they often morph into something else entirely.
“There will be a handful of moments where you’ll throw your idea out there, and next thing you know, it was his idea. It wasn’t your idea at all,” Soto said.
When she faced this exact situation her freshman year, Soto brushed it off because she felt happy to be on set at all. Now, she wishes she had said something.The whispered nature of gender inequity in DePaul’s film production program generates even more issues.
“It’s not blatant racism or misogyny … everyone can just feel it,” Soto said. She can recall several conversations in class that involved racist or misogynistic microaggressions. These subtle inequities create a tense environment and negatively impact the educational experience.
Wren feels hesitant to ask questions in class due to the fear of being ridiculed. “It’s so hard to learn and also make it look like you know what you’re doing,” Wren said.
She has to compromise her education to gain respect from peers simply due to the added label of “female.” This constant need to validate credentials and assert intelligence hinders success in a learning environment where mistakes are meant to be made.
Female film students at DePaul have found their own small ways to feel more comfortable in class and on set. When confronted with an uncomfortable situation, they speak up for themselves. They have learned how to navigate confrontation in order to stand up for their creative thoughts and ideas. Soto had to “build an innate toughness” and “understand that there are power dynamics.” The students also find solace in women-run sets due to feeling more heard and understood.
Despite having several positive experiences with male directors while working on set, DePaul student Hannah Duncan says she “feels more supported” and that her “opinion and voice is valued at a higher level” on women-run sets.
Wren also primarily works on women-run sets to avoid the inevitable pitfalls of being a women on a co-gender set. “I love working on all-female crews. I love the stories I make and the messages I’m expressing … Having women on set is a total asset,” Wren said.
Women provide a different, valuable perspective to filmmaking at DePaul. Wren is currently working on a project called “Dick for a Day” where a woman wears a strap-on for an entire day to ignite a discussion about conventional gender standards.
When faced with the nuanced obstacles that come with being a woman, these students continuously choose to overcome them and persevere for their craft.
“It’s what you love, so you keep doing it,” Wren said.
Student organizations like Delta Kappa Alpha, a cinematic arts society, assist in dismantling current attitudes about women in film. It is critical to provide space for dialogue surrounding gender inequity in DePaul’s film program; faculty support could transform the entire program’s attitude toward women. Though efforts were made to contact faculty in DePaul’s film production department, they declined to comment due to controversy surrounding the issue.
According to Media and Cinema Studies (MCS) Associate Professor Luisela Alvaray, DePaul’s cinema studies program aims to address diversity and inclusion in media with courses like Sex in the Box: U.S. Television, Sex and Sexuality, and Diversity and Inclusion in Film and Television.
“The purpose of these classes is to create awareness of racial, gender, class, and other kinds of disparities that we can trace in current media representations, and to reimagine the practices of media making in more equitable ways. We also reflect on how the mainstream film and media industries operate vis-à-vis giving women equal opportunities to create and thrive in front and behind the camera,” Alvaray said.
Though these courses are recommended to film students, none are required to work on set or graduate. Translating these invaluable lessons into action on set requires more action on the production side of DePaul film.
Soto suggests that the film production program implements a training on set etiquette similar to the current training on equipment etiquette.
“DePaul emphasizes ‘Take Care DePaul’ so much, but really, how much?” Soto said.
Without faculty support, creating an equitable environment becomes much more challenging.
“The change needs to begin with faculty. Nothing will ever get better in the industry if those who are educating the future generation are perpetuating outdated attitudes towards women,” said Hannah Duncan.
Header Illustration by Magda Wilhelm