Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Our stories, Ourselves

I try to write about women’s issues a lot on this blog – not just because I’m a woman, but because it matters how 51 percent of the population is treated in this world. I would hope that even if I wasn’t a woman I’d still care a lot about women’s issues. Women’s rights, women’s representation, women’s equality – they aren’t just about how women are treated, but what we value as a society. Even though this is mostly just a silly site that merrily muses about effervescent pop culture and pretty, pretty ladies, I try to do my small part to advocate for more, better and total inclusion of women in all forms of entertainment. This year I made an informal resolution to myself to stop watching TV shows that don’t pass the Bechdel Rule. So that killed “Hawaii Five-O” (Grace Park in a bikini is great, but it’d be even greater if she had another regular female castmate to talk with each week.) In TV – where we follow characters for years, not just 90 minutes – it’s even less excusable to not pass the simple test of having two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

But what we see on screen is one thing, what happens behind the screen is another. The simple fact, the undeniable truth is that we women simply are not in command of our own stories. You see, who tells a story matters. Yet according to a new study by the Women’s Media Center, only 8 percent of all film writers are women. That means 92 percent are men, telling all of the stories we see on the screen. In 2009, women directed 7 percent of the top films that year. That’s the same percentage as in 1987, more than two decades ago. Last year, everyone crowed about the great stride for womankind with Kathryn Bigelow’s win as the first woman in 82 years to win an Academy Award for directing. She was only the fourth woman ever to receive the nomination. This year no women were nominated, despite two female-directed films landing best pictures nods. One step forward, yet we’re still looking up from the bottom rung.

These kinds of stark imbalances are sadly not sequestered to the world of entertainment. Women represent less than 25 percent of all op-ed pieces written, 13 percent of Sunday morning news show guests and 3 percent of the decision makers in the media. And we haven’t even reached the halls of real power. Out of 435 members of the House of Representatives, only 79 are women. Out of 100 senators, only 17 are women. We’ve only ever had one female Speaker of the House, who has now been relegated to minority leader. We are still waiting for our first-ever female vice president or president. Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Just yesterday it was revealed in The New York Times that just 13 percent of Wikipedia contributors are women. And Wikipedia is a self-selecting group that can create, edit, contribute at will. So we’re self-selecting ourselves out of 87 percent of the information shared on one of the world’s largest information databases. Fantastic.

These numbers should make us furious. We should be livid. We should demand and accept nothing less than an equal place at the tables of power. Yet, here we are, chugging along. We coexist calmly in the face of inherent inequality. And, sure we frequently bemoan our fate and raise a righteous fuss, but otherwise we kind of just accept it. Maybe it’s that we've been conditioned to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. So we’ve been fooled into not caring. But it matters who tells our stories, who makes our news, who controls our power.

I guess this is my long and rambling way of saying, I’m mad. I think we all should be mad. That informal Bechdel resolution is now a permanent one. Same goes for movies. Same goes for whatever I put out there every day in my small of slices of that media pie. I’m going to try harder, be madder, get louder. Our stories deserve to be told, and we deserve to tell them.


Melinda said...

The really sad thing, media-wise, is that women have been receiving the majority of communications and journalism degrees for three decades. When I was getting my M.A. in journalism, we greatly outnumbered the men, by 9 to 1 in some courses. One male prof, the executive editor of a major magazine, explained that our greatly outnumbering the men had a great deal to do with the fact that a woman needed an M.A. to be taken as seriously as a man with a B.A. or, in some cases, no journalism degree at all. And it's true.

There was a huge study conducted on gender disparities in the newsroom and it discovered a few things:

1. Women hired by men are less qualified than women hired by women b/c straight men are biased by women's looks, flirtation, etc.

2. Women hired by men don't last as long on the job as women hired by women.

3. Women with male editors are significantly less likely to be assigned tough, career-building beats and instead get sent over to the fluff beats and "women's pages."

4. Women are often excluded from the internal social networking needed to make it in the media.

5. Gender attitudes in the newsroom are BEHIND those of general society. (In other words, male journalists, editors, etc. are MORE sexist than the average male.)

We've got a long, long road and a lot of obstacles ahead of us before we make parity.

Christie Keith said...

Wow, Melinda -- I just realized that my first editor was... a woman. Not at all common back in the 80s world of newspapers. When I decided newspaper journalism wasn't for me, I went to a magazine where the editor was another woman. Today, of the three publications I write for most consistently, two of my editors are women and I'm the editor at the third. I've very, very rarely had a male editor in my entire career.

Jay said...

THIS is the real point.

Melinda said...

Christie: Wow! That *is* unusual. I've had mostly female editors but that's mainly due to how much writing I've done for feminist and lesbian publications. Excluding those, more than half of my editors have been men.

Kathryn said...

Great commentary, DS. I had an interesting discussion about feminism with my students the other day, and am going to bring in some of this information as a follow-up.

Anonymous said...

This? This is why I keep on reading you.
Thank you.

Steph Mineart said...

I had some similar thoughts when I was reading about the new Wonder Woman movie - there are so many more opportunities for men to tell womens' stories than there are for women to tell womens' stories. And when women do tell their own stories, it's labeled chick-lit more often than not. That sucks. I've had a similar revolt going on the last few months when it comes to literature - no male authors, female protagonists, fewer male characters.

Which has made my book club (with my wife and 4 straight women) interesting, to say the least.

It hasn't quite come up in open discussion yet when we meet that I'm just opting out of reading male authors and stories with male characters; I kinda wanted to see if the rest of the group would even notice. Turns out everyone has except for one woman, and I think we're all waiting for her to catch on. I'm looking forward to actually discussing it.

dc said...

THanks...just thanks...I'll be linking your blog to all my friends...

Deb said...

Just thought I'd point out that the music in the video is the song "As Cool As I Am" by Dar Williams, a great singer-songwriter.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dorothy,

I did a post on the Bechdel rule a couple of years ago, basically rating my fav shows to the rule. Was kind of interesting. It's here if you care. I still find it hard to find quality TV that comes close to following this rule. IMHO that's not a great comment on today's society.

heart beats said...

Go Dorothy!! I've got your back.

Anonymous said...

I'm angry too!! http://www.writingsofryu.com/2011/01/internalizing-patriarchy.html

Voted for you in the bloggies by the way

Anonymous said...


I do think that's common sense women
should represent about women.
who knows better than?

I had a similar experiences, it wasn't only
me, there is a man who wrote a book,
which the main woman character talks about
woman's value, but the writer was an old man,
so it makes women very up sat, and

the debate fired up on news paper.
so I read the book and felt very disgusting.

no offense to the author but you know,
he tricks using woman character and
tried talk to people woman wants it which
actually he wants.