By Lydia Huxley
Much of the best music released over the last five years has been made by women or female-fronted groups. St. Vincent. tUnE-yArDs. Janelle Monae. Mr. Twin Sister. Sharon Van Etten. Sylvan Esso. Deerhoof. GOAT. Radiation City. I could go on forever. 5 of the top 10 highest selling albums of 2014 were made by female artists. Women clearly represent a large portion of interesting, talented, and relevant musicians currently putting out material.
Why then, are women so underrepresented in other media? Where are all the overwhelming numbers of female writers in Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry?
Television and film are still overwhelmingly male dominated. According to a study by the University of Southern California titled ‘Inequality in 700 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race, & LGBT Status from 2007-2014′, women with speaking roles in film were outnumbered 2.3 to 1. Of the top 100 movies released in 2014, only 21 of them featured a woman in the lead role.
This disproportion isn’t limited to on-screen appearances either. Of those 100 movies, only two were directed by women, and the 33 female writers make up just 11.2% of the combined writing staff.
Why Aren’t Women Represented In Film/Television? And what makes music a more likely field to find female writers in than screenwriting? A combination of factors.
Songwriting is most often a self-directed process with little oversight. Ideas don’t need to be reviewed by a panel or approved by an executive, which is almost always the case with writing for television or film. Traditionally, these panels and executives are mostly comprised of men. While musicians can promote their material through a variety of online services, screenwriters typically need contacts. “It’s all about who you know.”
Yael Kohen, author of ‘We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy’, recently explained to NPR’s Michel Martin: “I think when they generate lists of potential writers for a room, they are disproportionately stacked with men…So it’s not that the talent’s not there, it’s just where are you looking for the talent?”
A study conducted in 2003 by three Ohio University professors looked at gender patterns in the media use of teens. They found that 97.6% of girls watched television at least once a week, about 3% more than boys, and the programs viewed by each greatly differed. Boys preferred sports and MTV while girls preferred more writing-based shows such as sitcoms and dramas. From here it is easy to believe Kohen’s claim that there are plenty of talented female writers out there whose skills are not being utilized.
To put an end to the gender discrepancy managers need to make a conscious effort to diversify their writing teams by looking for talent in new places. This would result in better writing that would appeal to a wider audience.
So what does the future hold for female writers in the industry?
Luckily, there has been a recent push to minimize the daunting gap between male and female writers. The American Civil Liberties Union has gotten the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on board for a full government investigation into the obviously discriminatory hiring practices. When they inevitably conclude that women have an inherent disadvantage in the current state of the industry, legislation will likely be proposed to correct it.
In the meantime organizations like Female Filmmakers Initiative are offering programs and resources to encourage women to pursue filmmaking and solve the “scarcity of talent pool and experience” problem.
If any of these efforts end in success we can expect fresh takes on classic cinematic themes as well as ideas that have never found their way onto the big screen or major television channels. Diversity in the writer’s room will manifest as a significantly broadened range of emotion, perspective, concepts, and innovations in entertainment.
It’s about time.
Lydia Huxley is either a writer who loves playing music or a musician who loves writing. Time will tell which one she truly is or if there’s even a difference. You can follow her on twitter @AlsoLydia.