Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Women's Stories, Women's Films: Integrating Women's Studies and Film Production

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Women's Stories, Women's Films: Integrating Women's Studies and Film Production

Article excerpt

We know tw we are wthout a text, and must discover one.

--Carolyn G. Heilbrun

Women working in creative fields today have the unique opportunity of creating the works that other artists will study in the future. But for students in artistic fields, exposure to the works of female artists of the past depends on the commitment of the instructor to seek out and show these works. This is particularly true for women studying film production. Because gender is, rightfully, not the first consideration in the selection of films to illustrate a point in class, teachers usually use the films they know best and that are most readily available. This has led inevitably to a situation in which the films shown are most often written, directed, and produced by men.

To increase awareness of women's films within the university setting and to address the gender imbalance of films shown in class, I developed and taught a course titled Women's Stories, Women's Films. The class was designed to introduce students of both genders to women filmmakers and to look at the stories they told and the narrative structures used in supporting their storytelling.

The course was offered at the School of Film and Animation (SOFA) at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), a university that has a decidedly masculine student body. While most colleges and universities today have a fairly equal gender balance, with women predominating in many cases (Barron's Profiles of American Colleges), at RIT, perhaps because of the highly technical nature of the courses offered, the name of the institute, and the preponderance of males in the fields of science and technology, a high proportion, 65 percent, of the student body is male. Within the film school, although the faculty is evenly divided along gender lines, only 20 percent of the current students are female. The result is that women students in the film school are not only exposed to primarily male-created films but are also surrounded by male storytellers in every class.

In this essay, I'd like to talk about my motivations for establishing this class, what I hoped to accomplish, my approach to the material and the class environment, and the successes and difficulties I encountered.


The impetus for the course came from the desire to offer women students the opportunity to view the work of other women. In showing these films and discussing the related material, I hoped to provide a basis on which students could evaluate their own creative impulses and to offer encouragement and inspiration to potential women filmmakers, who often find that their stories are not understood by their fellow students or their male teachers. Showing women's films that portray personal stories gives the women students permission, as it were, to explore their own stories in their own ways. Showing women's films also helps students and teachers understand the differences in narrative structure that appear in many women's films.

The class had four specific goals:

1. Familiarize students with the breadth of women's films

2. Explore the narrative structure of those films

3. Begin an acquaintance with feminist film criticism and such concepts as the gaze

4. Encourage students to access their own personal creative potential

Gender Differences

The course derived from a series of questions. Are there uniquely women's stories? If so, what are they? Are they really different from stories that men tell and enjoy? And if they are, what are those differences and how can we find a common ground for experiencing them?

As a teacher of scriptwriting I have noticed over the years a distinct difference in the scripts written by the women students in class and those written by the male students. More telling, perhaps, was that women were less successful in writing scripts that involved character and plot than their male counterparts. …

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