The upsides? The Black Board and Go Into The Story have been keeping the issue of diversity in screenwriting top of mind. This is a great thing. If you don’t regularly read/post to those, they are great screenwriting resources.
In fact, Go Into The Story recently had a post about female screenwriters and for names of female screenwriters to further the discussion. Feel free to go over there and add to the list. A few off the top of my head:
- Aline Brosh McKenna
- Tina Fey
- Katie Dippold
- Annie Mumlo
- Terri Edda Miller
- Shonda Rhimes
- Jane Espenson
- Dana Fox
- Vanessa Taylor
- Greta Gerwig
- Amy Jump
- Melissa Stack
- Melisa Wallack
- Maggie Carrey
- Nia Vardalos
- Lake Bell
- Dee Rees
- Emma Thompson
- Julie Delpy
- Nicole Holofcenre
- Rashida Jones
- Jennifer Lee
- Jennifer Westfeldt
- Everyone who made The Athena List this year
(By the way, if you start typing in female screenwriters into Google, you’ll get “female serial killers” as a recommend first. Nooooice.)
There are more screenwriters than these. Lots more. And the best way I can think of for any writer to get attention is genuine old-school hype. Anyone can be a hype machine for female writers. I think women are lacking in hype. So, that’s an easy fix.
For outlets like Go Into The Story who talk to filmmakers , whenever you interview a female writer, ask her about other writers she loves. I imagine that should lead to more writers who deserving of the attention. And so on. Writers are talking about this in all kinds of forums, including Done Deal Pro. That’s a great thing.
Every little bit helps.
The not-as-far-upside? I’ve noticed an… interesting trend. I get the hype emails from The Black List (not the weekly pro versions but the general hype ones for all members that are published biweekly… I think?) There haven’t been many of them as of yet, and I do think the email is an awesome idea… but haven’t all the hyped scripts been written by men?
I am a big fan of The Black List and this doesn’t feel like anything deliberately structured to exclude women, but it’s still tough to understand. Is the quantity (or quality) just not there? I feel like the deals and the folks who’ve gotten attention from the (let’s call it non-industry) BL have generally been men. Feel free to correct any of this- I don’t have any stats in front of me…
I feel like this is a good time to expand on where I’m coming from a little bit, and a couple of reasons why I’m hyper-aware about any/all of this. I don’t like to talk about my personal experiences much. I’ve lived a life that I’ve really enjoyed, though it’s probably woefully boring to many. But you need to understand a tiny bit about me at this point. So, here goes.
First, a crazy fact: When each of my grandmothers was born, continuing even past the time they were old enough to marry, they were not people. The law didn’t recognize them as human beings. Think about that, just for one second. My parents’s mothers couldn’t vote, drive, choose a vocation or living arrangements. A short century ago, women like me (and any woman reading this right now) existed only as property.
Honestly, I can’t even fathom this. This is not even a thought that registers in my brain. I was always told I could do anything if I worked hard enough. I believed that. I don’t even think I grasped gender inequality as a concept for a very long time.
I admit, I was extremely lucky- I certainly didn’t experience any kind of treatment that registered as institutional gender inequality until I was in my 20s.
But, when it happened, it washed a tint over my whole understanding of life. It became the horror you cannot unsee.
It started off innocently enough. An upper-level manager at a part-time job made a comment to my manager that I didn’t smile enough. Weird, right? I did a good job- I was helpful, efficient and polite. Lots of customers and those I’d worked with had communicated to management how happy they were with me. I was further confused because the men who worked there were far more dour than I. They hardly smiled, but they got better shifts. They got more and better hours, and promotions to management. And I was still being berated at every turn for things no one could ever properly explain, as were many of the other women who worked there.
Being oblivious as I was then, I set up a meeting with the manager in question to ask how he thought I could improve. The issues he was raising about me were getting worse, though no one else noticed these things. His advice? Go out and get another job, get more experience, and come back and work in another department. That was his advice. Not joking.
I was already the most experienced worker there by far, but it took that meeting for me to finally understand- I was never going to be treated equally. The men were treated well across the board. The women were not. That’s how it was and everyone knew it. Still, I fought against it, and it took a ton of discriminatory action against me before I finally walked away from that toxicity.
That is certainly turn-of-the-century behaviour but, you’d hope, not turn of the 21st century. Keep in mind, this happened in the 2000s. Still, I thought to myself that’s got to be an aberration. That’s one person in one place.
But moving into a string of big-deal corporate jobs did not help that viewpoint, unfortunately. I think back to two different corporate-type female managers I’d had during that time, and I better understand their poor-management paranoia now. Their incompetencies were constantly magnified through the lens of their gender, and they may have wondered privately (as often as those around them openly did) if they were promoted into their position because they were legacy hires, or diversity hires, or because they were easily manipulated yes-people who were sleeping their way to the middle. Their gender never had anything to do with their paucity of management ability, but their own fear of how they arrived at their position might have done them in.
Though, in the ironic twist to end all ironic twists, it was none of these things that started me down the road that begins and ends here at The Twelve Percent. It was my last 9-5 (as of this writing, at least), that was fronted with the look of progress but was grotesquely sexist under the surface. That was my last step before this one.
It was a place where plenty of women worked, but all the managers were men. The vendors were all men. The leaders and innovators were all men. I was told I was intimidating, but it wasn’t my fault, because “some cultures just don’t respect women”. I lost count of how many times I ran into a woman either crying or raging in a semi-private space at that job, upset that they were not being treated fairly.
My memory is probably faulty on the timing, but I recall it as if it all hit me at once- Why on earth is a 21st century corporation run entirely by men? Why are women still so expectantly ghettoed into talking about spas and nail polish so frequently? Why is someone treating me, a dependable and hard worker with nearly twenty years of editorial experience, like I’m the group secretary because I’m the only woman in this department?
What on earth is going on?
After telling you all this, I’m not going to lie now- it was this job that finally shattered my heart. I thought I had found the place I would spend a massive chunk of the height of my editorial career. Instead, it was the place where my 9-5 life ended. I threw myself into writing screenplays and comics, and I put my house up for sale. I got used to being (very) broke and that some of my so-called friends were suddenly nowhere to be found. I decided that if I was going to be treated like a failure, I would at least give myself a job that would allow me to fail fairly. On my own terms.
So, being totally honest, even if screenwriting ends up being the most sexist, vile, worst of the worst place to be… Well, it won’t be. I’ve seen things go wrong, and it hasn’t killed me just yet. I’ll keep looking for the upsides and finding ways to be the change.
I don’t think we need to wait for two more generations to pass until we realize how far we still need to go. It doesn’t matter if it; a hill or a mountain, you can still make progress with every single step.