Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Girl power

My friend wrote this fantastic blog about sexism in Hollywood that you all should read.

I find that sexism burns quietly but steadily here. It's not overt, it's not people telling you that you won't succeed, it's not graphic objectification. It's people saying "female-driven" as if it's a genre when male-driven projects are simply "movies" or "shows." It's writing off the Sex and the City movie as a fluke. It's the refusal to buy R-rated movies with female leads. It's that 7% of the DGA is female. It's Oscar-winning movies with 1 or 0 female characters. It's "strong" female characters who are sassy and tough but wear tight leather and need men to save them. It's the fact that men see stories about women and label them as stories about women but women see stories about men and just consider them stories.

It just makes me mad.

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Kristan said...

Wow, that is a great post! I commented there already, but I'll say again...

I think what your friend said is true in many arenas/industries of life: our generation has grown up believing in equality, and believing that the hard steps have already been taken, but what we find when we get out here is that that's not necessarily the case. There's still a lot more left to be done, and it can be disheartening.

Still, we can use our anger/frustration to fuel us. Here's to hoping that you and all the other strong women in Hollywood make good headway, both for yourselves and for future generations.

And really that goes for strong women anywhere.

DJ FOX said...

Amen, sista! I think sexism is the most widely accepted form of discrimination. And the term chick lit or chick flick automatically puts bad thoughts in your head.

It's demeaning. This is why I love Diablo Cody. She wrote Juno, a great female lead. And Jennifer's Body looks awesome. A FEMALE lead who eats boys? A bloody, horror comedy with female characters at the center? A step in the right direction, I think. More, please.

Emily Blake said...

Thank you. I just tried to have a discussion about sexism in Hollywood with a bunch of boys on Wordplayer, and I was told there's no such thing.

Dan Williams said...

When I was growing up, there was a wide-spread sexist attitude against women. My mother pointed it out and I agreed with her, it was just horrible, so I rejected it. Now I believe that anything a man can do, a woman can do, and that there must be equal pay for equal work. Sophia Coppola created such a fabulous movie with LOST IN TRANSLATION looking at the relationships we form with members of the opposite sex that are based on friendship, not love or passion or sex. She had something to say that was deeply insightful. I think that if women just go ahead and tell their story, they will be on the right track. Guys run into lots of obstacles, too, and many of them are generated by women. We just need to make the commitmenmt not to be stopped by these obstacles, to be persons who can get around them, who are patient, who try again and again until the success comes.

Sam said...

The most insidious type of sexism is when WOMEN pitch stories as, say, "Californication but with a female lead". Being female is NOT a pitch-driving character trait. It's not enough for her to be a woman; she needs to be a specific woman, one who is complex and interesting enough to keep audiences engaged week in and week out. You can't take a male character, file all the edges down, give her two almost-perfect men to choose from and call it a show. But we, as a society, are convinced that that is what a "female-driven" show is. And then people wonder why those shows fail...

Sam said...

Sorry, realized I didn't make this part clear:

I'm not trying to say that only women are pitching these "female-driven" types of shows, but rather that this absurd idea of what a "female-driven" show should be is so pervasive that women don't even notice when they are falling into a trap that is guaranteed to maintain the status quo. If men fall into that trap, I don't excuse it, but at least I can understand how it happens. The great sexist trick is getting women to buy into it. It's a sexist hegemony.

Z said...

I'm not going to disagree with the points either you or the author of the post you linked to made. They're all valid. But I am surprised that on a blog by an aspiring TV writer, you wouldn't address the much smaller gap in disparity in TV vs. film.

TV skews female by and large. ABC, CW, Showtime... not to mention networks like Lifetime and Oxygen and Bravo that balance out the Spike TV's of the landscape. I don't have the stats on staff lists handy, but I'd be willing to bet it's 60/40 male these days, not something insane like 80/20.

And while the top heads of networks may still be overgrown frat boys, the number of female executives is impressive. The people both with the power to buy and the people developing at the network and studio are by and large women.

I'm not saying this makes up for the disparity in film. Just reminding you that you're not as far away from gender balance as you think.

"I like women. I have all their albums." -- Hank Moody

SeaDragon29 said...

I totally agree. There is nothing more frustrating than when people write off shows with a female protagonist as somehow being lightweight shows, not to be taken seriously. So the networks that have the most female-lead shows are networks like ABC Family and The CW, which are notorious for catering to tween, while the more "serious" major networks do the same old thing.

It also bugs me when shows get special attention because they have a female lead, like with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are so many great things about that show, but it seems like a lot of critics talk about it, they just talk about how it's about girl power.

Like seriously, you don't hear people talking about "guy power".

DEV said...

I think one area where change can start in is film criticism, because that's the media and the media strongly helps form public opinion (if a movie gets 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, I'm reluctant to pay $12 to see it). Right now, a vast majority of critics are males who tend to champion male driven movies, so that's what the public will see, so that's what Hollywood will make. If there were more female critics who championed female driven movies, then maybe more would get made, and it could perhaps help change things in Hollywood. But when the most recent best picture winner, "Slumdog Millionaire", is universally praised while featuring a female lead of little substance who's essentially a pawn in all the male characters hands, it makes you realize that it might be some time before things change.

Z said...

"So the networks that have the most female-lead shows are networks like ABC Family and The CW, which are notorious for catering to tween, while the more "serious" major networks do the same old thing."

Really? So 90% of the ABC line-up, most of the Showtime line-up, a handful of CBS shows (Old Christine and Cold Case, new ones Accidentally on Purpose and the Good Wife), 30 Rock for NBC, Bones, Dollhouse, Damages for FOX & FX, True Blood and Big Love for HBO, Saving Grace, the Closer, and Hawthorne for TNT, In Plain Sight for USA... none of those count?

That's not to mention the ABC Family/Lifetime/Oxygen stuff, however reductive it may be... and, 75% of all reality TV.

I'm not saying it's 50/50 in TV, but I think there's some serious underestimating here. And the Nina Tasslers, Angela Bromsted, Dawn Ostroffs of the world, not to mention the floods of female executives below them are keeping things a lot more closer to equilibrium than I think you realize.

SeaDragon29 said...

I didn't mean that the major networks don't have any female-lead shows. I'm just saying that the networks that specifically target female demos and put out a higher ratio of shows with female leads tend to get written off as airhead networks without any shows worth a second look. And yeah, I agree that most of the shows on those networks are absolute crap, but is there any channel that can't be said of?

The problem is that female-lead shows tend to get pigeon-holed as "girly" shows that guys won't watch, but that bias doesn't exist against male-lead shows.

And I think that the same thing happens to whole networks. Like on ABC Family's new show "10 Things I Hate About You" the main character Kat is one of the most politically conscious TV characters I've seen, but people looking for shows about strong politically-conscious main characters are not going to go looking on ABC Family, because the vast majority of its shows are the exact opposite of that.

Part of the problem is that so many crappy movies and shows that are intended for women, that when a really great one comes along, they have trouble catching on. It gets labeled as "TV chick lit" and passed over by both men and women.

Sam said...


The problem lies in your ability to name all of the female-driven shows on TV. In a paragraph. Could you do the same thing for shows with male leads?

Women make up over 50% of the world's population right now. There is no reason it shouldn't be 50/50. And there is no reason that there should be channels specifically targeting females like Lifetime and Oxygen. This reinforces a notion that there is "female TV" and "male TV". We live in a world where, ostensibly, men and women are equals, yet we still believe in the notion that men and women want fundamentally different things when they turn on a television? Judd Apatow has proven that men will watch movies about relationships. I mean, I'll admit I wouldn't be caught dead watching Lifetime, but that's not because I'm a man... it's because most of the programming is of a much lower caliber than the stuff I can watch elsewhere. And it's because it panders to stereotypes that I don't support. Give me a smart female show and I'm there. I think that's true of a lot more men than anyone is willing to acknowledge.

Z said...

I have a hard time accepting that there's a higher ratio of "crappy female" shows vs. "crappy male" shows, at least in scripted. Reality, I'd conceed, but in scripted, I'd say it's dead-even.

I don't think any exec worth a dime is dismissing the ratings of TNT or Showtime or even ABC Family, all with female-lead driven line ups.

And as a young writer who's been out pitching, I'll add this: EVERY meeting I've had in the last 18 months from manager/director of development level to Senior VP has been with a female.

I get what your "airheaded networks" comment for a network like Lifetime. It'd be an uphill battle for them to get male viewiers even if the product was Mad Men-good. But look at Grey's Anatomy... the Closer... Nurse Jackie... you think those ratings are only from female viewers?

And the reverse bias absolutely DOES exist. Try selling a male-lead show to ABC or CW right now.

Film's an uphill battle for equality. It's shitty. I apologize for my gender. But I'm telling you, you're seriously misreading the state of TV both from a programming and business perspective if you don't see the HUGE strides being made.

Z said...

@ Sam:

Because I track TV when I'm not writing about it, here's a point of comparison. For the 2009-2010 BROADCAST season, there's 35 male lead shows vs. 25 female lead shows in scripted. I think you'd agree when you add in the vast reality programming that skews female, this is pretty equal.

Cable, I didn't run the numbers, but with ABC Family, Showtime, Lifetime, Bravo, Oxygen and the handful of shows we already discussed like Closer, Saving Grace, My Boys, etc. I'd wager it's pretty similar to the broadcast breakdown.

Read into that data what you will.

Kate said...

Amanda, I'm really glad you (and your friend) wrote about this. I recently got into this huge argument with another woman who was claiming that women are not funny. You know, as a whole. Her reasoning was because anyone can name a hundred male comedians/comedic actors, but the list of female comedians/comedic actors (in mainstream Hollywood) is drastically shorter. Furthermore, she claimed that it's not even an arguable point because the "box office totals speak for themselves," and female-led comedies don't do nearly as well as male-led comedies (talking about movies only here). She refused to even acknowledge that there's a whole long history of sexism in Hollywood and it's not nearly so cut-and-dry as just modern-day box office totals. It enraged me. I just can't stand that "nah, it can't be sexism because that doesn't exist anymore" idea.

I do agree with Z, though, on the point that TV is WAY beyond film in terms of having women in powerful positions as well as in meatier TV characters (Damages, Saving Grace, Weeds, The Closer, even the newbie series Castle, in my opinion). It's not to say there's no room for improvement, but by comparison, the film world is quite seriously in the Dark Ages.

I also agree with DEV on the film criticism point. Go to RottenTomatoes and the VAST majority of critics featured there are men. Thus, there's review after review of the SATC movie that are worse than negative reviews — they're dismissive of the movie overall. It basically didn't matter to these writers whether the movie was any good or not because the movie itself doesn't matter (according to them). And many of the thoughtful reviews/critique coming from women on the internet were dismissed as well because, I guess, women can't be analytical or objective when it comes to Sex and the City?

Sorry, that went off the TV track a bit, but basically it's just nice to talk about sexism in Hollywood without being steamrolled by people who insist it doesn't happen anymore.

LazyWriterOnTheTV said...

Yeah but your friend's a girl. What would she know?

Little Miss Nomad said...

Just to be clear, just because a show has a female lead or is supposedly female-oriented doesn't mean there are any female writers on it. Consider iCarly. Not a female writer on that show.

Z said...

@little miss nomad

And all three csi's are run by women. Check the staff lists. It's at least 60 40.

cind said...

I just finished an internship at New York Women in Film and Television (the sister org of Women in Film, as mentioned in the blog) and some of the statistics I learned while working there were staggering. Here's a link that really blew me away. Another thing I learned while working there was from an exec at WE (Women's Entertainment) who mentioned that when she started working there, she was the ONLY woman working there. And there have been Lifetime shows without a single female writer on staff. The disparity and hypocrisy is jarring.

And Z...I agree with you that there are a lot more opportunities for women in television and that there are a lot more shows with female leads. When I was first learning about TV writing, I read in a few places that the reason TV is tailored more to women is...wait for it...because women tend to be at home more, and have the TV on in the background while they are in the kitchen. TV's audience was (at least at first) presumed to be female because women were around more. And TV writing is still influenced by this notion -- notice how a TV script is far more dialogue heavy than a movie one. It's because the "typical female TV viewer" would watch while tending to other household duties, so the show needed to be heard more than watched. I don't know how much I agree with this sentiment, but it is out there.

And one last note...I read an article recently (either in EW or New York Magazine) profiling Anna Faris, and it mentioned that she's one of the only women out there who is willing to do no-holds-barred physical comedy. She'll cross any line and really get down and dirty, in a way other female comedians don't. I found that really interesting, but even more interesting that Faris, in these roles, often plays the stereotypical bimbo. I know most physical comedy characters are supposed to be a little dumb, but it's a little different when it's a hot dumb woman.

Amanda said...

Z -
I think you have a point that there may be less sexism in TV than in features. There are certainly a lot of exciting roles for actresses, especially ones over a certain age, that you won't see much in film. But the mere fact that female-driven networks and shows exist is not indicative of equality to me. It's also important to note, like Little Miss Nomad said, that just because a show features women doesn't mean that women have anything to do with it. I think a huge problem is the lack of female showrunners. And perhaps you might find that women themselves choose to duck out of the TV writing world and focus on family or other things before reaching those high positions, I don't really believe that's always the cause.

Z said...

Maybe it's because I'm a TV dork and know my inside baseball, but I can name a whole lot of female showrunners, as many as men... Ones on female lead shows like Nancy Miller and Alexa Junge and Monica Breen or one male lead ones like all three CSI showrunners or Ann Biederman. Writers of color are the ones who have more ground to make up. I don't discredit the sexism in the agecies or for actresses, but in the writers room and in the studio and networks buying pitches, women are there. Its a discourse, not an argument... I just think too many blanket assumptions are being made.

Anonymous said...

Terry Rossio: "We tend to focus on the successful, but to be gender-fair, we should take note that there are many more thousands of unsuccessful male screenwriters whose lives have been ruined by pursuing an unattainable dream than there are woman in the same boat."

Sassafras said...

This program addresses "the under representation of diverse writers on television writing staffs."

Take a look at who qualifies at number two

"Qualified WGAW members were invited to submit their work in one of four diversity categories: minority writers and writers with disabilities; women writers; writers age 55 and over; and gay and lesbian writers."

There may be shows many shows with female leads and regardless of whether they're "crappy," marketed solely to women, or just engaging television, programs like this prove that women do no have equal footing in the television world any more than they do in the film world.

GregM said...

Just to add on to a point that's been made--while "Damages" and "The Closer," have provided opportunities for actors, "The Closer" has only had one female writer (out of 13 total). (Slightly better directing record--3 female directors out of 9). "Damages" has 0 female writers out of 7 total hires.

("Saving Grace," which has a female showrunner, appears to have achieved gender parity, with 7 female writers out of 11 total hires. "Bones," to Hart Hanson's credit, has also hired several female writers.)

And this stuff matters. You can't tell me there are no women out there who could write great twists for Damages or great cases for The Closer, and that means women who would have a shot to make their case to pitch their own show after writing on a hot show like Damages will be denied that chance.

On another note, NPR had an interesting story about the convergence of a few female filmmakers having their work all released at once, including Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," which may be the best shot for a woman to win the Oscar for Best Director since Sofia Coppola w/ Lost in Translation.

Z said...


"And this stuff matters. You can't tell me there are no women out there who could write great twists for Damages or great cases for The Closer, and that means women who would have a shot to make their case to pitch their own show after writing on a hot show like Damages will be denied that chance."

Wow. That's an incredibly bold accuastion to make. So you assume Kessler/Zelman/Kessler and James Duff are sexist? That maybe the male writers submitted happened to be the better candidates for those particular staffing needs?

Let's watch it with the broad statements.

My original point was to get Amanda to acknowledge the disparity in TV being much less than in film, seeing as this blog is mainly about the TV business. And we got a nice discourse going, although Cinde and Sassafras were the only ones who matched stat for stat with me.

No, it's not perfect. Making blanket statements about showrunners you've probably never met isn't going to fix the problem though. The fact is, there ARE female showrunners. Ones on "female" shows and ones on "male" shows. There are an EQUAL number of female-lead shows on broadcast&cable to male-shows, so content wise, it's a fair ballgame. And there are an astronomically high number of female executives -- whatever the case was at Lifetime 5, 10 years ago, that sucks, but look at EVERY broadcast network now and it's a different landscape.

Is it perfect? No. Like I've said in every post, I'm not saying there's no sexism or gender disparity. Just that things ARE moving in the right direction, and being pro-active about it is going to do more than bitching about it.

So write. Write better than anybody else, male or female. Write the female characters nobody is showing. Write the "guy" show you're just as qualified to write about. And remember that right now, in TV, two things matter a lot more than whether you sit or stand when you pee -- how good your material is and who you know. Bottom line.

Numb Frog said...

I hate these arguments, because they claim a problem without any proof or ever stopping to think, maybe it's not sexism and just is based on numbers.

Most writers I know are men. So that is why to me there are more men than women in positions. Same with every other field in Hollywood.

Even if it's true -- then you have to work twice as hard. That's what all minority groups need to do. Don't bitch -- but if you feel your sex or religion or color of your skin is holding you back -- prove those bastards wrong by making it. Like Obama.

It's like the Chris Rock joke... a black guy says "I take care of my kids." YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR KIDS!

If you want to make it and you are cursed with a vagina, then if you believe in sexism, than I guess you are going to have to work harder than me who is blessed with a penis.

I was raised to believe that you have to overcome obstacles in your way. I mean there are less male nurses than women, but if that's your dream, go for it.

So if you figured out they don't hire people from Montana, you can move or you can just be the exception to the rule.

GregM said...

"So you assume Kessler/Zelman/Kessler and James Duff are sexist? That maybe the male writers submitted happened to be the better candidates for those particular staffing needs?"

Speaking of assumptions…

I think it's a stretch to go from "these shows have all-male writing staffs, and that affects the TV world in a general, possibly negative way" to "those writers are sexist." *You* cited The Closer & Damages specifically as evidence that women were making progress in TV. My response: while, yes, Glenn Close and Holly Hunter have gotten great work *onscreen,* the same doesn't hold true for those shows behind the scenes. As such, they don't make the ideal examples. Bones, on the other hand, makes an excellent example of better gender parity for TV writers, which is why I cited it, thus *boosting* your argument on that score, if you wanted to make it.

You're right; TV is better than film for women. Amd there may be any number of valid reasons why Damages and The Closer, among many others, have all-male, or heavily male-skewing staffs. I say this as a fan of both shows, particularly "Damages." It's just that their being all-male or mostly male behind the scenes undermines their usefulness as citations that women have opportunities in the industry.

My point remains that while TV-*watching* audiences may skew female--which seemed to be your point, and a valid one--that doesn't necessarily correlate to gender parity in terms of power *produce* TV--network executives with the power to greenlight a show, showrunners, producers--that world still skews male. I also don't have the numbers, but 60/40 seems very high on the 40 side.

Amanda's main point was that there are residual assumptions that hurt women in the business, and I believe that holds true for the TV world as well. Is it *as bad* as film? No, it's not *as bad* as film. But it's still there.

Anyway, I don't want to get into a blogwar on Amanda's blog, but I think the problem's one of terms--I'm talking exclusively about behind-the-scenes stuff; you're arguing about acting opportunities. While those can be useful, even well-known working actors tend not to have much power in Hollywood. Sorry if I struck a nerve with the Damges/Closer comment (particularly if you know them personally), and it may have been inartfully expressed; but I think my points are valid ones: shows with heavily male writing/producing staffs can't be cited as examples of women making progress in the industry; writers who work on shows have a better chance of having their pitches taken than those that don't; if residual gender bias is harming women's chances to make TV, it's probably having a detrimental effect on the industry as a whole, and it's useful to keep an eye out for that, and work to correct it.
That was Amanda's main point when she wrote this: "It's people saying "female-driven" as if it's a genre when male-driven projects are simply "movies" or "shows.""

Feel free to respond on my little-read blog if you feel it's warranted.

Sassafras said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sassafras said...

The Writer's Access Program that I linked to in my earlier comment references a pdf called 2009 Hollywood Writers Report Executive Summary.

In 2007, 28% of the writers in TV were women. So not quite 60/40 men to women unless it's risen 12% in the last two staffing seasons, which is doubtful because it only rose 1% between 2005 and 2007.

But the numbers are so much worse for women in film. Alright, enough with the math and back to the scripts...

Z said...


There were multiple prongs I was discussing with several people, not just yourself.

1) Female-lead shows
2) Female writers
3) Female executives

#1, across broadcast and cable, it's almost dead even. See previous posts for stats.

#2, as Sassafras has cited, it's not 60/40. I overestated. But there are, at my best count, 32 female showrunners running rooms RIGHT NOW... should there be more? Absolutely. But that's a ton more than I think most people in this thread realize.

I am curious if that 2007 # was based on male-to-female STAFFED writers or just WGA members identifying as TV writers. Not questioning the validity, just wondering.

#3 I think is the biggest one, because half the battle is lost if the women IN POWER don't use it in the first place. FOX is the only one of the broadcast networks without a really high level female exec. So where do the Bromstads, Tasslers, Ostroffs, etc. of the world fall in the blame game?

All that said, I honestly think RIGHT NOW, if you're a fantastic female TV writer, you're better off than an equally talented male writer, at least when it comes to breaking in. Congratulations -- you now have a hook. And if you happen to be a minority, that Diversity Staff Writer spot is looking awfully good.

Sassafras said...

According the report it was "women
writers’ share of overall employment" and in the "television sector" it was 27%. I'm pretty sure that means they were staff writers, and not women who identified themselves as TV writers in the WGA. Though as you can tell from the quotes, the whole thing was a bit jargon-y.

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

God blessa youse -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL