LITERATURE

Leigh Stein & Lux Alptraum Bring Women Together at BinderCon

0 Comments 31 March 2016

lux alptraum leigh stein

Interview with Leigh Stein and Lux Alptruam, founders of the women and non-gender conforming writers conference series BinderCon.

By Sarah Morisano

 

 

BinderCon, also known as Out of the Binders, Inc, is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2014 in order to help advance the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers. On the weekend of March 19th, the BinderCon conference returned to Los Angeles for its second annual gathering on the UCLA campus in an event consisting of keynote speeches, panels, and delicious vegan sandwiches. High-profile keynote speakers included Lisa Kudrow and Robin Schiff (the women behind Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion), screenwriter Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married), and Effie Brown (Project Greenlight), author Jillian Lauren (Pretty, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem), plus panels featuring writers of all stripes offering practical advice on breaking into the biz. In the following interview, BinderCon’s co-founders Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum discuss the history and intent of the organization, the most productive approach to bringing about change, and the prejudices that continue to face women and minorities in the arts.

 

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Leigh Stein & Lux Alptraum. Photo: David Williams

What would an equal feminist ground in the writing world look like?

Leigh Stein: We’re trying to reach gender parity across writing industries. Currently, 71% of TV writer jobs are held by men and only 13% are held by minorities, so it doesn’t represent the culture that we live in.
So when we think about who tells the stories about women’s lives and 71% of those storytellers are men, there’s something being lost and the stories of people of color are being lost and the people who identify outside the gender binary—they don’t get to see their experiences in TV and film. So our goal is to give women and gender non-conforming writers the tools they need and the connections they need to get those jobs so that, really, we can change the whole culture.

Lux Alptraum: In the perfect, equal, feminist world, it would literally be “the best person for the job” and someone’s gender, race, physical ability level, or age would not be considered as criteria. Now it’s challenging because all of those things shape who we are and shape our abilities and experiences and vision. Our culture prioritizes the stories that are relatable to straight white men, which are often stories that feature straight white men. It’s easy to say 50% jobs for women and perfect representation and I don’t know that that’s possible or how exactly that would work—but I think better representation, certainly. We need to be creating more opportunities for more people, showcasing more voices and breaking down the idea that white men are the default voice and that white men are the best way to represent everyone’s opinions.

 

What are your favorite TV shows or movies that display the gender parity you hope to see in writing?

Stein: Transparent by Jill Soloway. Even though I know she got some grief after the first season about not having any trans writers on her show, I think she remedied that and she did it in a really interesting way where she put out a call for submissions or something. And now she’s also trying to employ more trans staff members, which is great because it would provide healthcare to a community that often has a hard time getting health insurance, so she would be an example of a shining star.

 

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Lisa Kudrow & Robin Schiff

What’s the best thing to happen for women writers and writers from marginalized populations in the last five years?

Stein: The Vida Counts. I mean, the Vida Counts were an inspiration for me starting this conference because in 2008 they started counting the bylines in major publication like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and seeing how many men were published, how many women were published, and now they’re trying to do that for race ability too. And I think it’s helpful to see that data because so many men you know say that they’re feminists but when you look at these pie charts, you can see that there’s a systemic problems where men are in leadership and women can’t get those roles.

 

What are every day local things that people can do to help gender equality progress into a reality?

Alptraum: Be action-oriented. On an individual level: keep believing in yourself and keep trying. Say to yourself, “My voice is valuable and I want it to be heard and I’m going to find a way to make it heard.” And it’s not easy, but few things that are valuable or worth doing are. Not giving up, improving your writing, getting feedback—all the work it takes just to persevere is a very real part of individual progress. On a communal level, hire each other! If you can, hire each other. Once you get yourself in the door, don’t slam it shut behind you. And then also, if you have money, fund projects by women, fund projects by trans people. Create opportunity for marginalized populations.

Stein: Also, look at who’s creating the media you’re consuming. When was the last time you watched a movie written by a woman? Or directed by a woman? Kathryn Bigelow was the first female director to ever win an Academy Award—for making a movie about men. That’s another thing: major literary prizes mostly go either to men or to women writing from a male point of view. But we can support women-created media once we become conscious of who the creators are.

 

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Jillian Lauren and Rebecca Walker kick off the first BinderCon keynote at UCLA.

 

Why do you think “Girl on Girl Violence” in the workplace exists and how can we change it?

Alptraum: Yeah, there are still women out there who came up through feminism and are like, “Well, I dealt with all this fucking sexism and I made it and fuck the rest of you—you deal with it yourself.” I think, in TV and film especially, women are pitted against each other. Women are basically told that they’re the Highlander and there can be only one and that they have to fight it out. Same thing with people of color. Same thing with queer people. You are lied to and you are told that if there is more than one of you, then that’s crazy and that’s bad. You are made to feel that you are not allowed to work with other people like you, but that’s just a trick the patriarchy plays on us to keep us down. When you see marginalized groups pitted against each other—when you see white women not standing up for women of color, when you see gay men not standing up for women or people of color, or when you see black men not standing up for women—that’s just one of the ways that the people who are currently in power are staying in power. So, I think seeing through that antiquated mentality and connecting with other marginalized groups to build each other up will help eventually put an end to that way of thinking until it finally just crumbles.

 

What was the intent behind using Romney’s reference of the “binder” for the Con?

Stein: So this all started because someone else—a 26-year-old freelancer in Toronto—started a private Facebook group called Binders Full of Women Writers and it took off almost overnight and within months there were 30,000 members and by that point she couldn’t change it. [laughs] And that’s where we got the name.

 

What were your criteria for choosing this year’s program of speakers?

Alptraum: Our programming decisions are based on who can give real, practical advice to help our Binders get their writing seen and their voices heard.
One of the things that sets BinderCon apart from other feminist conferences and other women writers’ conferences is that we’re not interested in sitting around complaining. I’ve been to so many panels [at other conferences] that are just like, “Online harassment? It’s AWFUL. But…we don’t have a solution.” And I find that troubling, especially in a space full of women, because women know that. We don’t need to hear over and over that our lived experience is challenging and difficult because we already know that and raising awareness about that is not useful. So, we are very action-oriented and we ask our panelists and our workshop leaders to have at least three concrete lessons that people can take away from the conference.

 

What are your thoughts on the idea that opening the door for women and other oppressed populations and practicing diversity hiring is “reverse discrimination”?

Alptraum: When my brother was in law school in the 90s, he once said to my mother, “Oh, all these women and all these people of color are going to take job opportunities away from me.” And my mom’s response was, “No, they’re not because you are smart and talented and hard-working. And the only people who might lose jobs [due to Affirmative Action] are all these mediocre white men who’ve been coasting to success purely because they are white and men.” And I don’t know if ‘leveling the playing field’ is the right term, but I think just making it so that you do not have an inherent advantage simply because you were born a white, cis-gender man is somehow oppressive to white men. We’ve been told for ages that the industry is a meritocracy and I am all for it being a meritocracy—I just want it to be a real meritocracy. Because the “meritocracy” that’s been in place for so long is one where white men are just miraculously the best at everything and therefore in charge. And I just don’t buy that white men are naturally better at everything.

 

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Leigh Stein & Lux Alptraum

 

Featured photograph by David Williams.

Learn more about BinderCon and keep updated on future events on the official website.

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