In January, SheKnows Media, a digital media company, and the Ms. Foundation for Women launched #TheFWord, a video contest that encouraged people to submit short films about what feminism means to them. Today they announced a winner.
"It was collaboration between about 15 men and women," says 24-year old Alex Regalado, producer of the winning video and cofounder of TWIGG, a how-to site. "We try to make things that seem scary, approachable and fun."
"Nowadays "feminism" is kind of a scary topic and a lot of people don't want to call themselves feminists. So, we asked ourselves, "How can we explain feminism in a way that is relatable and explain that it isn't scary and that it's very inclusive, that most people really are feminists. That was our goal," says Regalado, whose point is made for her in the fact that the film automatically served after "This Part of Me," is not yet another #TheFWord video, but an anti-feminist rant. "We talked about how part of our bodies are defining us and we don't want to be defined in that way. We want to be defined not by our bodies, but instead by our actions." The irony is that there are even video's targeting this contest by mocking people who made submissions. There is a thriving feminist backlash market in YouTube that features videos, designed to portray feminists in ugly stereotypes.
"We were interested in the emergence of a conversation about feminism, the definition of feminism, the merits and the demerits. Was it inclusive? Was the feminism of the 70s relevant today?" explains Samantha Skey, President of SheKnows. "We wanted to allow our communities to produce content about what feminism meant to them."
"This Part of Me," a simple and compelling two and a half minute film dedicated to the idea that feminism means we are more than the sum of our parts, won after 300 submissions, 10,000 votes and a judged selection process.
"Some of the video were intellectual, some were much more creative or emotional," says Supergirl actress Laura Benanti, one of a panel of judges including Connie Britton, comedian and writer Franchesca Ramsey, civil rights activist Michael Skolnick, Alexandra Posen, artist & co-founder of Zac Posen, producer and writer Tonya Lewis Lee, How to Get Away with Murder, Orange is the New Black actor Matt McGorry, UnREAL and Girls actress Shiri Appleby, Jamia Wilson, Executive Director of Women, Action & the Media, The Representation Project's Cristina Escobar, Salt N Pepa, DJ and rapper Spinderella, and Teresa Younger, President & CEO of the Ms. Foundation.
"I spent my first year traveling around the country on a listening tour testing the water to see how people defined feminism and how it was defined by them," explains Teresa Younger. "The top six videos were amazing. Some were funny, some left us thinking, "Is this the right way to think about this?" "Is it ok to even laugh at this terminology? #TheFWord is part of our broadening the tent of conversation about how people perceive and present feminism."
The Ms. Foundation's objective is to engage more traditional communities in conversations about what feminism means and does. Recently, the Foundation, working with MSNBC, launched 31 Days of Feminism, a month long look at the work of women of color working to effect change. Last week, the Black Men in Feminism series, a joint project with Ebony magazine exploring masculinity, gender roles and perceptions about feminism, was launched.
"What's hard about videos about feminism," explains Benanti, who wrote and directed the hilarious short video "Connie Britton's Hair Secret" in 2015,"is getting your point across without feeling that you're hitting people over the head. I was looking to learn, to be moved and for a sense of humor. It was really hard. There were so many good videos. It made me feel excited for feminism and excited for filmmaking. It was nice to see the real range of perspective. What's important about the accessibility of these films is that they shine a light on the true meaning of feminism"
"The Talk," written and directed by: Lauren Schacher & Nico Raineau, is a funny romp through a couple's teaching their children about the "distant" dark days of gender discrimination. It's filled with cringe-worthy, honest descriptions of sexism. At one point, after the daughter asks her father, "So a girl could make computers?" he answers, "She could, but she would have to make sure she never, ever messed up....or she'd never e allowed to have that job again. And, all women would have been considered bad at computers. And would probably be sluts."
Mashuq Deen's video, "The FW Word," disarmingly moving, is about Deen's mother and his experience as a transman. While the file-card format echoes the heart-breaking video that teenager Amanda Todd made prior to her suicide the message of Deen's video is overwhelmingly a positive one.
Anne Troup's "#TheFWord: Same Fight" is a rousing anthem about global equal pay inequities and women's work, anticipating last week's release of Jennifer Lopez's "I Ain't Your Mama" by several months.
"Twist Endings," produced by Zanzibar Moore, urges viewers to consider how normalized sexism is and how our tolerances need to be challenged.
As part of SheKnows' exploration of the current state of feminism, the company recently conducted its own study, validated by a third party, into what women think about feminism and its impact on their lives. The survey results, released in March, found that the more a person has watched television, the less she knows about feminism and the more likely she is to be anti-feminist. These videos leverage a technology, one we no longer think about, videos on YouTube, not available 15 years ago. In the not too recent past, images of feminists, overwhelmingly negative, could only be viewed on television or the occasional movie or book. Social media allow for a profusion of nuanced, realistic and self-defined representations. According to the survey, "word of mouth," is the primary way that people are being educated about feminism today. For the survey, more than 1,600 women (98%) answered attitudinal questions about feminism, media and politics.
#TheFWord videos are remarkably diverse in their style, tone, subject matter and representation. The diversity of the videos is heartening given that the survey revealed persistent fractures along racial lines in peoples comfort levels with the word "feminism," which, in the United States, remains largely associated with white, upper middle class women. Their creativity and scope provide many opportunities to engage in conversations about what feminism has done and has left to accomplish. These videos are a great addition to that conversation.