After months of work, the day finally came. We were having a screening and Director’s question and answer session for Subjectified: Nine Young Women Talk About Sex at my school, Columbia University in New York City.
As an intern with Melissa, I reached out to various student organizations, academic centers, and campus programs that support the multifaceted goals of the project. We looked for groups that fell under the umbrella of feminist, anti-homophobia, sexual empowerment, anti-violence, and health/wellness. Depending on how you want to screen it, many different types of campus entities could be involved. We heard back an enthusiastic response from Women’s History Month that they wanted to use Subjectified as a big opening event.
Women’s History Month is marked every March at Columbia, embodying a different theme every year related to contemporary and historical struggles for gender equality. This year’s theme was “The Xth Wave: Redefining Activism and Engagement in the 21st Century.” The WHM board members thought the documentary would fit in perfectly, showing a new way that women could be involved in representing themselves through media.
On the night of the event, I walked into the crowded lounge of the dorm. I had seen the film before, but I was really excited to hear what my peers would think. The room was packed, which was especially surprising for a campus event on a Saturday night. People sat in plush armchairs lined up from wall to wall, facing a projector and a stand-up screen. I saw people I had never seen before standing on the side. I thought I knew everyone at this school who comes to feminist events, but clearly the community, marketing and co-sponsorships had allowed us to reach a larger scope of people. As the film screened, people laughed, expressed concern, and seemed empathetic. I was sitting with my friends who live in Q House (one of our non-monetary co-sponsors) and we all gave each other excited grins whenever one of the interviewees discussed non-heterosexual sex.
The film wrapped up, and the crowd clapped. We took a short break for snacks. I mingled and my friends and acquaintances came up to me to congratulate me. I remember one of my friends saying, “I can’t wait to ask the director my question,” and another said, “I wish I could make something like this.” We settled back in our seats for questions. Melissa gave a short introduction and answered the questions she usually gets asked, such as how she chose the women and the interview questions.
My friends are brilliant and critical, so I was nervous about Melissa fielding the questions. Sometimes I am even intimidated by how active everyone is in critiquing others’ language and presentations. As expected, my friends asked some really difficult questions, but I think Melissa was true to herself and her intentions with the film in her answers. One person asked how she changed throughout the process of making the documentary. Melissa told the crowd that she definitely had to challenge herself to work through her own views and preconceptions of female sexuality as she conducted the interviews. She felt she had learned how to be open and receptive to answers coming from a wide variety of places. I think she showed that she cared about the individual women’s stories. This attention to giving people a voice was at the heart of her project. While they were contextualized in the context of generalized gender inequalities and misrepresentations of female sexuality, Melissa discussed how she wanted to be true to these lives she met for a brief encounter. Other questions touched on power dynamics, interviewing techniques, and strategies for making a grassroots documentary. One of my friends who is a feminist and aspiring filmmaker told me later that she found this portion of the event really useful for her in conceptualizing how she wants to make her own work in the future.
In evaluating my own emotional reaction, at first, I was sad because what I had just seen reminded me of things I’ve been silent about and the complex hidden world of female sexuality, but I guess this is a first step to moving toward opening up a healing and transformative dialogue on these issues. Listening to the feedback, it sounded like the audience had a similar reaction. One of my friends summed it up well when she said, “that was heavy, but it was real.”
In order to make such a successful event, we had many campus groups step up to co-sponsor: Radical College Undergrads Not Tolerating Sexism, Men’s Peer Education (a group dedicated to eradicating sexism and gender violence through educating men), Columbia Queer Alliance, and Everyone Allied Against Homophobia. These groups have different agendas and constituencies, but they each found this event significant for their work. My friend from Residential Life also helped by booking space and making sure everything ran smoothly on the day of the event. We also had non-monetary support from many other campus organizations: help with advertising the event and promoting it on campus. The groups ranged from non-partisan to the radical left. I recognized my friends and fellow student activists who were all interested in hearing the true stories of young women discussing sexuality.
-Kassy Lee, Spring 2012 Outreach Intern for Subjectified