After putting out a call to our community for their success stories this week, we received this message from a three-time BinderCon attendee. We are sharing her letter with her permission.
It took a lot longer than I intended to get my thoughts on paper. It was impossible for me to describe in just a few sentences what BinderCon means to me because the truth is, it was the catalyst that empowered me, as a woman and as a writer, to change my life.
Two years ago I was a young mother who felt trapped in a life and a community that was oppressive and stifling. Growing up in an insular hasidic community, I didn’t know people who didn’t look like me, dress like me, or live like me, and I took for granted misogynistic and racist structures I was raised with; it was all I knew. At some point however, I became sorely disillusioned and I started questioning what I was taught to believe. I was forced to reevaluate and reconceptualize everything I thought I knew about the world and about myself.
I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to go about having a career. I started looking for resources online, an infraction in a community whose rabbis had banned the internet, and I came across the kickstarter campaign for BinderCon in the summer of 2014. On impulse, I decided to support it and buy a ticket. It was an act of rebellion, almost. I had never before attended an event outside of the hasidic community, and I had no idea what to expect.
At the conference I discovered an entire new world. I didn’t understand much of the conversations during sessions and panels because most references to mainstream culture, media and literature were completely foreign to me. For the first time I was introduced to feminism and to issues like gender diversity, misogyny, racism, sexism and social justice. I came home with pages and pages of notes and I spent the next few months reading, researching, and educating myself.
Most important, for me, was the realization that diversity is a beautiful thing, not a threat. I also realized that identity is complex and evolving; something that one must define on their own, something that isn’t rooted in or dependent on communal expectation and approval. It was a long, difficult journey to find myself and be true to myself in an environment that values conformity above everything else, but I’ve never been happier.
As for my writing, I learned so much, from the basics of what a query is, what pitching is, to understanding how publishing works and how to network. I met wonderful, supportive writers who informed and bettered my work, and I am currently working on several projects I am very passionate about.
I am living a reality I never dreamed could be mine. I was in a particularly vulnerable space when I started searching for answers outside of the world I knew, and I am incredibly grateful that what I found at BinderCon was empowering and liberating.
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
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.