But What About the Ladies?

Brundle Guy writes:

So today is the Oscars. I won’t be watching, as I haven’t been able to stomach an Oscar telecast in years. But for all the headache-inducing hoopla that goes up around Oscar-time, there’s a trend that’s really started gaining momentum over the last few years that I find particularly obnoxious, and that is the inevitable cavalcade of tut-tutting about how there aren’t enough women directing/being nominated/in high power positions in Hollywood.

It’s not that I necessarily think the pieces are wrong. Certainly, objectively the numbers show that there aren’t a ton of women out there getting nominated for best director or running studios. What I don’t like is that all of these articles are lazy, thoughtless pitches for the writers to be hailed as thoughtful and progressive.

What does it MEAN that women aren’t in these positions? Where does this problem start? IS it even a problem?

There are two assumptions these articles make at their very base that I feel like are largely disingenuous.

Assumption #1: Hollywood is run by men who hate women and don’t want to see them become successful and feel threatened and try to stop them at every turn.

Why it feels like malarkey to me: I’m fairly certain a Hollywood mogul would give a ton of money and backing to post-op transexual with bizarre politics and a firmly anti-business, anti-“The Man” standpoint if they thought it would make them money. You know why I’m fairly certain of this? Because they DID.

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Lana Wachowski (along with her brother Andy and Tom Tykwer, granted) got a huge budget and a host of Hollywood names to do Cloud Atlas. You know why? Because she made a trilogy that made a bajillion G-D dollars, that’s why. And they don’t care if you’ve got a penis, a vagina, or anything in between if you can deliver the goods.

Assumption #2: There are hordes of women trying to attain these positions that are getting shut out.

Why I think this is malarkey: I couldn’t find the hard numbers on this, so I’m full of shit as well, but I ask you this: What percentage of USC and UCLA directing program graduates do you think are women? Second question, five years after graduating, what percentage of those graduates still pursuing directing as their primary field do you think are women? I’m honestly curious. I couldn’t find that info on a cursory search, and I’ve certainly never seen it come up in any of these dozens of articles that come out every year.

If there were money on the line and I absolutely had to guess, I would imagine that the numbers on those stats favor WAY stronger towards the male. I would also imagine that if you included things like “desire to direct big budget, high-value IP studio prestige picture” into that mix, you’d get an even stronger male preference.

I have similar doubts about those in the running for being studio heads and executives. I’m sure there are plenty of women out there vying for those positions, but I imagine the margins are probably way stronger in favor of men as far as who is going out for those kinds of jobs. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my current occupation, it’s that the margins ALWAYS win.

Something I wonder: Are there more female directors in other cultures? Somewhere like Sweden, for instance, where we frequently here about how much better they are towards women in the workplace and allowing women to move up and such, is there a higher number of female directors there? What about other countries/cultures? England? Mexico? South Korea? Japan?  I honestly don’t know. I’m curious!

Again, none of this is to say that I don’t think there’s an issue. It bums me out that directors I love like Mary Harron and Antonia Bird, or even someone whose style I dig like Catherine Hardwicke, ladies who have some good, commercial instincts, haven’t become bigger, more successful filmmakers. And I think real gender bias might actually have something to do with that. BUT, we’re never going to get to the root of these complex problems by writing stupid, simplistic back-patting diatribes about how Hollywood Hates Hates Hates Women, because I don’t think there’s a ton of merit there, and I certainly don’t think that’s going to invoke any kind of change.

What would MY suggestion be for an answer, you ask me? Oh, well, thank you for asking, how thoughtful. I honestly don’t know, but again, if there were money on the line or a gun to my head, I’d say that I think women are brought up to value things that are explicitly NOT commercial and will NOT lead to big studio contracts. Boys are told to make big, brash movies, they invest in zombies and explosions and gunfights that draw in big audiences. Girls are told to make stories about feelings and emotions with literary merit. You want more women in Hollywood? Feed your girls a steady stream of James Cameron, Brett Ratner and Michael Bay. Tell them to go big or go home. I think people don’t want to do this because they see it as “masculinizing” women, but at the end of the day those are the movies that sell big and get attention. Again, it doesn’t matter about the gender, it matters about the money.  Personal expression doesn’t count for beans, what counts is that you can make something that can SELL. I feel like we instill these kind of lessons in our boys, but not to our girls, and it’s that sort of gender bias that is doing a lot of the real, serious harm.

But that’s just me. I’m willing to accept that there’s a fair chance I’m TOTALLY wrong here, that I’m way off-base and right now the bigwigs at Warner Bros or Lionsgate or whoever are screaming into their phones “GET ME A DIRECTOR! ANYONE BUT A BROAD!” and right now there are eight dozen women in Hollywood totally sitting on the next Star Wars or The Matrix or Titanic or Jaws or what have you and they can’t get any traction at all simply because they have boobies, but I just don’t think it’s quite that simple.

And so I wrote this post. What do you think, internet? I greatly await your wisdom.

About Brundle Guy

Half Man, Half Middle-Man, he's paid to help others realize their artistic visions while struggling in obscurity with his own. What hath social science wrought?!
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7 Responses to But What About the Ladies?

  1. agnostic says:

    The re-segregation of the sexes has made women a lot less in-tune with dude nature, and pushed guys into either escapist ultra-machismo (while cowering in their man-caves), or escapist chick-on-a-pedestal worship (omg, an awkward indie goddess!).

    So only butt-kicking femme fatale types like Katheryn Bigelow will be accepted by mainstream audiences, and Lena Dunham by alt audiences.

    In the good old days Penny Marshall directed Big, the touching-yet-not-sappy hit movie about a boy trapped in a man’s body. There’s a love-interest sub-plot, but the main focus is on male nature at different life stages. I think a sincere movie like that better captures a guy’s ambitious drive and competitiveness in the real world than today’s shower nozzle masturbation material for dorks, e.g. Lord of the Rings, Fast and the Furious, Spiderman, etc. It was co-written by Anne Spielberg, Steven’s sister. Pretty insightful female writing and directing about male animal behavior.

    And speaking of Laverne DeFazio, there was her kindred spirit director Amy Heckerling, also with a thick New York accent. She did Fast Times at Ridgemont High (excellent capture of adolescent ecology), European Vacation (not as good as the original, but few are), Look Who’s Talking (box office hit, though I don’t remember if it’s good or not), and Clueless (the last enjoyable teen movie). She’s got more of a knack for female than male psychology and behavior, but still a lot more insightful into guys than anyone since.

    And she knew how to deliver the goods for young dudes — who would want to look at some frigid “butt-kicking babe” man-woman, when you could scope out the bodacious bods of girly girls like Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh?

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    • Brundle Guy says:

      Interesting thoughts! But I wonder if women even know how to deliver movies that WOMEN want these days? A lot of these articles sassily ask why, if women are 51% of the population, aren’t more movies catering to them. Which is to say, why aren’t studios having more women direct movies to bring in a bigger female audience. At a time when Tyler Perry has made a fortune cranking out movies explicitly for the underserved black audience, why isn’t there a woman who is making a similar fortune doing movies for the allegedly grossly underserved female audience? There was Nora Ephron, and I suppose her heir apparent, Nancy Meyers. There are the Twilight movies, based off of books written by a woman, but all except the first entry were directed by men.

      A lot of the bigger profile movies directed by women are female-led romantic comedies, like last year’s One for the Money and Bachelorettes, but female audiences, at least as far as I heard, far preferred the male-directed Bridesmaids, The Five-Year Engagement, or the perhaps appropriately-titled Think Like a Man. I think most women even preferred the more “male”-centric romantic comedies like Ted, one of last year’s surprise hits.

      I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this, but it occurred to me after reading your comment and began itching my brain. Thanks for the thoughts!

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  2. Funny stuff.

    FWIW, I did some showbiz reporting back in the day. At one point I was assigned to report a story about how hard Hollywood is/was on women (directors and studio chiefs, was the main idea). BTW, the assignment came from a horrible lesbian boss of mine. Funnily enough, although she’d done awfully well for herself — upper-middle-class upbringing, Exeter, Yale, an early job editing a lesbian magazine — she nonetheless identified with the oppressed. (Lesbian, you know.) She felt so persecuted, in fact, that she had an overwhelming drive to crack down on underlings she disliked. Drove me right out of my job in less than a year. A real poor, pitiable, victim she was.

    The most hilarious thing about the assignment was that, at the time of it, half (or was it more than half?) of the studios actually had female chiefs. When I pointed this out to my boss, she got furious with me — didn’t correspond to her agenda.

    Anyway, dutifully doing my job, I talked to a couple of dozen Hollywood galz, from editors to studio chiefs to directors to wannabes. Two key findings:

    1) It’s hard for ANYONE to make it big in Hollywood. MILLIONS of people would love to be Hollywood studio chiefs or directors, and only a few dozen actually manage it. The competition makes the competition for slots at Harvard Law look like nothing. It’s beyond mega-ferocious. Why would anyone expect it not to be? And: quel surprise, right?

    2) As far as the women who were actually doing pretty well in Hollywood were concerned, sure you run into plenty of ugly and crude and malicious behavior in the biz — but what do you expect? It’s not a Seven Sisters college, it’s the movie business. The gals who were successes generally felt that anti-gal sexism was a minor if not mythical thing. Plus: As you suggest in your posting, money trumps everything. If there’s an actress who’s hot, a gal director with a provocative idea, a gal studio exec with a magic touch … Well, why on earth would anyone in the biz decline to work with them — decline the opportunity to make a fortune?

    BUT — and here’s the punchline — as far as the women who hadn’t gotten very far in the business were concerned, their relative lack of success was almost entirely down to sexism. The sucdessful women: things are quite passable if not hunky-dory. The less-successful women: “Our lack of success can only be the consequence of sexism!”

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    • Brundle Guy says:

      I wonder if this has anything to do with one of your favorite topics, the rise of Narcissism. “Obviously I am GREAT, so if I haven’t been able to make, it must be someone ELSE’S fault!” Has “sexism” become the perceived Occam’s Razor response for these people when they haven’t gotten what they’re after?

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  3. >>The competition makes the competition for slots at Harvard Law look like nothing. It’s beyond mega-ferocious.

    A co-worker of mine worked in Hollywood before becoming a lawyer. He was a mid-level development executive for a major director we’ve all heard of. Although he was pretty successful, he couldn’t take the people or the biz. He said the only way to advance in Hollywood is by tearing down the person above you. Thus, you and everyone else had targets on your back, constantly.

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    • Sure. And you’ll get picked on for whatever it is you happen to be sensitive about, just because people are vicious and the stakes are so high, and because that’s the way things work in highly unprincipled, super-competitive arenas. If you’re sensitive about being short, you’ll get picked on for being short. If you’re sensitive about being a woman, you’ll get picked on for being a woman. (Hey, complaining ladies: there’s no Dean of Student Affairs out here in the real world that you can run and cry to.) Basic Real-World Psychology 101.

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      • Brundle Guy says:

        Indeed! It seems to me like if you’re the kind of person who would run straight to entrenched, endemic sexism as a reason for what’s keeping you back, you’re probably not the kind of person who was ever going to make it in Hollywood, regardless. That shows a thin skin that tends to get eaten alive in those kinds of waters.

        And this sort of touches on another aspect of what annoys me about these articles, they don’t seem to be looking for any actual answer or action. What do they honestly want? Should there be a Dean of Movie Affairs that makes sure there’s a lady directing every other major studio release? Should executives just start turning over big franchises to any female director? I like Mary Harron a lot and think she’s a good director, but I don’t think that she’s the person to direct the next Batman or Star Trek movie. And what if the movie doesn’t do well? Are we going to call the entire audience sexist as well?

        A fascinating thing nobody brings up in these articles (Not even me in mine!) is that directors are unseen forces, and most audiences don’t give two shits about who has directed a movie. Consequently, as far as audiences go, directors should be a blind taste test. If a woman and a man both direct a romantic comedy or an action movie or whatever, and the man’s does better, it becomes harder to call sexism because most people probably don’t even know the director’s gender. I suppose if you firmly believe in the hyper-entrenched sexism of Hollywood you could argue that the studios might put more backing into the male-directed movie just because the director is male, but again, that makes very little sense to me. Does any logical person think a studio would dial down their money making machine and settle for smaller profits just because they don’t like icky girls?

        I dunno. This whole thing just seems weird to me.

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