Studying video art: a male-dominated world

By Ester Khachatryan

The modern entertainment medium – filmmaking – came to Westlake School in 1986 as a Video Art class. It was an all girls’ class in an all girls’ school. When Westlake and Harvard merged in 1991, the all young women’s class was exposed to a co-ed experience, which proved unsuccessful as there developed a growing disproportion in the number of young men to young women in each class. In 2009, like the year Video Art was established, the class will have students of one gender. This time, there will be no young women in the Advanced Video Art II class.

The question relentlessly asked by the class instructors and other faculty is why so few young women enroll in the course. The answer is complex and obscure.

Kevin O’Malley, who started the Video Art program, dispels the idea that technology plays a role in young women’s reticence to enroll in the classes.

“The concentration is more on being able to tell good stories,” O’Malley says.

Nancy Popp believes that it is precisely the emphasis on story-telling attracts more young men. The resulting gdominance of young men in the class, she says, intimidates young women from being in an all-boy environment.

Simha Haddad ’09 first took the class in 10th grade at a recommendation from a middle school drama teacher. As for any misgivings about being in a male-dominated class, she showed no signs of doing anything but relishing the challenge of acquiring multi-faceted directing, editing, acting, and producing skills simultaneously.

“I don’t think being a girl inhibits my participation in a video art class at all, and I don’t see why it should,” Haddad said.

The three Video Art instructors, Cheri Gaulke, O’Malley and Popp, agree that a lack of female role models in the film industry is contributing to the low enrollment of young women in the course.

“The problem is that women are not as visible as men,” Gaulke said. She emphasizes teaching her students about women’s accomplishments in filmmaking.

Martha Wheelock, English and Women’s Studies instructor, established her own film company and is an independent director.

“We are starting to get some positions but again, we are not given the big budgets, which get publicity,” Wheelock said.

To increase participation in Video Art, Wheelock recommends that instructors “show some powerful images of what women do in the industry.”

Cate Barsky ’10, currently enrolled in Advanced Acting and Directing, points to the unappealing publicity surrounding Video Art classes.

“It’s never been advertised as a ‘filmmaking class’ so I don’t think it draws that many actors and actresses,” Barsky said.An article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on May 20, 2008 titled “Film Directing is still a man’s world” by Patrick Goldstein, notes that of 250 top-grossing films in 2007, six percent were directed by women.

However, Goldstein adds, “It’s especially hard to cry discrimination about female directors when women flourish in so many other areas of the business – Hollywood is loaded with powerful female producers, studio executives, managers and publicists.”

While historically filmmaking has been a male domain, Goldstein notes the large number of female directors making successful independent films.A study by Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D., titled “Women @ the Box Office,”analyzes the financial success of films made by men and films made by women.

Lauzen sites that when given similar budgets, films made by men have similar box office grosses as films made by women. Lauzen discredits conceptions that women are less capable of making films or insecure about commanding a film set.

The question of why more women are not involved in the film industry remains unanswered. Gender division and differences are theories promulgated by Gaulke and Goldstein.

Next year, whether due to lack of women role models or young women’s intimidation of technology and a male dominant environment, the Advanced Video Art II class will be a young man’s class.