How to Pull! (Without inadvertently being a creep or a sex offender): A PhD student’s creative guide.

Amanda McBride is a Sociology PhD student, studying gender and the night time economy. Ruth Lewis interviewed her to find out the back story to her animation about ‘pulling’ – How To Pull! (without inadvertently being a creep or a sex offender) – produced with artist Graeme from Arms Reach

Q: How did you come to make an animation about sexual harassment?

A: I won a Cumberland Lodge Scholarship 2017 and applied for a development grant from them. The grants are to enable PhD students to do researcher development activities that PhD stipends don’t cover – eg podcast training, workshops and other experiences. I’m really interested in visual representations; I love zines and comics and I think very visually – I use mind-maps all the time. The focus on sexual harassment came about because it’s an aspect of my research that didn’t really make it into the thesis in a major way but it was so persistent in the interviews that I didn’t want it to be lost. Graeme is an artist and someone I talk to about this kind of stuff and we decided that would be a good way to spend the money- collaborating with an artist to create an output I couldn’t do otherwise.

Q: Why an animation?

A: I am ambivalent, confused about current attempts to change behaviours around sexual harassment. I don’t know what’s going to work. I’m not on the internet – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – at all but I know young people use those things and I really like using clips and videos in my teaching. And animation has the possibility of text and image. Communication is so visual now. What I’ve learned is that animations are particularly good because you don’t have to overload people with verbal, textual, wordy info. There are other dimensions to people’s learning. We wanted it to have a light tone and people to relate to it in a gentle way. And that could be done with visuals in a way that didn’t undermine the importance of the message.

Q: So what was your approach for the animation?

A: Let’s assume that lads are at least oblivious that they’re sexually harassing. I don’t think most lads who do it are aware – they just go out and do what everyone else is doing. I just wanted to frame it in that way. I was eager no one would feel attacked. So much of the harassment is born out of not knowing how to speak to people you fancy. It somehow seems to take more confidence to ask someone if they want a drink than it does to walk past them and grab their arse! So we wanted an informative video, coming from a gentle, kind, humorous place about what the girls said they didn’t want. It’s based on interviews with women but we made it relatively gender-neutral. It’s they’re pulling tips for anyone – girls who are pulling girls, boys who are pulling boys, girls who are pulling boys, boys who are pulling girls. There are a lot of stereotypes about non-hetero practices but non-straight people are having some pretty hairy experiences too. On the posters that go with the animation, there’s no reference to gender – other than that it’s based on interviews with women in the NE. We wanted to make it as gender-neutral as possible. There are girls who engage in dodgy practices too – I didn’t want to make it just about straight men, but it’s based on young women’s accounts about their experiences with straight men. Sexual aggression can manifest all over the shop and it’s too complex a message – that  it’s ultimately linked to heteronormativity – that’s more than a 2 minute animation can capture! So we thought focusing on three tips would help.

Q: What was the hardest part of the project?

A: I like being left to my own devices when it comes to work, so this was my first real attempt at working with someone. Collaborating with someone I knew was on same page obviously helped but opening myself up to feedback isn’t something I do easily; I had to remain open to Graeme’s suggestions, which were always excellent. Graeme initially edited the script and ended up contributing a lot to it, including the best jokes.  

The other really hard thing was expecting someone to work for free. Because the grant was small, Graeme got paid for two days and it took him a month of work. And he gave a third of the money to the guy who did the music. He did it because he wanted to. It really was a labour of love. So the hardest part was the recognition that there is very little money flying around for this kind of stuff and that it’s obviously not something that is valued by those holding the money.

Q: Who d’you want to see the animation?

A: Young people. I’m aware there is a culture of sharing things you find funny, things that enter into cultural consciousness. Which is why we wanted to make it light touch – I think that works. I’m not a behavioural change scientist and not involved in front line activism so I just thought ‘what’s a nice light way for people to engage with this?’ And I wanted it to be useful as a resource because institutions are keen to provide direct guidance to their students around consent, gender behaviours and that sort of thing, so thought it could be resource for educators.

Q: What kind of response have you had, so far?

A: People seem to really like – I’ve had lots of good feedback about it. Another Cumberland Lodge scholar works on the Good Lad Initiative and he’s shared it through that campaign so it should get a pretty wide, diverse audience. Shout-up, which campaigns to make our pubs, clubs, bars and venues sexual harassment free zones, has also been in touch and it’ll be included in their training for venue staff.

Q: What’s next?

A: I want to continue with more outputs for the public and I’m currently working on a collaboration with Chantal Herbert of Sister Shack (a feminist organisation that promotes and supports women in the creative industries), to make something audial, a podcast or radio show. Of course, I’m also prepping for the viva and attempting to get some academic articles published!

Amanda submitted her thesis, entitled ‘High Spirits: young women’s pleasure in the night time economy’ in December 2019 and is now preparing for her viva.