Another Teeny Tiny Crack in the Wall of White Men

by Melissa Silverstein on February 5, 2010

in Sexism,TV,Women Writers

Guess David Letterman is feeling the pressure cause he FINALLY hired a woman writer on his staff.

Her name is Jill Goodwin and she has been on the staff since 2001, started first as an assistant to the executive producers and most recently as a writer’s assistant to the staff.

Here’s what a spokesman said to the NY Times about the promotion:

For some time, Ms. Goodwin has been considered to be next in line for a writing job at “Late Show” as soon as there was an opening.

I want to know exactly what some time is and I want to know if there has not been a single male hired in the time she was “next in line.”  I’m gonna bet that some guys were hired.  If I am wrong I will apologize.

I just think the Ms. Goodwin should be giving my friend Nell Scovell a phone call of thanks cause had she not put herself out there and talked about the Letterman work environment I bet this news would still not have happened.

Additionally, Neely Swanson who did development for David E. Kelley and is now an adjunct professor at USC also counted the pilots for next season.  Here’s what she found:

Of the 66 pilots I documented, 13 pilots had at least one female writer as part of the “created by” team; however, of those 66 pilots, only 7 of them were written entirely by women.  You can do the math yourself, but this works out to a high of 20% involvement by women when writing alone and/or with men; and just 11% when written by women without male participation. A closer look at the all the names will reveal one writer of Hispanic origin, three Asian-Americans and an entire absence of African American writers.

As she says this:

This isn’t a glass ceiling, it’s a White Boys’ Club brick wall.

So all of you who think things are hunky dory out in la la land, really need to get a sense of the reality.

Letterman Show Adds a Female Staff Writer (NY Times)

Women Can’t Create and White Men Can’t Jump (Research Wrap Blog)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Julia Jordan February 5, 2010 at 12:33 PM

As the instigator of the Glassberg Sands study and having sat with it and Emily Sands for some time, I need to clarify. Ms. Cohen’s short article did not fully encompass the research and has led to some regrettable confusion. In Emily G. Sands research there is a bit more information to analyze than presented here. The respondents to the audit study rated the artistic quality of the scripts to be equal whether or not they believed them to be written by women. Where the discrimination came in was when the respondents were asked questions about the discrimination of others. They believed the scripts would be less successful out in the world, that top talent would have less interest in them, that they would earn less money and were less likely to be supported by others in the industry. THEREFORE the scripts were deemed to be of lesser value. The female respondents BELIEVE that work by women will be discriminated against and will therefore hurt their own economic standing and or that of their company and so do not promote or produce it in great numbers. They also appear to be unconscious of the behavior. The question is are they right? There seems to be ample evidence that they are wrong in the theater world. The audience appears to have no bias for or against work based on the gender of the writer. They appear to have a bias in FAVOR of plays that are led by FEMALE protagonists no matter who wrote them.

Julia Jordan

sally February 5, 2010 at 1:00 PM

I agree that Nell Scovell should get a basket.

There is a high wall inside most people who can’t believe there is sexism. Sexism is supposed to be from people who don’t dress and act like us. From another time. It can’t be from the fun, smart guys like you knew in school. And it can’t be from other women either. Everyone looks so nice and modern.

I had an interesting conversation with a project manager who is a woman who can’t believe that sexism would prevent a qualified woman from getting a job in new technology. Then when I asked her how many women she has seen at the executive level, the engineer or architect level, or the like in the mainline of creation and promotion, she went “um…….” And the funny thing is, there is a band of generation where it’s gotten worse.

Ironically, in the i-generation, there is an age band where the discrimination got worse in male dominated fields and it’s not getting much press, but if you work in a male-dominated field, you were hit HARDER by layoffs than the men. I know, there’s a lot of press on women getting hit less by layoffs, but that is in female dominated fields. But the real story is, this recession has wiped out a pipeline of women disproportionately in male dominated fields.

I’m betting that everytime there is a layoff or a production halt or a drop in available work, the men get hired at a higher percentage rate (even if you consider 8 or 9 percent of the people were women before, it is less after the layoff), and the number of women and non-whites drop further, so that we can’t even maintain the same sorry percentage of women. And people look the other way. Young and older women cannot assume that the march of progress will naturally continue without any direct action, because this recession has set us back in male dominated fields so that even the pipeline of promotable women are fewer.

Things that are right in front of people’s eyes are being denied until you outright ask the question. We need to be asking and talking. Or…what kind of future will you face in your forties, fifties, sixties, seventies..a trip we all have to take.

CREW February 6, 2010 at 8:59 AM

A lot of us are working in the trenches & getting no love from bloggers and journalists. Please share the stat.’s for crew members sometime.
We count! The crew counts, even if we don’t get articles written about us. If grips don’t do a good job, lights fall on the ones everyone likes to write about. If an AD doesn’t do a good job, people are worked like slaves and run or sit around with no direction. Try to make a film without an AC / focus puller. I could go on and on. The point is, we are important and many of us are women.

There are more and more women looking for jobs outside of what was traditionally a woman’s role in the crew. Not all of us are interested in M/U, Hair, Wardrobe, Script Supervisor jobs. Some of us AD, Grip, Gaff, Boom, AC, DP, etc.
We are few, but our numbers are increasing as more men and women producers and directors are consciously choosing to hire in a non discriminatory way. Read the credits at the end of the movie or click on “full cast and crew” on IMDB.

Keep in mind that some of the greatest directors, producers and even writers began as crew members. Working with directors who haven’t spent time in the crew is horrid and makes the film suffer.
So, please, give us some love.

A woman working in film

Crew member since 1998
Director since 2008
Producer since 2009

Paula February 8, 2010 at 1:05 PM

@ Julia Jordan,

Thank you! Those are critical distinctions. They reveal that, if things are going to change, we have to re-examine our analysis of why things are as they are.

Do you have any insights into how the sort of unconscious and faulty assumptions that you pinpoint can be addressed?

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