Friday, April 10, 2009

Feminist Blogger Friday: Interview #4 with Jennifer Kesler of The Hathor Legacy

It's the second Friday of the month again, which means it's time for another Feminist Blogger Friday interview. This month, I'm especially pleased to present my interview with Jennifer Kesler. Jennifer runs the collaborative media critique blog The Hathor Legacy, which interrogates film, television, advertising, books, and video games through a feminist/humanist lens. I occasionally blog for Hathor, and I can honestly say that The Hathor Legacy is one of my favorite group blogs (besides FWF, of course). And the comment sections are always fascinating and fired-up! For more information on Hathor, its origins and its mission, click here. For more information about Hathor's founder, tag along below the cut.

1. Jennifer, in The Hathor Legacy’s mission you write that you hope to “create a record of dissenting voices, so the film/tv industry is forced to admit our opinions exist,” and you’ve written a number of posts over the years since the blog’s inception in 2005 about the film industry’s general disregard for female characters, especially as central, independent protagonists. Can you talk a little bit about what made you decide to start a blog and what you get out of Hathor personally and professionally?

I was spending an inordinate amount of time on Stargate forums, arguing about the character of Sam Carter. One day, I was looking for sources to back me up and instead found a blogger arguing that the reason female characters were vapid was that women in real life were vapid. That was the last straw for me. I immediately bought a domain, installed some blogging software and started writing.

What I get out of the site personally is the knowledge that it's not just me. I never believed it was, but starting the site meant putting my money where my mouth is. As far as I'm concerned, it's paid off.

Professionally, Hathor has pushed me to improve my writing and communication skills -- to improve my thinking. It's exposed me to a lot of viewpoints I hadn't considered before, and I've learned much from them.

2. You’ve written a series of posts describing your own experiences as an aspiring screenwriter and why you ultimately left the film industry [see here, here, and here for starters]. What made you want to be a screenwriter in the first place? Do you feel that your creative drive is met elsewhere now? And, by the same token, what inspires you to write—whether for the blog or on other projects?

I believe storytelling is how culture evolves its thinking and gives individuals new ideas to consider. Film was reinforcing the idea that white heterosexual men belong at the center of our culture and everyone else should just orbit them. I thought if film told more stories about women and other so-called minorities, more people would begin to get the idea that every human life is a story potentially worth telling.

I'd really like to get back to writing fiction -- I've actually got two novels outlined and can't find time to start writing them. But for now, the instant gratification of audience feedback that blogging provides is very satisfying.

3. How would you characterize your relationship with feminism? Do you feel it's changed over the four years since you founded Hathor? If so, how and why?

Broadly speaking, feminism is just the belief that women are as worthy as men. But the term feminism also refers to a movement that's caused some pain to women who aren't white, straight and of means. So I've always had mixed feelings about wearing the label. But when writers started joining me on Hathor, many of them were self-identified feminists who criticized the same aspects of the movement that bothered me, and associating with them made me more comfortable with the label.

One of the most disturbing things Hathor has taught me is that all you have to do to get labeled a feminist is publicly state that you think women are okay. Is this such a radical idea that it needs a special term?

4. Great point! One of the things I like about writing for Hathor myself is that nothing, not even the term "feminism," is taken for granted. On that note, when I got involved with your blog, it was through a sort of “help wanted” post, but Hathor also has a long list of other contributors. How did you develop relationships with the women and men who write with you? Did some of your connections spring up organically—i.e. with other bloggers you followed and/or friends—or have people contacted you over the years asking specifically to write for Hathor?

All of the above, actually. At first, the blog had open registration, where people could just sign up and post. Finding their posts on my site was actually how I first met some of the contributors. As the blog got more popular, we had to shut down open registration. Some people asked if they could write for us, others we invited from the blogging community - and then we did the "help wanted" thing a couple of times.

Contributors to Hathor are a pretty varied group, and I've learned a lot from them. The knowledge I've picked up ranges from ideas about privilege and entitlement to the history of fashion and what certain fashions might say about the societies that wore them. But I've also learned by example about various ways of communicating and handling situations that keep things constructive. And when I fail at that, it's really great to have someone else's perspective on what went wrong and how to not let that happen again in the future.

5. You’ve managed to build Hathor into quite an impressive site, with a plethora of contributors and an active, engaged and vocal readership. Do you have any advice for people relatively new to feminist and/or media blogging about how to gain readers and encourage comments? Did anyone give you any great advice when you first got started that you’d like to share?

Get noticed by somebody on LiveJournal who has tons of friends! It’s easier said than done, but social networking sites can totally launch a small blog, so interact with people on them. Participate in forums and on other people’s blogs, and link to your own posts/site when (and only when) relevant. Don’t just drop comments and links everywhere – take the time to get to know the communities a little so you can make a genuine contribution.

Strongly opinionated posts provoke a lot of comments, but I recommend using a lot of qualifying phrases like “as I see it” to avoid the perception you're stating your opinion as fact. We still occasionally screw this up, and believe me, readers let us know it when it happens.

As for people new to feminism, I recommend reading feminist blogs. The people participating at those sites are the people likely to find your site and comment on it, so get to know them and their ideas.

6. Have you had any industry responses (film, television, gaming or publishing) to Hathor? If so, what interactions have you found most rewarding? What sort of impact do you envision Hathor having in regards to its media criticism?

We've had articles quoted in reviews by the CBC, Salon and the Guardian [see here for links], but no one has communicated with us directly, except a few book publishers interested in getting us to review upcoming novels. It may sound strange, but what I really want is for Hathor to get noticed by the mainstream and start a conversation - that's it, just a conversation about the issues we've been talking about for four years, and where the industry should go from here.

7. In a similar vein, what recent film do you think have made strides in the direction of (mainstream) entertainment featuring strong female characters? Can you recommend any films from the last few years that you enjoyed and/or feel really attempted to shatter the hegemony of the white male protagonist?

Ironically, being the webmaster for Hathor has radically reduced the amount of time I can spend watching movies in the past few years. I just watched an independent film called Whalerider that I can't recommend highly enough.

As for older films, there's Dolores Claiborne, A League of Their Own and Ever After. Most of the stuff I find "shattering" is on television.

8. And as for television, what shows are you enjoying right now, and why?

Criminal Minds, because I love the exploration of abnormal psychology, and while it's not really breaking any molds, it does feature some complex female characters both among the regular cast and guest stars. I also love Burn Notice because it's smart and funny, and Sharon Gless’ character actually does break a few molds. Those are the only two current shows I'm watching.

9. I know you’ve got a busy life outside of Hathor. How do you negotiate the demands of your real life and your day job with the demands of running a large blog? Do you see a life of blogging and/or writing full-time in your future?

I negotiate those demands very poorly! My disorganization level is reaching critical mass. Both blogging and writing are extremely low-paying for all but a select few, so I don't see either as a full-time career in my future. But last November, I came up with an idea for a Hathor-related business enterprise I hope to get off the ground this year.

10. That sounds promising. Any exciting plans in the works that you want to share?

My current plan is for Hathor to become part of something bigger, but that's all I'm ready to say about it right now. The blog itself will stay the same.

Well, we'll just have to stay tuned and see what Hathor's got up its sleeve! Jennifer, thanks again!

No comments: