Diversity: the Gender Issue
Fashion plays a central role in the definition of socially accepted genders. The documentary: I Walk For Myles In These Shoes: An Exploration Of Gender In The Fashion Industry, produced and realized by Ryerson Fashion Communication student Lucia Sobral, shows how gender stereotypes can be deconstructed to make place to renewed representations. Lucia’s film focuses on the professional life of gender bending model Myles Sexton and includes exclusive interviews with Canadian gender and diversity experts: Jeremy Dias, founder of Jer’s vision;
Dr Rinaldo Walcott associate professor at OISE / University of Toronto; Max McDonald previously of Fab Magazine, now at The Edito and Fashion Diversity advocate Liis Windischmann.
The film raises issues around the social implications of gender representations in the fashion industry. By challenging traditional gender stereotypes viewers are inspired to rethink their perception of gender and its representation in the media and society.
Lucia is interviewed by Modeconnect’s Pierre Delarue
Lucia what was your agenda when you realised this Film?
The goal of this film is to examine gender as a socially constructed phenomenon; it focusses in particular on the role played by the fashion industry in this process. Today, gender roles and representations are restricted and therefore restrictive. Throughout modern history, the media has reinforced gender stereotypes by perpetuating images that confine to socially created myths of gender.
By excluding any alternative to these gender representations the Fashion Industry is also responsible for standardizing ideals of beauty. Those who in Northern America, chose to defy the dominant gender representations are subject to judgement and often, are abdicated by society.
The purpose of my film is to highlight this lack of diversity in the Fashion industry and expose some of its perpetuating mechanisms in the hope of creating awareness and a movement of change. I believe we should welcome those individuals who do not fit current gender representation and that the Fashion Industry is failing us when it is limiting our ideals of beauty.
It is obvious you are very passionate about the subject. How did your thinking evolved?
Looking back onto North American Fashion I was struck by its confinement into the classic perimeters of masculinity and femininity.
For a few decades now, forward fashion designers have played with the concept of androgyny; models such as Andrej Pejic and Lea T, for example, have sparked an interest in gender on a few fashion scenes. There has been little translation into the mainstream though. In light of its recent popularity I felt that androgyny and gender bending deserved attention as an emerging trend.
I was also touched by Myles Sexton story and I felt his experience would be a fitting narrative for the film. Many people choose not to play with the boundaries of gender, but everyone can relate to a time when they felt rejected by their peers.
You have highlighted how cautious the industry is on this subject. How easy was it to investigate?
I think my experience has been quite typical of investigative journalism. Initially, I had planned to adopt a fashion industry perspective and carry out interviews with some of its decision makers; however after months of unreturned emails, phone calls and even a few visits in person, I had to re-evaluate my approach.
For me the general unwillingness to even discuss the subject is a sign of how controversial it remains in North America today. As far as my project was concerned I had to adapt and broaden the scope of interviews to other professionals. Alongside Myles’s story, the film includes contributions from academics, activists and media representatives. These interviews bring a range of perspectives that round out the film.
This is a big project both technically and in term of the subject. Were you not worried, as a Fashion Communication Student, you may have taken on too much?
I imagine these projects are meant to be learning processes; my film certainly was! It also contrasted from previous projects in the program which involved more group work. Initially the idea of working a year-long project, by myself, was daunting. From the start I was aware I would have to develop my filming and editing skills. In term of subject, I had, during the previous two years, been thinking of my topic and had thoroughly researched it, a process I really enjoyed. I think it really helped that I quickly felt very passionate about my subject and that often, in my spare time, would think about the project.
In several different ways this project showed me the value of perseverance regardless of the uphill battles you face. In the film Myles perseveres with his modelling career and succeeds despite all odds. As a film maker I had many doors close in my face before I found people willing to be interviewed. Throughout your student’s years, as well as later I imagine, you continually face challenges that may threaten to stunt your success, but if you are willing to adapt and know when to ask for help you will undoubtedly thrive.
You said you enjoyed researching the subject. How did you go about?
Research was really key to the project. I started with secondary research, looking in particular at gender and queer theories. This was really helpful as the interviews I carried out, brought out themes previously highlighted in my research. Through the process of editing I was able to piece together a story that communicated those findings.
In the beginning scenes you will see intentional references to the city of Toronto. I felt that it was important to highlight that my findings were rooted in North American culture and its gender roles. Again I must point out that my research focused on North American theorists and that interview subjects all resided in Toronto.
Do you feel your education has taken you where you intended to go?
Life has a funny way of leading you down the path you should be on. If you are pro-active and refuse to take a back sit, your life will be enriched by a number of experiences; you will make connections and discover new interests. These experiences may influence your direction but in a way that is coherent and consistent with who you are.
So what is next for you?
First I want to finish my degree. I still have to decide whether to fine tune my cinematography and editing skills through further post-secondary education. Eventually I would like a career in films, ideally commenting on the Fashion industry beyond its superficial surface. Fashion is a form of power; what it communicates can have a lasting effect on society and we should consider it with more attention.
At the moment I am still collaborating with Myles Sexton, working on an online series also called I Walk For Myles In These Shoes. The series follows Myles in his personal and professional life; it aspires to give viewers the confidence to be true to themselves and break free from the constraints of what is socially acceptable. I also hope, this way to be able promote some of the wonderfully talented but sometimes little unknown artists in Toronto.
Below: Additional Videos of YouTube series