Interview : Vanessa Pellegrin

Interview : Vanessa Pellegrin

We meet Vanessa Pellegrin, Director of ‘The trouble with…The F Word’, a documentary about feminism and antifeminism. What is wrong with the feminist word? Why does feminism have such a bad reputation? How do we fight against inequalities without feminism?

We’d love to know more about your documentary ‘The trouble with the F-word’

‘The trouble with the F-word’ is more of a performative than a classical documentary. The two central characters, Lucy Anne Holmes from No More Page 3 and TV presenter Nick Lancaster – a woman and a man with differing views – are participating in an experiment to test their established beliefs about feminism and anti-feminism. The aim is to take them out of their comfort zone and face them with a reality they didn’t expect. Nick, despite being absolutely in favor of gender equality dislikes Feminism as he thinks it is a movement that goes too far sometimes, whereas Lucy doesn’t understand how people can be against a movement that liberated women. Therefore, Lucy will meet anti-feminist groups and Nick will get involved within feminism activism. After this adventure, they will be capable to tell what is wrong with the F (feminism) word in the western world. Indeed, we focus on the issues of modern feminism in the UK and the US.

What was your inspiration for making the documentary?

After the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison’s passing in 2013, surveys establishing the ‘death of feminism’ were spread across the media and I felt the need to investigate more around this topic, together with my friend, Executive Producer Beverley Morisson. We have discovered an incredible amount of people, men and women, rejecting feminism and claiming it has become a sexist movement that was no longer representative for the majority of women. In 2013, Caroline Criardo Perez received death threats for suggesting to put a woman’s face on a tenner, and sex workers were complaining about modern feminism because it was ostracizing them. Last year, after the tumblr page called ‘women against feminism’ which broke to the news and the launch of Emma Watson’s He for She campaign, we had no more doubt that the debate around feminism had become a hot topic.

How did you approach turning the idea in to a reality?

We didn’t find this idea straight away. First we made a pilot with Lucy for British Broadcasters but it wasn’t convincing enough. It is after digging into the debate around feminism on Twitter that we thought we should also get a man on board. Indeed a lot of men feel discriminated by feminism so we chose to expose their thoughts too.

Did you encounter any challenges?

Oh yes! We have been working on this project for the past two years and the main issue has always been the same; it is a controversial film that raises questions some people think we shouldn’t ask. Moreover, some feminists and antifeminists are doubtful about our intentions. Both think we want to portray them from a bad angle which is not what we are trying to do. We really want a debate and to let people speak for themselves.

“Businesses should definitely support gender equality; I think most do already. However, depending on their size, the number of employees, their duties and possibilities are quite limited.”

Why do you think the issue of feminism is an important one to cover in film?

The UN launched the He for She campaign and asked Emma Watson to be the spokeswoman of feminism, Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Oscars became viral…so why not a film about this movement that seems to put off 36% of UK and US population?

What impact do you hope the documentary has and what has the response been to date?

We really have an informative and educational goal. Our aim is to answer: What is wrong with feminism, especially modern Feminism and how can we reach total equality between men and women today in the western world? Is feminism the answer? Has it become a sexist movement itself or is it misunderstood? The characters will provide their own answers to those questions.

“Our aim is to answer: What is wrong with feminism, especially modern Feminism and how can we reach total equality between men and women today in the western world?”

Why do you think some women are hesitant to be open about being a feminist? When did feminism begin to get an image problem?

Feminism includes a lot of different movements: the radical, the activists, the sex positive and often they interfere within each other. Sex workers claim themselves Feminist but feel ostracized by feminist organisations as they are mainly abolitionists and this has an impact on their lives. Moreover, men have been targeted individually on the name of feminism. Everybody remembered how scientist Matt Taylor burst into tears for wearing an alleged sexist T shirt and the Manspreading campaign on New York’s underground. All these events portray feminists as ‘men haters’ and a lot of women don’t want to be associated with this label.

Video : Watch the trailer for ‘The trouble with the…F Word’ documentary.

Female representation in the board room, in more senior roles and in lots of industries is extremely low with organisation EY recently publishing that we are 80 years away from gender parity. What can be done to get to equality quicker?

Maybe the UK could be a more family friendly country? Women choose to stop their careers or to combine family life and work together, which is extremely difficult to achieve considering the cost of childcare, the time spent and the lack of investment from big companies to open their own nurseries for example. Even if paternity leave has been extended, maybe there is something to do on a national scale, which will make women freer to success in their careers if they are willing too. I don’t think it is the only reason women aren’t in boardrooms but according to studies, even the one shown by anti feminists, the most successful women are often childless. Of course, you have very powerful mothers such as Nicola Horlick at the head of the city but a lot of mothers are struggling.

What role do you think gender and career network groups have to play in this? Do businesses have a responsibility to be visible and vocal about their support for gender equality?

Businesses should definitely support gender equality; I think most do already. However, depending on their size, the number of employees, their duties and possibilities are quite limited. Gender equality has a lot to do with socialism and human rights. The less social the more unfair society towards men and women will get. The UK and the US are indeed democracies but far from being focused on social solutions. Liberalism will always make some people have access to more social rights whereas others will continue to struggle to get them. Something on a worldwide scale should be done about this.

What are your thoughts around quotas whereby businesses must have a certain % of female representation in the board room or in certain roles?

It is a divisive debate. Even within the women. This documentary will develop that issue. Do we want meritocracy? Is quota for women not going to bring more prejudice to them? Or is it going to help the mentalities to change? It is a tricky question.

“Men cannot be dissociated from the debate around gender equality. The battle of the sexes as we knew it in countries where both sexes are equal by law isn’t helping the debate.”

How important are male allies who speak up in support of equality?

Men cannot be dissociated from the debate around gender equality. The battle of the sexes as we knew it in countries where both sexes are equal by law isn’t helping the debate. We need to rethink the way we can tackle inequalities and men are playing an important role.

Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

If I stick to the definition of feminism, I am absolutely 100% for equality, so yes I am. Now if I believed there was any issue with modern feminism, I wouldn’t be making that film.

What’s next for you?

Lots more projects, but I can’t tell much more now. The important thing at the moment is to show this piece of work to people as I am sure they will be really interested to find out more about a society debate that has been on going for years.

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About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

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