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Adventures in Code-Switching: A Film Student’s Reflection

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USC chapter.

As I enter the working world, I have discovered a tricky balance between professionalism and inauthenticity in my relationships with male coworkers while being the only woman in the room. As I write this, it feels extremely antiquated, like this should be in a 1970s advice column for aspiring secretaries (no offense to secretaries, I truly loved my previous secretarial job). I wish that it were an issue of the past, but I can’t deny that, in an extremely male-dominated field, I adopt some minor form of code-switching in an attempt to be taken more seriously by my male coworkers. Given the small crew size of many of the beginner film sets I work on, I often am the only woman working on the production side. In an effort to gain respect and to appeal to the higher positions I aspire to work in, I have noticed my own attempts to avoid appearing or sounding too feminine at work. For instance, last week an actress asked me during a break about my experiences in a sorority and I immediately looked around to see who was in the vicinity, not wanting to seem less strong or capable because of my participation in such a feminine activity. 

But where is the line drawn between appearing weak and appearing feminine? If there’s no issue with men discussing their past fraternities on set, why do I feel the need to censor my own words only to fit in with the “Boys’ Club”? In fact, my rational brain tells me that I need to express the fullest facets of my womanhood to prove that I am both capable AND feminine. If I don’t, how will a second woman ever be hired onto the crew, much less 50 percent of the production crew? After reflecting, I am making it a new goal to do this, but it is definitely uncomfortable. Who knows what jokes are made in the moments I am not there?

I am aware that this is not necessarily a relatable issue for all readers, and I am glad for it. For those in the workforce under the age of 29 who are in STEM-related fields, women comprise 56 percent. This is leaps and bounds from the 1970s when approximately 5 percent were women. But in camera and lighting crews for film and television, only around 5 percent of workers are female. While USC’s film school boasts the equal gender ratio in its programs, simply being in classes is not enough to work professionally. Gender-divided housing means that, realistically, much student production planning happens late at night in the male-identified living spaces. While similar production planning occurs in female spaces, many of us lack the fancy equipment and on-set experience that our male peers have because their audio/video and technological interests were typically more encouraged in grade school. Personally, I only got my current job through the recommendation of a male friend after I expressed explicit interest. In the end, it is a cyclical beast in which women only get on-set jobs from other women or male allies, and that’s if they get jobs at all. 

Katie Muschalik is a film student at the University of Southern California. Everything she ever needed to know she learned from a Judy Blume book.