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How Chaz Ebert turned an old debate with her husband into an annual amplification of women's voices

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Mar 30, 2018

There has been a stronger and stronger push recently to amplify the voices of women, particularly women of color, in all media. But at least one internet space has dedicated at least one week per year to just that and only that for the past several years.

Chaz Ebert, the publisher of RogerEbert.com and wife of the late film criticism icon, started the site's Women Writers Week in December 2013 "to test a theory about whether gender affected how we perceived movies." That desire was born out of an ongoing debate she used to have with her husband, Roger.

"We both agreed that there was probably a critical consensus on a majority of movies. And in some instances, like with Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange—one of my favorite films—his inability to embrace it was probably not due to gender. But he acknowledged that his two star review of A Walk on the Moon, for instance, with Viggo Mortensen's character the Blouse Man, may have in some way been influenced by his sex."

But beyond the criticism of just one person, Chaz Ebert had a much larger goal. "There were so many male film critics and I just wanted to hear what the women critics had to say. Simple as that."

It was that idea that started Women Writers Week. All content this week has come from women—both established contributors and new voices—and the men of the site take a seat. "Nothing. Not a word," said Matt Zoller Seitz, editor-in-chief for RogerEbert.com, it's an opportunity for the men of the site to listen. "We're shutting up. We're being quiet and listening this week."

The pieces in Women Writers Week focus not only on film criticism but larger intersectional issues. Writer Violet LeVoit addressed c-sections as depicted on film, while Kristen Lopez wrote about disabilities, both in terms of onscreen representation and theater accessibility.

"I'd wanted to write about disability in cinema for a long time but I wanted to write about this on a site I know would give it traction," Lopez explained. "Being a part of this community of women, and talking about my own personal experiences, made me feel that maybe disabled issues would finally be heard."

That array of experiences and what it means to be a woman, across the spectrum of race, ability, gender identity and beyond, and the position to discuss those in a high-traffic setting is the culmination of Ebert's vision for this annual week.

"Chaz is the architect here. Most of the good big ideas on the site have been Chaz. We may execute, but it's Chaz who comes up with them,"  Seitz said. "She brings that perspective which I—a straight, white man—may not necessarily have."

For Ebert, it's not only about amplifying voices to the broader public, but internally as well in the interest of a major cultural shift.

"It is important to amplify the voices of women and stop minimizing our thoughts and ideas. That is the only way to change the culture that inherently devalues women," Ebert said. "With the advent of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, we must continue to speak up so that there will be real change on the horizon. The way you stop the abuse is not only to have the abusers face their reckoning, but to finance real opportunities for women and people of color in front of the camera, and behind the camera, in production houses and studios and investment banks and screenwriters labs and executive suites."

And even in moments where hope seems limited, Ebert has found it by creating her own, along with those opportunities for other women.

"Things are changing, albeit at a glacial pace," she said. "But we are moving in the right direction. I look forward to the day when Women Writers Week will seem as antiquated as The Flat Earth theory."