The Making of a Feminist Journal: Reflections on 10 Years of FFC

by Deanna Utroske

Films for the Feminist Classroom (FFC) brings new media resources into the contemporary university curriculum. And that was the intention from the start.

Collaboration Is Key

My co-founder Karen Alexander and I were both working at Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society a decade ago (I was an editorial assistant at the time, and Karen was the journal’s senior editor), and we saw the opportunity to offer professors and instructors more than the typical reviews of academic books that were included in each issue of Signs, specifically to bring film into the feminist classroom in a meaningful, constructive way.

From our first issue in 2009 through today, FFC has been that resource, one that instructors and librarians can use to discover, understand, and select films (from a range of topics, though primarily documentaries) that can be shown and taught as a part of university coursework. FFC is helping make higher education a little more media rich, a little more like the world beyond the walls of academia.

A Publication for Everyone

FFC has always been an on-line only publication, freely available to anyone (with access to the internet) who wants to read it. Digital technology makes creating, sharing, and obtaining content much more democratic than conventional academic print publishing, so it was the perfect medium for us to use to create and launch FFC—a no-budget journal. Karen and I ran the journal this way, with no funding or revenue to speak of after we set up the website, for five years before turning it over to the current editor Agatha Beins, who’s kept FFC thriving for the past five years.

Everything Costs Something

Admittedly, money did go into the making of FFC. We received a grant to pay for the site design; and we had the use of many resources (computers, internet, meeting rooms, etc.) thanks to Rutgers University, where the Signs editorial offices were located at the time.

And the journal has always required a fair amount of time and labor to publish. The entire operation runs thanks to volunteer contributions. Every review—usually covering two to four films—is written by a scholar who watches films on their own time, then writes and revises the text that ends up on the site.

The FFC editorial team (in all its iterations) has always been volunteer. When Karen and I launched the site, we worked with an advisory board of scholars and a collective of editors that helped us identify films and coordinate with reviewers to bring each issue together.

Currently, the site runs with a much leaner team, supported by the Department of Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies at Texas Woman’s University. However, the journal remains a primarily volunteer venture in service to the academic community.

Digital Media Matters

I see the volunteer nature of FFC as both an advantage and as a drawback. Karen and I (and everyone involved) would have been better positioned and equipped for our next and current roles if we had learned in the founding of FFC not simply how to publish an online journal but instead how to run an online business. I believe that the reach of FFC could be much larger if there was revenue behind the site, revenue that could not only pay staff and reviewers for their work but also be reinvested in the venture for site updates, marketing, partnerships, and growth.

Still, this experience has been part of both my and Karen’s journeys. Karen is now a digital media entrepreneur in her own right, leading a business called XRconnectED, while my work as editor of the business news website has me in close contact with the entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who are building the future of the beauty industry.

Launching the site as a volunteer project is in large part what made it possible for Karen and I to bring FFC into being. And it’s meant that Agatha, who joined our editorial collective in 2010, has the latitude to run the site on a schedule and at a scale and scope that she can readily manage. But the journal is still a volunteer project and not a business, which limits possibilities for the journal to grow in size and audience reach. And it similarly limits the perspective of and, and to some extent, the possibilities for everyone involved (the writers, the editors, the readers) in that it puts career success, business know-how, earning potential, and expansive influence at a distance.

This Is Unpaid Work

There are much more strenuous and trying instances of unpaid labor than publishing an online journal. Nonetheless, a venture like FFC is an example of the sort of unpaid care work that happens all the time in academia. And this sort of work and extra effort is not uncommon for women—especially women of color—everywhere in today’s global economy.

Well-intentioned projects like FFC inadvertently perpetuate the norm of unpaid labor. FFC began with Karen and I volunteering our time to build a new publication, with an all-volunteer advisory board and editorial collective working to ensure that the journal we produced was top quality.

We didn’t have funding and we didn’t know how to start a business on campus; so we did what we knew. We worked harder for something that we believed in, for nothing. And the publication continues today, in part, because that conundrum does too.

Women Must Be Visible

Karen and I did not build a business. We did launch an important new publication; and we did learn a lot: how to put together and lead a collaborative team, technology is a tool that any of us can and should put to good use, and we are digital media experts with more to learn and more than enough knowledge to make a difference in the lives of women.

Since we launched Films for the Feminist Classroom in 2009, I have never not worked in digital media. Today my work often times seems a million miles away from academic feminism. But when it comes right down to it, I am still working toward a more informed and influential future. As I believe Gloria Steinem once said, “if women are visible in the media, truly visible, in an empowered role, it empowers us to be more visible in any area of our lives.” And perhaps that is the real value of the work I do now and the work that goes in to projects and publications like FFC.

Deanna Utroske is a leading voice in the cosmetics and personal care industry as well as in the indie beauty movement. As editor of the news website, she writes daily articles about the business of beauty in the Americas region and regularly produces video interviews with cosmetics, fragrance, personal care, and packaging experts as well as with indie brand founders.

Deanna is a globally sought-after speaker and industry commentator, sharing ideas and insights with market research firms; consumer, B2B, and professional magazines and sites; as well as with audiences of industry podcasts and of events around the world.

Deanna lives in New York City, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Rutgers University and an associate’s degree in automotive technology from Montana State University-Billings. She can be found on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.