Sexism has ended in Hollywood! Er….no

It was a great week end for media coverage of women in the newspapers. I particularly liked this article from Paul Harris in The Guardian newspaper, although others picked up on this story too. Here it is, edited down although the link will take you to the full story on line:

“Hollywood Women Unite to Break Through the Celluloid Ceiling

With female scriptwriters behind some of the biggest movies, from Juno to Kung Fu Panda 2, it seems the sexism barrier has been lifted. But has it?

Next week the Athena Film Festival will open at Barnard College in New York. The showcase, which commences on 9 February and is in its second year, is aimed at celebrating women film-makers and rewarding their art and successes. It will consist of screenings, awards and the usual parties, but with a feminist slant. Among those getting accolades will be a group of women in Hollywood known as “the Fempire“.

The Fempire consists of screenwriters Diablo Cody, Dana Fox, Liz Meriwether and Lorene Scafaria, who between them have worked on films that range from the quirky indie smash hit Juno to the big mainstream Hollywood comedy Couples Retreat. According to Melissa Silverstein, co-founder of the Athena festival, and the woman behind the acclaimed Women and Hollywood blog, the four women’s award will include the words: “For their creativity and their sisterhood.”

It is the word “sisterhood” that is key. The talent possessed by the women is not in doubt. It is their self-conscious decision openly to promote themselves in solidarity with other women that is different in a movie world dominated by men. It also goes against an enduring Hollywood myth: that women let into the Tinseltown boys’ club won’t help each other out. “There is a mythology that women can’t be friends with each other because they have to compete for jobs. We have to get beyond that,” said Silverstein.

The latest Celluloid Ceiling figures for the top 250 US films produced in 2011 have just been released. They make grim reading. Women made up only 5% of Hollywood directors last year, a drop from 7% in 2010. Even as far back as 1998 the figure was 7%.

“That is a kick in the gut,” said Silverstein. But elsewhere progress is hardly fast-track. In total, women made up 18% of behind-the-scenes roles in Hollywood in 2011 – against 16% in 2010. But that, again, is only an increase of one percentage point over 1998. About 38% of films employed one or no women in the senior jobs that the survey studied.

Overwhelmingly, the pattern in Hollywood is not of progress towards greater female empowerment, but of stagnation or even retreat. In this context the huge amounts of publicity given to the work of women like Bigelow and Hardwicke seem like tokenism at best. “People tend to see them as evidence of creeping progress, that things get a little better each year, and so then we don’t need to think of it as a problem,” said Lauzen. “But in reality the numbers are stable. Surprisingly so. And the number of women directors is actually going down.”

But the decision of women in Hollywood to start forming their own networks raises the question of why Hollywood remains so gender-divided. Of course, it is not alone. Numerous commentators in Davos last week at the World Economic Forum have noted the lack of women present as the planet’s major woes are discussed. In fact, at Davos only 17% of delegates are women. Meanwhile, it has been pointed out that about 84% of guests and reporters on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme are men. But at least in some of these areas progress is being made. In Davos the number of women attending, despite being so small, was at its highest yet – up from 9% in 2002.

Hooray for Hollywood?

Meanwhile Hollywood still stands out in its intransigence and – at the high-profile level of director – for going backwards. There is likely to be no easy solution. “I don’t think there is a magic bullet,” said Lauzen, citing Hollywood studio’s testosterone-fuelled corporate culture and it’s “clubbable” atmosphere.

Silverstein agrees: “It is a very small club and there are very few woman decision makers at the top level.”

Both Lauzen and Silverstein believe that true change in the film industry– which lags notably behind television – will mean getting women into more behind-the-scenes roles, especially powerful positions. Of course, that is precisely where the groups like the Fempire and Maven Films will come in. Women have to start projects and help other women along, gradually transforming the world behind the camera so their choices and tastes can eventually affect the world in front of it.

They also have to defeat the idea that women are only good at movies that women are believed likely to watch. After all, Bigelow’s Oscar-winner was a war film and the biggest female-directed hit last year was Kung Fu Panda 2, a family animation feature not aimed at a specific gender market.


There are also a few signs of optimism elsewhere in the ecology of Hollywood. While the giant studios that produce and market most of the main Hollywood films are bastions of male dominance, especially the higher up you go, the media that reports on those behemoths is increasingly woman-led. In fact, many of the highest profile Hollywood journalists are women. Queen of the pile is the legendary Nikki Finke, founder and editor of the website Deadline Hollywood. Then there is Sharon Waxman, editor in chief of its rival website The Wrap. Meanwhile, Bonnie Fuller has started the gossip website Hollywood Life. But it’s not just online that women rule the roost. At the Hollywood Reporter – often considered the trade bible of the movie industry — the editorial director is Janice Min. This mini power-shift has itself led to the occasional sexist backlash.

But for now a lack of women in power in Hollywood is still hiding behind the success of a few big names. “You don’t see a lot of overt sexism. But you do see a lot of denial,” said Lauzen. ” End of article

So it’s not just our own dear BBC that is playing down women’s contributions. In fact, I see it everywhere. As an exercise I took a look through through my liberal type newspaper this morning. A good quarter of the paper is devoted to sport but there was not one woman’s sport featured, not even a hint. It was as if women don’t play sport at all… Fortunately this same newspaper managed to find space for some fashion shots of young under weight women wearing unwearable clothes (that’s a contradiction, I know but I’m on a roll here!)

Speak Up

I’ll say it again; wanting women to have a transparently fair opportunity is not about doing men down. It’s about trying to raise awareness of the issues and practices which are so long ingrained that most of us don’t even see it any more. My Speak Up course is emphatically not about putting men down; it’s about putting women up. We’ll be looking at some of the issues for ambitious women in the workplace and, together with the latest research, coming up with strategies which will work for individuals. We can’t change the whole of society but we can make a start!

Full details of the Speak Up one day course for women, at the gorgeous Royal Crescent Hotel are available by clicking here.


Posted on February 2nd, 2012 by

One Response to “Sexism has ended in Hollywood! Er….no”

  1. Jim Connolly says:

    Hi Jane.

    I have always found it amazing that an industry like film making, which is known for being extremely liberal, is SO SLOW when it comes to sexual equality.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post, my friend.

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