I had a fantastic time spending my Sunday afternoon on a panel about the art of the interview with a group of creative, smart women who left me feeling energized and empowered as hell.
The panel was organized by my old Press Democrat colleague Alexandria Bordas, who is now the program manager at Reel Stories, an Oakland-based nonprofit that empowers young women and gender non-conforming youth with the skills to create their own media. There were aspiring journalists, animators and filmmakers of all ages and levels. Us panelists shared a bit about our work, talked about how to control the conversation while also allowing an interview to unfold organically, and answered questions from attendees. One question we heard: How do you interview someone you disagree with. My answer: Have an open mind and don’t let your personal opinions guide your questions or hinder you in your quest for an accurate, honest storytelling.
At the end of the three-hour session, we divided into small groups to practice interviewing. I led a group of four college students. Most of us were Asian and it came up when we were interviewing each other — how being Asian is represented in media, what it’s like to be a woman of color in a male-dominated profession, etc. One young woman said a stranger once assumed she didn’t speak English which was weird because she was born in California.
When we did the practice interviews, it was interesting to hear from the students what it felt like for them to go through the process. One of them told me it was difficult to listen intently to your interview subject while simultaneously thinking of what to ask next or how to lead the conversation in the direction of your next question in a natural way. I hadn’t thought about that before. Maybe because I end up doing that a lot in my personal life, too — my baby sister often accused me of using my “reporter voice” too often with her.
Throughout the course of the session, through technical glitches and coffee breaks and side conversations about our professional goals and ambitions, there was this radiant feminine energy of inspiration busting out. By the end I felt so enlightened and excited to see so many smart, fun, motivated women in media in a room. There was a collective high of happiness buzzing through us all. I left with a Reel Stories T-shirt (“The
future present is female”) and a sense of ambition and confidence that was easier to conjure up around this group of supportive women.
The only other time I could think of when I’ve been in an all-female professional environment was when I attended the Educations Writers Association national seminar last year in Baltimore. There was a special session for journalists who are parents to gather and chat. About 20 moms attended, no dads at all. The woman who lead the discussion tried to ask about how having a parent perspective impacted our reporting — like if we got more story ideas from it — but it quickly turned into a discussion on work-life balance and how rough it is to be a parent and childcare when you have a stressful, fast-paced, deadline-driven career. I remember leaving that discussion with no solid answers but some tips from moms with older kids. One recommended hiring someone to clean your toilets because there just isn’t time.
My afternoon on the Reel Stories panel/workshop was a different vibe, not at all about mothering but all about being a creator.
Why was it so inspiring to be around all women? I thought about that after I left. It’s not that I dislike men — obviously I’m married to a wonderful man and I’m raising a son. It’s that we see men in positions of power all the time and I don’t see myself reflected enough in media. Most of the newspaper and magazine editors I’ve worked are men. When there’s a story I pitch about women or Asians, it’s a different story. A woman’s story. When I’m in a group of all woman, I don’t feel like a woman. I feel like a person. That’s what makes it great to be in an all-female environment like Reel Stories, where you feel like your voice matters and it’s not an “other.” That’s why I left on Sunday excited to to make creative work.