Mindful(l) Media: Is the proliferation of feminists in historical dramas good or bad for modern young women?

Mindful(l) Media is an audio podcast from Dr. Rosanne Welch helping the audience to be more Mindfull about the Media we both create and consume as it relates to the portrayal of Gender, Diversity, and Equality.

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Downton abbey

Mindful(l) Media: Is the proliferation of feminists in historical dramas good or bad for modern young women? by Dr. Rosanne Welch

Recently, in watching television shows and films set in the past I’ve begun noticing a proliferation of female feminists who are eventually aided by male feminist characters in the quest to be treated equally and I can’t decide if I like this new trend…. or not. What with me being a feminist myself (but then, who isn’t when you define feminist as someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes as Beyonce did so famously so relatively recently)?

So as a feminist and as a writer, you’d think I’d love to see the kinds of feminists that are popping up on several new historical fiction shows I’ve found on Netflix recently — Iwomen detectives like:
Phryne Fisher and Dorothy Williams in 1929 Australia on Miss Fisher’s Mysteries

or female medical doctors like Julia Ogden and Emily Grace in 1898 Toronto on Murdoch Mysteries

or Samantha Stewart in 1940s London on Foyle’s War –

or perhaps the most famous recent historical fiction feminist on television — Sybil Crawley in 1912 England on the wildly popular Downton Abbey.

Those last 2 shows I found thanks to PBS, which was our only window into international television before the advent of Netflix so I wanted to make sure and give credit where credit is due. The other thing that sparked my mind about this idea of fake frequent feminists was an interview with Alan Rickman a film he directed and co-wrote (with Jeremy Brock and Alison Deegan) called A Little Chaos. Apparently, its set in the court of Louis XIV and involves two landscape architects involved in designing the gardens – one male (who existed in real life) landscape artist Andr Le Notre, and one female – who is entirely fictional.

In an interview with Variety Rickman said he enjoyed the historical inaccuracy of the story: But there was something unmistakable about the dialogue and the fact shed created a leading female character who couldnt possibly have existed then its a complete fantasy. But thats what the movies can do, you can take a period of history thats incredibly male dominated and you can inject into it a very modern independent woman and make a point about feminism through a prism of history. So if anyone says the storys implausible, you just say: Well, yes.

Rickman gave us one of the many reasons for the many feminist characters we are encountering these days. Another is that post-Buffy (which I discussed a couple of shows ago) women want to see empowered women, rather than victims — and the networks and studios know this. Also, writers know that characters need to be active to be interesting, not passive. They also know that stories need to focus on unique and dramatic events, not boring average everyday living. So whats the problem with that?

I fear all these feminists in the past are giving young girls the idea that it’s always been easy to demand and receive our rights in various countries around the world, when nothing could be farther from the truth.
Womens suffrage was a world-wide effort, eliciting success in fits and starts from before the American Revolution until the present day. A huge moment came when Englishwoman Mary Wollstonecraft wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Women – because the idea that men had natural rights was still a new idea and here she was insisting that women had them too? Shocking!

Sadly, though what Wollstonecraft is mostly remembered for today is being the mother of the author of Frankenstein (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), herself a feminist. The younger Wollstonecraft defined womens rights as the right to develop our minds, and control our bodies. Short and sweet. As a movie character the younger Shelley — and her ideas on womens rights show up twice. – once, from 1986, in Gothic (adapted by Stephen Volk from a story by Lord Byron and Percy Shelley) and the other, from 1988, is Haunted Summer (adapted by Ivan Passer from the Anne Edwards novel).

While the writers rely on sex and horror to sell these films, they are more interestingly the stories of a female writer being inspired to write what will become her great masterpiece — and I love movies about how writers — especially female writers — work. Shelley wrote the novel in 1818 – about 110 years before British women won the right to vote. She had to publish Frankenstein anonymously because that style of story was not considered appropriate for a female to write back in the period (which is a bit reminiscent of an essay I recorded a few weeks ago about female authors using initials rather than feminine names on their work to attract a male reading audience – see, its been going longer than you think).

Anyway, Wollstonecraft is an example that there WERE female feminists who didnt let silly things like propriety get in the way of their desires – and that is the pattern we see in the programs Ive been noticing:

Miss Fisher’s Mysteries, Murdoch Mysteries, Foyle’s War and Downton Abbey.

In all these programs the women feel they can flaunt the rules and norms of the societies in which they live -even when womens suffrage came at various times in the countries involved in these programs: 1902 in Australia, 1917 in Canada, 1928 in Britain (and, of course 1920 in the United States, as we all know). For a piece of new history – women in Saudi Arabia won the right to vote only recently – in 2015.

Of interest is that in all these programs — from Phryne Fisher to Julia & Emily to Sybil Crawley – they are only afforded the ability to dismiss society because they are wealthy. Some married into money like Phryne and others were born into it, like Julia, Emily and Sybil). And because she works as a driver during WWII for a male detective, even Sam earns her own cash to spend, giving her more money than a woman of her station would normally have had. So money = the freedom to pursue what Wollstonecraft-Shelley called the ability to develop our minds, and control our bodies. Also, none of these females have children when we meet them so they can dedicate their time to other pursuits – including the pursuit of the vote for other women — which is an exciting, dramatic and active pursuit for a character.

In thinking about how to create female characters more true to their historic settings I realized there was an excellent example, in fact an example I use in my story structure classes – the movie version of Sense and Sensibility adapted from the Jane Austen novel by Emma Thompson (which incidentally stars Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet of A Little Chaos).

Thompson managed to take this story about average everyday living in an era when the most dramatic things to happen to a women were marriage and childbirth and make each character more active than passive in their own lives. Yes, some of this is in the original source material, written by an author who lived in a world that gave women rare choices as to when and with whom those marriages and childbirths would occur – yet as a screenwriter Emma Thompson made those moments seem active and exciting by delving into the emotions of a woman to whom no choice is given. I’m sure Jane Austen did as much herself in the writing, but I have to confess as much as I love the movie, I have never managed to get past page 20 in the book. I’m not one of those Austen book club fan girls. But I do teach and continue to study the film to see how Thompson managed her writing magic.

And there was a movie – about the real life suffragists who went on a hunger strike while in jail for picketing the White House – they were in jail for blocking traffic since picketing is our Constitutional right — Its Iron-Jawed Angels (written by Jennifer Friedes and Raymond Singer). Some might say, in an attempt to denigrate the movie, that its only a made for television movie because stories about women are considered television fodder THOUGH it was made by HBO, whose motto is Its not television, its HBO so there is some respect reflected in that.

My next question has to be, what would these shows – Miss Fisher’s Mysteries, Murdoch Mysteries, Foyle’s War and Downton Abbey be without their feminist characters? Well, Miss Fisher’s Mysteries would have no lead since her whole plotline concerns her solving murders with the local copper – Detective Jack Robinson — who is, of course, handsome and interested in her – for her brains as much as for her beauty.

On Murdoch Mysteries Drs. Julia Ogden and Emily Grace did have the money to go to medical school – but their gender kept them from gaining any work except working on corpses for the constabulary.

Foyle’s War dealt with Sams position as a woman driving a man well – but she had the cover if you will of having to do a mans job for the war effort – a regular English Rosie the Riveter. So while some characters fumed, others accepted her in a male occupation. What became interesting as the series went on is how having done a mans job, Sam did not want to give it up merely because the war had ended and she had married. So her struggle to maintain career and financial independence after the war is where her true feminism shows.

Finally, in Downton Abbey Sybil begins her march toward being a feminist in a trivial fashion – through fashion – by wearing a new split skirt to her fathers dismay. That barrel rolls into falling for the Irish chauffeur and defying her fathers permission by running off with the man she loves – thereby living in action the wish to control her body. Nicely done, I would say.

Back to the question of whether those powerful lessons are helpful or hurtful to the modern audience. Eventually, all these fictional women get to behave in the way they choose with no HUGE backlash from society. Thats not how it went for millions of women in the struggle for equal rights. I believe these programs allow young women to take for granted the rights that were fought over so hard for so long – I believe these programs allow them to not bother voting because it’s no big deal. When I wrote my encyclopedia of women in aviation and space I learned that several women who joined the WASPS (Womens Air Force Service Pilots) during WWII were divorced by their husbands for doing so. When have you ever read about a soldier being divorced for wanting to serve his country?

So maybe, while I enjoy the feminists of these newer programs, we have to find ways of telling more Sense and Sensibility style stories – to see those stories of passive women to understand how different it could still be – to learn who to support in the continuing effort to gain equal rights — and so that modern women can stop being afraid of calling themselves feminists – since the alternative – not having the right to develop our minds, and control our bodies — is not as pretty a picture.

Of course in writing this I realized all the programs Ive singled out are the products of other countries – not the USA which leads to the question of why U.S. television producers cant make quality historical fiction for us. but thats a question for another podcast…

 

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Mindful(l)l Media is part of the 3rd Pass Media network. For more information, visit 3rdPass.media

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It’s a Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad TV World by Dr. Rosanne Welch from Mindful(l) Media 13

Mindful(l) Media is an audio podcast from Dr. Rosanne Welch helping the audience to be more Mindfull about the Media we both create and consume as it relates to the portrayal of Gender, Diversity, and Equality.

Subscribe via iTunes today


It’s a Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad TV World by Dr. Rosanne Welch

Sad tv world

I gave an assignment this week that started me thinking because one of my students emailed me with a quandary. She had looked around at the options for one-hour dramas to write stories for and said something I hadn’t heard before…

We often hear how violent television has become — or how rude — or how disturbing the content, the steady stream of dead, mutilated bodies and the constant focus on florescently lit autopsy rooms, or worse — the fact that the murder room on Dexter had become so ubiquitous that How I Met Your Mother made a joke reference to it — the lead character, architect Ted Mosby, was asked to design just such a murder room and he naturally declined.

But this student said it wasn’t the violence, or the rudeness, or the murder room. She understood those dark stories were in vogue now. It was the overall, overwhelming feeling of sadness that overcame her while watching such moments over and over on television that bothered her. She really put her finger on something I had been feeling for a long long time. What used to be my favorite childhood place to hide from the world, my refuge, the place that would show me all the possibilities for a future that my small suburb couldn’t show me, isn’t providing the same thing for children today.In fact these kinds of visuals might be providing the opposite. 

I mean, when reading Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, My Beloved World, she told a story about how as a poor kid she had no lawyers in her immigrant family but by seeing Perry Mason on television, she learned about the profession she eventually inhabited so well that she was nominated to the Supreme Court. THAT is power.  Granted, all these forensic shows seem to have female doctors as the head medical examiners (like C.C.H. Pounder on NCIS: New Orleans) and that may be leading girls into STEM careers — but why aren’t there more Grey’s Anatomy’s out there, watching female doctors help the living rather and discuss the dark causes of the dead?

So why do we now wallow in worlds none of us really want to see in our future – or want our children to enter in their futures?  Sure, there are still lawyers and police officers on television – good ones and bad ones, as there always were.  And, sure, the bad ones can be more complex and therefore more interesting to write, but both the good ones and the bad ones show us more and more ruthless, ugly crimes and I have to say I’m growing tired of it. 

This is a tough comment for a female writer to make as it immediately leads to the idea that we are too soft to be considered for writing gigs on the tougher – Emmy-nominate-able shows.  But I say it isn’t that we are too prissy or too prudish – it’s that some of us, not all of us, are too optimistic, too joyful, to face those ugly stories all the time.  I mean, face it, we’re trying to work in a still male-dominated business which means we have optimism – and we are so excited by every teeny-tiny step forward, which means we’re overflowing with joy. 

I think the mistake is that we have connected the adjective ‘serious’ with ‘violent’ or ‘ugly’ when there are other ways to be serious in our writing.  I’m reminded of this by an article that’s going around the web this week about how after 30 years The Golden Girls is still the most progressive show in television.  

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Mindful(l)l Media is part of the 3rd Pass Media network. For more information, visit 3rdPass.media

If you have any questions or comments please send them to mindfull@3rdpass.media or via Twitter @mindfullmedia

 

Rosanne’s Published Works on display at Stephens College Library

Stephens library display of Rosannes books

Thanks to Dan Kammer, the Library Director at Stephens College, for including a display of my publications in an exhibition of work by various faculty members this month.  It looks great – and hopefully the students will be intrigued enough to stop by and read some of the books – or use them for research in their own academic adventures!

Honey, You Know I Can’t Hear You When You Aren’t in the Room: Key Female Filmmakers Prove the Importance of Having a Female in the Writing Room [Video]

A video abstract for Honey, You Know I Can’t Hear You When You Aren’t in the Room: Key Female Filmmakers Prove the Importance of Having a Female in the Writing Room.

This paper will appear in the special issue journal, Gender and the Screenplay: Processes, Practices, Perspectives (eds. Louise Sawtell and Stayci Taylor (RMIT University, Melbourne)).

Coming soon!

Honey, You Know I Can’t Hear You When You Aren’t in the Room: Key Female Filmmakers Prove the Importance of Having a Female in the Writing Room

 

Transcript:

I’m Dr.Rosanne Welch. I teach screenwriting and history of screenwriting to MFA students in the Stephens College MFA program.

Screenwriters are often the unsung heroes of Hollywood, a fact that is doubly true for female screenwriters. While writers can research many things and are capable of creating unknown worlds such as Narnia or Lothlorien, it is true that the subject they know best – and will protect the most – will always be themselves and their experiences. Proof of this truth of filmmaking can be found in the careers of many successful female filmmakers from the start of the Hollywood studio system to the modern world of independents. Films produced by these women illustrates how important it is to have a female voice in the room.

My paper will discuss the ways female characters were created and protected by the presence of such female writers as:

Anita Loos, famous for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which involves much more than Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”;

Dorothy Parker, who with her husband wrote A Star is Born, where a famous actress must juggle her rising fame as her husband’s career fails.

Ruth Gordon who co-authored Adam’s Rib and Pat and Mike, both iconic lead characters played by Katherine Hepburn.

Phoebe Ephron wrote several films, adapted Carousel from the stage to the screen all while nurturing the creativity and career of her four daughter-writers including Delia, Amy, Hallie and Nora Ephron…

Joan Didion who co-wrote the 3rd remake of A Star is Born (the one starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson)

and Frances Goodrich Hackett who adapted The Thin Man; It’s a Wonderful Life and The Diary of Anne Frank who said the quote that set me on the path to write this piece:

“I’m always the only woman working on the picture and I hold the fate of the women [characters] in my hand… I’ll fight for what the gal will or will not do, and I can be completely unfeminine about it.”

Beyond bringing better quality female characters to the screen, these women brought more three-dimensional, equal marriages to the screen, creating role models other could follow.

 

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Trailer for Trumbo movie Looks Great!

I love movies about writers and the power of writing so when I noticed the trailer for Trumbo, based on the life of blacklisted Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo, I had to see it right away – and I did and now I recommend you see both the trailer – and the film.  The script was adapted from the book by Bruce Cook (which is also worth reading) by John McNamara, who I remember pitching to when he was a producer on The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. (which was the show he did before his long run on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which itself was the ‘new Superman’ before Smallville arrived on the scene).

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Anyway, what I enjoyed about the trailer is the idea that this is not just a plot-laden movie about the guy who wrote Roman Holiday (another movie you should see) with a front during the Blacklist;  Trumbo the movie looks to be a movie about ideas and the freedom of speech and thought that is at the heart of the Constitution of the United States.  As I said, I love movies about writers and the journeys to find their own voices and Trumbo’s story is one of those – along with the chance to make choices about what is worth standing for in this world – and the fact that those choices can lead to sacrifices – he spent 11 months in jail.  And as you’ll see in the trailer – John Goodman is in the movie so how can it miss?

Gentlemen Doctors from How Doctor Who Redefined Masculinity [Video Clip]

Dr. Rosanne Welch presents “How Doctor Who Redefined Masculinity: A Study of the Doctors and their Male Companions at the Cal Poly Pomona University Library. Dr. Welch teaches in the IGE (Interdisciplinary General Education) program.

Watch the entire presentation here

Gentlemen Doctors from How Doctor Who Redefined Masculinity [Video Clip]

 

Transcript:

These are the archetypes of masculinity in general literature and stories, right. So, Adventurer, Gentleman, Statesman, Warrior, Lone Wolf and Family Man. which seems to, sort of, argue with each other right there, but we’ll see how they play out on all of our different men. I would say that all of them have these qualities. there you go. End of lecture. But, I think the first three –and as I was picking through all of The Doctors and what I had to say about them — the first three are reflected more largely in our original 8 Doctors. So, we have this set right here as we know. So, they show us Adventurers — because they escape with the TARDIS and off into the world and time and space. They’re all Gentlemen and they’re all pretty much Statesmen. As are these four. Peter Davison being my favorite, but they all — and also we very much get the Clown with Sylvester McCoy down at the bottom.

A clip from this 5th talk on various aspects of Doctor Who presented by Dr. Welch. You can find Dr. Welch’s other Doctor Who talks using the links below.

Dr. Rosanne Welch

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The Most Feminist Companion – Martha Jones from Doctor Who: Feminism in the Whoniverse [Video Clip]

A clip from this longer presentation – Doctor Who: Feminism in the Whoniverse with Dr. Rosanne Welch

The Most Feminist Companion - Martha Jones from Doctor Who: Feminism in the Whoniverse [Video Clip]

 

Watch this entire presentation – Doctor Who: Feminism in the Whoniverse with Dr. Rosanne Welch

Dr. Rosanne Welch (http://rosannewelch.com) speaks on “Feminism in the Whoniverse” of Doctor Who, the BBC television program now in its 50th year. She reviews each of the Doctor’s female companions and speaks on how they are represented in the program and how they represented the women of their respective periods.

Transcript:

To me, Martha is the most feminist character that has ever travelled with The Doctor. I believe based on her job choice. Based on the way she handled The Doctor. She did, in fact, save his life at a certain point, which is akin to the earlier episodes. She made the choice to not to have her heart broken. Not to sit around and wait and beg and plead for something she couldn’t have and then she built a life without the firt person she wanted. For me, those are very, very powerful statements being made by that character. And I think it’s important to pay attention to that. Now, that’s my personal choice. Obviously people have many other choices.

Feminism in the Whoniverse was presented at the Cal Poly Pomona University Library where Dr. Welch teaches in the IGE (Interdisciplinary General Education) program.

This is the 4th talk on various aspects of Doctor Who that Dr. Welch has presented. You can find these talks using the links below.

Subscribe to Dr. Welch’s YouTube Channel

 

Dr. Rosanne Welch Cameo in Cal Poly IGE Program video along with her students

I have a small cameo in this video about the Cal Poly IGE (Interdisciplinary General Education) Program where I teach. Almost everyone you see here is or has been a student of mine. Check it out!

Dr. Rosanne Welch Cameo in Cal Poly IGE Program video along with her students

Dr, Rosanne Welch and her class read Gilgamesh out loud at the “rock circle” on campus

Watch the entire 3.5 min video here

Find out more information on the IGE Department

Behind the Scenes Video – Dr. Rosanne Welch Teaching at Stephens College Low Residency MFA Program in Hollywood

A short video of me, Dr. Rosanne Welch, teaching at the Stephens College Low Residency MFA Program in Hollywood.

Behind the Scenes Video - Dr. Rosanne Welch Teaching at Stephens College Low Residency MFA Program in Hollywood

 

Master of Fine Arts in TV and Screenwriting The first low-residency M.F.A. program specifically for TV and screenwriting.

The Stephens College Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in TV and Screenwriting will prepare you to compete in the high-stakes world of professional screenwriting. The second-oldest women’s college in the country, Stephens is an institution on a mission: To increase the voices and impact of women in television and film.It’s a mission that has drawn both the attention and the support of some of the most successful and well-known women writers in Hollywood—women who care deeply about ensuring that women’s voices and stories are heard.

Program Highlights 

  • You’ll begin the program in Hollywood (we meet at the beautiful Jim Henson Studios) where you’ll spend 10 days in classes and workshops, and return for another 10 days six months later.
  • Between residencies, you’ll work online with at least four different mentors. Our entire faculty is comprised of working writers, members of the Writer’s Guild of America, including Ken LaZebnik, Carol Barbee, Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, Barbara Nance, Rosanne Welch and William Rabkin. 
  • Our community of professors and professional working writers are here to help you develop your vision, your voice and your career as a screenwriter. And they’ll do it on your schedule, on your time and in-between all of the other demands of your crazy-busy life.
  • Learning the craft of writing is essential but so is learning the business of selling what you write. Providing you with access to prominent show-runners, writers from the film world, development executives, agents and managers is a vital component of this program.

For complete information on the program, visit the Stephens College Web Site

 

Teaching at the Stephens College Low Residency MFA Program in Television and Screenwriting in Hollywood! [Photos]

More photos of me teaching at the Stephens College Low Residency MFA Program in Hollywood. Complete video from that presentation will be available soon.

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Master of Fine Arts in TV and Screenwriting The first low-residency M.F.A. program specifically for TV and screenwriting.

The Stephens College Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in TV and Screenwriting will prepare you to compete in the high-stakes world of professional screenwriting. The second-oldest women’s college in the country, Stephens is an institution on a mission: To increase the voices and impact of women in television and film.It’s a mission that has drawn both the attention and the support of some of the most successful and well-known women writers in Hollywood—women who care deeply about ensuring that women’s voices and stories are heard.

Program Highlights 

  • You’ll begin the program in Hollywood (we meet at the beautiful Jim Henson Studios) where you’ll spend 10 days in classes and workshops, and return for another 10 days six months later.
  • Between residencies, you’ll work online with at least four different mentors. Our entire faculty is comprised of working writers, members of the Writer’s Guild of America, including Ken LaZebnik, Carol Barbee, Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, Barbara Nance, Rosanne Welch and William Rabkin. 
  • Our community of professors and professional working writers are here to help you develop your vision, your voice and your career as a screenwriter. And they’ll do it on your schedule, on your time and in-between all of the other demands of your crazy-busy life.
  • Learning the craft of writing is essential but so is learning the business of selling what you write. Providing you with access to prominent show-runners, writers from the film world, development executives, agents and managers is a vital component of this program.

For complete information on the program, visit the Stephens College Web Site