It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Last night, The Line and Hollaback! celebrated their collaboration with The Right to be Sexy in the Bedroom and on the Street! at the Museum of Sex in New York City. In a fabulous panel that included Emily May of Hollaback! Twanna Hines of Funky Brown Chick, Andrea Plaid of Racialicious, Tara Ellison of Third Wave Foundation and NOLOSE, as well as our own Nancy Schwartzman,
Ladies, we gotta fight for the right to be sexy and know that with our efforts, one day sexual assault and harassment will finally bite the dust. Because we all know when our line has been crossed and by defining this line individually, we can take back control and turn victimisation on its head.
So, today, I thought we would celebrate our Fearless Leader, Nancy Schwartzman herself, who’s been the driving force behind spreading the word about consent and highlighting the importance of discovering our own Lines for ourselves.
Nancy has also just completed her second documentary, XOXOSMS about love and relationships in the technological 21st Century! Check it out.
There is a special student discount for the DVD of Nancy’s documentary, The Line. Buy one and have a screening party. Start a dialogue on your own campus with your peers! Email email@example.com for more details!
I’ve known survivors of date rape and many of them do not confront their rapists, preferring to suffer in silence instead. How did you come to decide that you needed to confront him?
I spent a lot of time talking to survivors about what they lost after an assault, what had changed for them in their lives. The more questions I asked, the more one question rose to the top: Why? Why did this happen? Why did he do it? I knew that he was the only person who could answer that question.
Was there a particular reason that you chose to document this in the form of a film (first and foremost) instead of other media?
I worked briefly in documentary photography and I caught the film bug right at the time when digital cameras got small and affordable. I had produced a friend’s thesis film and thought “hey, I’ll make my own film!” I had no idea what that meant, or what that would entail. I started gathering footage, but then, unrelated to the filmmaking, I was assaulted. So whatever I was exploring on camera stopped mattering, and that was the story I needed to tell through filmmaking.
Tell us about your crew. How did you find them, and what drew you together towards making ‘The Line’?
The Line was a labor of love. In the beginning, it was just me! I had a wonderful friend who helped film my confrontation, found me the best hidden camera and microphone, and supported me emotionally. I brought in a handful of really talented editors into the process to help me make sense of the footage I was gathering, and who gently empowered and helped me tell my story. When I flew to Nevada to interview sex workers about consent, I cast a wide net looking for a cinematographer. It was the first time I hired anyone to shoot for me, and I knew what was most important was the feeling that person gave me in my gut. The person I hired made me feel calm and confident, and later became my husband!
On the Whereisyourline.org website you mentioned that you conduct workshops on activism to confront and transform rape culture, highlighting especially the need to work and prevent burnout. It took you years to produce ‘The Line’ – what was the drive that kept you going during rough times?
The drive that kept me going was hearing the countless stories just like mine. I’d visit college campuses and show a segment of the film to students and they would flood the front of the room following the screening. Every time a film fund would turn me down, essentially saying “your story isn’t important” students would tell me “this story is important, because it is my story.” I was privileged enough to have access to film equipment, so I felt the responsibility to make the film.
In ‘The Line’, you highlighted the difficulty of rape survivors seeking justice through the legal system. What do you think can be done by ordinary men and women who wish to see a change in legal systems when it comes to addressing rape?
Ordinary men and women can express their outrage and get informed. On the peer to peer level, learn the laws, learn the lawmakers who support justice for rape survivors, vote for them. Raise awareness among your friends, call out sexism, point out victim-blaming. For those who work outside the system –educate. Encourage your school to teach violence preventation in school, focus the dialogue around sex education to highlight pleasure and respect. Most men are allies in this work, charge them to learn more, and stop being bystanders, and show them men in the field doing this work.
I am a Malaysian woman and there are a number of things in the film, especially in relation to the understanding of a female body’s sexuality among conservative women in Israel, that I can empathize with – the higher the standards of demure behaviour is, the easier it is for women to fall from the image of the ‘perfect victim’. Do you have any advice for women who may be facing condemnation (directly or indirectly) because they do not comply with the image of the ‘perfect victim’?
There is no perfect victim. Societies that do not hold perpetrators accountable for their behavior will find any way imaginable to blame the victim. If you are demure, you may be too pretty, or from the wrong class, or riding the wrong bus, or outside during the evening. There is no shortage of excuses societies invent to avoid what is unquivocably true: if you were raped, it is because you were unlucky enough to be in the presence of a rapist. No matter what you were wearing, where you were walking, what you did in the past, present or future.
Has ‘The Line’ been screened outside of the United States? If it has, how has response been among audiences of these countries?
The Line has screened in Dakar, Dhaka, Istanbul, Ankara, Toronto, Liberia, Taiwan and Israel. I had a very supportive audience in Israel and a very spirited one in Ankara! We had a lively discussion about women’s rights in a global context. I did not attend the other screenings, but wanted to!
On a similar note, how has audience reaction been like from the different screenings of ‘The Line’ that you’ve attended?
I was nervous to show the film in Turkey, outing myself as both a Jewish and promiscous woman, but the conversation was marvelous, and went on for two hours! Women and men engaging in the debate, not afraid to call out each other’s biases. In Omaha, Nebraska it was so quiet in the room I thought tumbleweed was blowing through. Culturally, midwestnerners don’t discuss these matters, so getting that conversation going was a challenge. Over all the reaction is the same – people have a lot to share, and questions for how to best support survivors. I think the Where is your line? stickers are a great way to make the conversation interactive.
If someone is faced with the need to help someone who has experienced date rape, what advice would you give him or her?
I always tell people to listen and listen without judgment. Even an innocent question like “why did you go home with him?” or “why did you go out so late?” will sound like you are blaming the victim. Listen and get informed. Where are the advocates and help centers in your area? Where is the hospital or victim’s center? What is the hotline number? Let them know what resources are available. Believe them. Don’t tell them they have to do anything – but whatever they want to do, you’ll be right there with them.
This interview initially appeared at The Pixel Project