Women in Animation. Story 1.

Sometimes, when I am on some film or animation panel a question pops up from the audience:
– Signe, why are you the only woman on the panel? Where are the other women animators?
I do not know the answer to this question. The question implies that there are not many women in film and animation because of gender inequality and prejudice. But it’s not quite true, there are many women in film and animation. Maybe not so visible, though.
I am sure there are biases towards women in the film industry, we all know how long it took for a woman to win an Oscar as Best Director.
But I am also sure that me being the only woman on some of the panels has nothing to do with prejudices from the outside world. It is the prejudices and limitations we, women, nurture inside us:
– I cant be pushy, I am a girl.
– I shouldn’t show too much of a personality, no one will like me.
– If I want to get married, I have to project a weak, helpless woman.
– I can’t tell them I want this, they think I am a selfish bitch and will exclude me from their group.
I started out in Latvia. At that time there were 2 animation studious in Riga – a puppet animation studio established in 1960ties by a man, Arnolds Burovs, and a cut-out, drawn animation studio established in 1970ties by a woman Roze Stiebra.
By the time I arrived to work as a cell painter at Rozes studio in 1989 mainly women worked at her studio, and mainly men worked with puppets at the other studio.
Out of 20 cell painters none was  a man. Out of 10 animators only 2 were guys. Storyboard and designing artists were mostly women, but a cameraman inevitable was a man.
In Latvia animation was considered as some kind of applied arts, like knitting or tapestry. It was beneath male artists to disconnect from high conceptual Art to look at something animated.
Drawn animation was not glamorous like painting, or like live action film or even puppet animation which required mystic ‘vision’  that only male eyes could provide.
On my first work day Roze had a word with me:
– You are very ambitious and have great story ideas. You could become a director. But you can’t draw, so you won’t succeed unless you work with an animator. The only way to get an animator dedicated to you and only to you is to marry one.
Roze herself in the time of many hardships while establishing herself  and her studio married her cameraman. A cameraman for a cut-out animator/director is her hands and eyes. But no live action cameraman wanted to spend so many days in a dark room shooting frame by frame action. It was just not glamorous good life they wanted. So Roze married the one who was weak enough to give into her good looks and enthusiasm. They became partners and co-directors.
Roze didn’t have to name the animator she had in mind for me. Out of the 2 male animators there was only one who by his dimensions, age and looks could be my match. Incidentally, he was absolutely the best of all the 10 studio animators.
– A woman is nothing without a man, – Roze advised. – No one looks at you seriously unless you have a partner that you share your life and business with.
This philosophy was not new in 1989. My mother pretty much had told me the same thing. Except, my mother taught me that a woman must serve a man while Roze was trying to tell me that a man can be used for woman’s own purposes.
– What is love?- one of the older cell painters disdainfully asked me when I complained about the calculating nature of marrying an animator to become a director. – Love comes and goes, but business lasts for years. You must sacrifice for your art.
The funny thing was, I was attracted to the guy. He was timid and run out of the room every time I mentioned piss, shit or genitals.
I made him a butt of my jokes and he loved it.
But forming human relationships is an unpredictable business. When we arrived to the point where the next natural step was to get in bed he expected me to scoop him up and do all the work, while I, with all the bravado and acting aggressive still expected a man to make the first move, scoop me up and do all the work.
It didn’t work.
One day I woke up and realized that I had to learn to draw and animate because no one else is going to do it for me. I am a one woman operation, one women business, from that moment on.

PS to show you how it should be here’s a picture from all women panel at Woodstock Film Festival 2009:

From the left: Uma Thurman, Thelma Adams, me, Barbara Hammer.
Photo by Dion Ogust

About rocksinmypocketsthemovie

I was born in Latvia, educated in Moscow, live in New York. I have made about 14 animated shorts so far.
This entry was posted in Women, Men and Animation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Women in Animation. Story 1.

  1. Lizz K says:

    Thank you for writing this. I sometimes feel that there are more men then women animators when I’m working. Sometimes it feels like a boys club, other times it just seems like they are unsure of bringing a woman in.

    • I don’t work in a big studio, only in my own, but I do see that in animation schools it is 50/50 girls and boys, 10 years after school it is more boys than girls in the industry. I also see that most directors are men and most producers are women. When I asked a friend of mine, a TV animation producer, why is that so, she said that to her opinion it takes a bigger ego to push a show and work under one’s own name and men are more capable of that than women, while women, to her opinion, are more nurturing, they love to see a project flourish but it doesn’t have to be under their own name.
      If that it true, I am not your typical woman – I love working under my own name, and I prefer directing to producing.

  2. Amber says:

    I’m amazed, but then I realize that I sometime think a variation of this sort of thing, like thinking only animators would be interested in having an animator as a girlfriend or wife.

    • My boyfriend is not an animator and he feels just fine… : ) But yes, I know – there are many married couples who work in animation as a team, it is considered “The Thing” to do, as animators work long lonely hours and if you don’t work with your intimate you never see your intimate. But Love should trump these considerations. : )

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