20
Mar

Co-founder Leigh Stein’s Opening Remarks

Hi, I’m Leigh Stein and I’m the co-founder of Out of the Binders.

Yes, we are a non-profit organization named for something Mitt Romney said one time.

Before I introduce our incredible keynote speakers, I want to talk to you briefly this morning about the power of stories.

Because the stories we’re exposed to shape our potential. Think of the messages young girls get from so many Disney movies: that our destiny as women hinges on the love of a prince. We are so often defined within the framework of our relationships: a woman is someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s wife.

Who is telling us these stories?

71% of TV writer staff jobs are held by men, and only 13.7% are held by minorities

Only 11.2% of the top grossing films of 2014 had a writing credit by a woman

Only 31% of books reviewed in the New York Review of Books in 2014 were by women

When women win literary awards, it’s usually for writing from the male perspective or about men. The more prestigious the award, the more likely the subject is to be male. Since 2000, 0 women writing about women have won the Pulitzer Prize.

So what are we gonna do about it? This weekend at BinderCon we are giving women and gender non-conforming writers the tools, strategies, and connections they need to advance their careers, not just so that we can get paid to do what we love, but so that we can fundamentally change the cultural narrative about our own potential.

By showing up today, you are a part of this movement. The movement extends even beyond this room. Right now, as I am speaking, women are watching the livestream at viewing parties around the world from San Francisco to Jerusalem, in Missoula, Spokane, Toronto, Orlando, Cincinnati, and New York City.

The movement extends to our private Facebook community of 34,303 members. One of these members, Stephanie Land, is a single mother of two. A few years ago, she left her abusive partner and moved into a homeless shelter in Port Townsend, Washington, where her youngest daughter learned to take her first steps. Stephanie always knew she wanted to be a writer and, to support herself while going to college, she cleaned houses for a living, often vacuuming children’s bedrooms that were bigger than her own apartment, she says. She wrote about what she learned during the two years she spent cleaning houses in a piece for VOX and it went viral (you might have even read the piece). She also wrote for the New York Times about her daughter’s first steps. She is now able to support her family through her freelance writing career, and a fellowship she has writing for social and economic justice, through the Center for Community Change.

It gets even better: an editor at a major publishing house in New York is currently interested in Stephanie’s memoir, and she signed with a powerful agent just a week or two ago. When Stephanie sent me her book proposal, I saw in it that she credits the binders community—our community—for her writing career. The editor, the agent, the New York Times byline—all of this has only happened since last July.

It was members of the binders community who shared editor contacts and helped Stephanie learn to pitch, and through the binders community that she heard about the writing fellowship opportunity at the Center for Community Change. Stephanie’s incredible career success means economic security for her, but even more importantly, it means providing a narrative of low-income women from the source, and not from some privileged screenwriter’s imagination.

Right now, Stephanie is in Missoula Montana, speaking to the women who have come to attend the viewing party for BinderCon.

The gender disparity and sexism we experience in writing industries: it’s real. It’s not in our heads. But I can’t fix it by myself, and neither can you. So I ask you to think this weekend, not only about what you need to get ahead, but about what resources you have to offer to the community. Can you connect another binder to an editor? Can you offer to give feedback on someone’s pitch in the hallway? Can you smile at someone who is nervous for their turn to meet an agent? Can you connect me to a great sponsor for our next conference?

I opened with Mitt Romney and I’m going to close with a quote from JFK that goes a little something like this: “Ask not what your binder can do for you, ask what you can do for your binder.”

I must thank our generous sponsors who made this magical weekend possible. Thank you to the Harnisch Foundation who sponsored our livestream, making the work we do even more accessible to those who can’t afford to attend in person. Thank you to MailChimp, who totally gets what we’re doing, and has supported our work since our very first event in October 2014. Thank you to the Stephens College low res MFA in TV and screenwriting program, whose mission perfectly aligns with ours: they want to get more women writing for TV and film. And finally, we are very thankful for a grant from Amazon Literary Partnerships, which has helped us support our scholarship recipients this year with travel and childcare stipends.

Now, please enjoy a brief video from our wonderful friends at the Harnisch Foundation.