The best thing women can do

“The best thing women can do,” the Facebook comment began. “Is to start writing and producing films. Getting content out there because let’s face it 90% of the content is driven by male leads (which is slowly changing).”

I laughed at the simplicity of the statement. Start writing and producing films to get content out there. As if we weren’t trying. As if the industry doesn’t have women struggling to get a foot in the door.

We were discussing the issue of Claire Foy being paid less than Matt Smith, despite her being the lead. The conversation asked many questions – was the difference due to experience or was it a gender issue,  was it supply vs demand, or was it a failure of agents to negotiate?

“The best thing women can do…”

I didn’t even know where to start or how to break that sentence down.  It annoyed me and made me want to shut down the conversation. So I replied with a, “Lol. Just Lol.”

“What about the last comment irks you?” Asked the commenter.

Irk was the right word. I was exasperated. I was annoyed. I was vexed by the conversation. But more, I was confused. I was confused that someone who is educated and aware couldn’t see how what they were saying wasn’t my experience or that of millions of other women.

A 2013 study from the University of Southern California found that only 1.9 percent of the top-grossing 100 films from 2013 and 2014 were directed by women while a Directors Guild of America study which found that only 14 percent of 220 TV shows — 3,500 episodes in total — had women at their helm. And yet nearly 50% of film school graduates are women [1].

I’m not in the industry, but my personal experience was colouring my view of the conversation. I wanted to demonstrate – desperately – that gender bias existed because I experience it. That this pay gap is just one of the numerous ways in which bias exists against women in all areas of work and life.

“At what point does your value as an entertainer transcend your gender?” Another asked. Good question. One which I’m not sure we’re close to answering.

In 2017, these were the stats for women in Hollywood across the Top-grossing 100 films [2].

  • The company with the highest number of female-directed movies was Warner Bros. Pictures (12) and the lowest were Paramount (three) and Lionsgate (three).
  • Females comprised 24% of sole protagonists, 37% of major characters, and 34% of all speaking characters.
  • 68% of all female characters were white. 16% were Black, 7% were Latina, 7% were Asian, and 2% were of another race or ethnicity.
  • The majority of female characters were in their 20s (32%) and 30s (25%), while most male characters were in their 30s (31%) and 40s (27%).
  • Overall, women accounted for 16% of all directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers.
  • Women comprised 8% percent of directors.
  • Women accounted for 10% of writers.
  • Women comprised 15% of executive producers.
  • Women accounted for 24% of producers.
  • Women comprised 14% of editors.
  • Women accounted for 2% of cinematographers.

I’ll note of the ten highest grossing films of 2017, the majority featured women in some form.  For those playing at home  – the top film of 2017 was Star Wars Episode 8 – in which female roles were strong and overtly visible [3].

“If you want it to happen faster write movie scripts. Do anything you can.”

If I want gender parity to happen. If I want women to be paid equally. If I want more representation on my screens, it was up to women everywhere to stand up.

I wish someone had told me this years ago…

“I’m not saying there is equality at the moment. If the issue was people wanted to pay women less you might as well give up now because people will always be shit and materialistic.”

We know that women are paid less. In Australia, sex discrimination continues to account for the single largest component of the gender wage gap [3].

“We should be empowering women to produce content they like and empowers them. Write their own content. Fuck produce content that men like. Make money off men or anyone and use that money to empower other women and employ other women to produce content.”

Big business is literally bending over backwards to make themselves look good. They don’t actually care about anyone they just know that looking like the good guy will make them more money.”

It was at this point I realised that, while I respect their difference of opinion, I couldn’t argue any further.
No, that’s not right.
It was that I recognised my inability to provide a lived experience via a Facebook post.

“I get the point you’re making I just don’t agree that people don’t think you’re equal contributors.”

“…You will have to work harder. You can be part of pioneering change and you’ll succeed. You’re intelligent and driven and that will change the future for young women coming through. “

“Big business is literally bending over to make themselves look good.”

I went to bed. I tried to sleep. I couldn’t. I tossed and turned thinking about the futility of the argument and my inability to offer someone the opportunity to walk in my shoes. In particular, that last sentence kept running through my brain.

I was put out. I was annoyed.
I was irked.

Was I, dare I say it, Triggered?
Answer: Resounding yes.

I  shouldn’t have to work harder to be accepted for doing the same job.  I don’t want big business bending over to “make themselves look good” by giving me exactly what I should be entitled to from the start – equal opportunity.

It implies that anything a woman produces is only being supported because it plays well. That isn’t being supportive, that is condescension.

“Fuck produce content that men like. Make money off men or anyone and use that money to empower other women and employ other women to produce content.”

A 2015 article by Forbes says women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing.  But men are still the majority of CEOs and dominate in senior official roles – so really, it’s not about producing content for the end consumer, it’s about producing content that will get approved [4].

The thing that irked me about these comments was it put the responsibility solely on me. If I worked harder, if I produced palatable content, if I get money and power then I can use it to empower other women. But that’s not how the real world works. Responsibility is shared. I have no control over the opinions, thoughts or bias of those around me. But they can have very real impacts on my ability to be recognised for my efforts and be rewarded for them.

It simplified the issue of glass ceilings, gender pay gaps and opportunity disparity down to women. The underlying implication, intentional or not, was that if all women just try a bit harder to get equal pay and representation, we’d get there, eventually.

And that irked me. It sat uncomfortably on my shoulders. It weighed on my thoughts  I want to know how much harder I need to try. Is there an equation for this effort? If I work 110 hours a week will that be enough? If I put off having children to remain in the workplace will that help? If I’m louder or gentler, or friendlier or sterner or smarter will that be the difference?

Can someone tell me what we need to do? Because I’m at a loss.

Honestly, this is a two way street. I believe I can work hard, but if there isn’t acknowledgment and people willing to support you, especially those in positions of power and influence, you will get no where.

Change will only happen when people acknowledge there is a bias. And the facts? They say there is a problem.

 

References
[1] http://www.mtv.com/news/2159771/female-directors-college/
[2] http://womenandhollywood.com/resources/statistics/2017-statistics/
[3] https://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/screenwriter/2016/12/21/the-highest-grossing-films-of-2017/
[4] https://www.wgea.gov.au/wgea-newsroom/why-australian-women-are-still-being-paid-less-men
[5] http://fortune.com/2017/06/09/white-men-senior-executives-fortune-500-companies-diversity-data/
[6] https://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/
[7] https://theconversation.com/sexist-screen-representations-of-women-start-in-the-script-55022
[8] https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/why-hollywoods-pay-gap-women-color-is-wider-infrequent-golden-opportunities-1075057

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