Yes you CAN: Teaching Women Media Makers

Last week in my Intro to Media Production class I was compelled to gather all the women students at the end of class for a necessary talk after witnessing a spectacle of self-doubt (aka mini freak out) during a classroom exercise.

I called the meeting with a lighthearted tone to convey that no one was in trouble, nor were the men in the class “missing out.”

“We need to have a talk about confidence,” I ended up blurting out when a few men were lingering behind, clearly suspicious or curious about this exclusive conversation.

Quickly about 15 young women were facing me, with their bags and backpacks, ready to go. Class was over and I needed to speak quickly. It went something like this:

“Okay, I have been teaching this class for seven semesters now and I often hear women in this class say things like “I cant do this.. I don’t know how to do this.. I am so bad at this” particularly when it comes to using video equipment and technology. I don’t hear the men in the class saying these things. Why is it the women who say this?

When I ask for volunteers to help with something in the studio, it’s usually the guys who jump up to help. Well unless, I’m asking for volunteers to go in front of the camera! [I grinned, there was laughter among students here.] But why aren’t the women standing up to volunteer other times?

Now, I have had women students in the past express that men in their production groups are taking over, not listening to them, controlling the projects. We absolutely need to challenge that. But we also need to challenge this self-doubt and have confidence in our abilities as media makers.

We are working and learning in a media industry that is dominated by men.  Even in higher education this is an issue. How many women teach production in our department?  Certainly, we do need to address that and challenge that as well. But what message do we send about this if we are often opting out and putting ourselves down?

So I’m asking you to pay attention to the next time you hear yourself saying “I can’t do this” and just – try to stop.  I’m also asking you to hold each other accountable and encourage each other when we do feel less confident. You are here to learn and it is okay if you mess up, just try because you all are capable and have important media to make.”

Students were looking at each other at this point, nodding. Some looked very serious and pensive, while others were smiling.  A couple of them shouted “yeah! that’s right!” In this moment I sensed solidarity. My students left that little powwow with some new energy.

Later that day someone shared an article with me called “How to Talk to Little Girls” where author Lisa Bloom asserts that “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.” Perhaps this is one factor that can help explain why so many of my (college) female students are quick to volunteer as “talent” to be looked at on camera, but consistently doubt their abilities in other aspects of production.

I’m not sure if my meeting after class was the best response (I think a real dialogue about the implications of this behavior would have been more helpful).  I do know that some form of interruption was necessary, however. There was a teachable moment there and I didn’t want to let it go. We’ll see what unfolds in the months to come.


About Nuala Cabral

Nuala Cabral is an educator, activist, filmmaker and co-founder of FAAN Mail, a media literacy and activist project based in Philadelphia.
This entry was posted in Teaching and Reflection and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Yes you CAN: Teaching Women Media Makers

  1. t'sey-haye says:

    kudos for taking advantage of a great teachable moment. hopefully, your experience will inspire more women, as teachers and learners–often one in the same–in historically male-dominated fields, to do the same. thanks for the important work you do.

  2. Veronica Stickelman says:

    Nu, you are an inspiration. Let the grown women also reflect on this message! It resonates so much further than the classroom.

  3. I am a professional female cinematographer and my business card/website/branding is me as “Rosie the Riveter” (We can do it!) holding a movie camera. The camera union even put it on a Tshirt.

    Here’s me:
    and here’s the tshirt:

    I thought you would like to know, and hopefully can inspire some of your students!

    • Nuala Cabral says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. And thank you for sharing your business info! I’ll share this with my students. I like your brand. 🙂

  4. I love this Nuala! I’m a doc student at TC-Columbia U in communication and technology. I’m currently working on a media lit program for young ‘black’ males (ages 16-19) with Beyond the Bricks ( I also run Media Make Change ( I’m inspired by your Intro to media production classes! (BTW – I came to your post from “Why Do We Need to Teach So Much Media Production in Media Production Classes?” ( I’d love to talk to you further since I’m interested in how marginalized/disposed groups come “to know” through media education, namely media production and literacy.

    • Nuala Cabral says:

      Tara, thanks for reading and commenting! Checked out your websites and i def want to learn more about those projects! I will be teaching a media literacy program in two high schools next semester so we should trade insight/questions and curriculum ideas. You might also be interested in a summer media literacy program i taught called the Reel Film Experience –

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