Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1036: Is Spexism Sexism Or Something We're Not Seeing?

Folks are fuming over two recent developments about women in Hollywood. Sales of spec scripts by women are at an all time low, and there is only one movie coming out this summer with female leads, and that's The Heat with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. However even that has fallen victim to some really bizarre photoshopping by the advertising agency.
What's wrong with her neck & head?

If you go only by the breathless headlines of these stories you'd be inclined to form a mental picture of the men who run Hollywood meeting in a smoke-filled back room of an upscale eatery and the chairman of this penile cabal declaring:

Artist's conception of the group who decide the fate of women in Hollywood
"There are just too many chicks writing movies and buying tickets to movies, so let's stop buying scripts written by women, and make sure that only one summer movie this year has women in the lead roles. That'll teach the women folk to get out of the kitchen and wear shoes!"

However, reality says something much more complicated. 

The first point is that there is too much greed and stupidity in Hollywood for the men, and yes, it is disproportionately men, who run Hollywood to conspire about anything.

However, that same greed and stupidity does play a role in the position of women in Hollywood, though not in the way that you might think. Which I will get to in a bit.

These developments remind of another point that is constantly cited as evidence of sexist conspiracies and that's the whole "A woman only makes only 75¢ for every dollar made by a man." 

People love to point at that and say: "See, proof! There's a de-facto 25% penis bonus in every man's paycheque. That's why you must vote for me or be a sexist pig!" 

However, those who like to cite that stat, don't wonder why greedy businessmen don't just hire more women to get out of paying 25% more for penises, and they also don't go into the factors that went into coming up with that number. These are the things you don't see...

Women are more likely than men to leave the workforce for extended periods of time to have families. Women are more likely than men to take jobs that have lower pay in exchange for what they, as individuals, believe is a better quality of life for themselves. 

Women are also less likely than men to take jobs as sandhogs digging tunnels or as oil rig roughnecks. Those are jobs that pay a lot of money, but usually involve extremely harsh working conditions as well as serious risk of life and limb, and many say that most women have too much common sense to want those kinds of jobs. Those factors skew salary statistics so much that the dream of a dollar for dollar parity may be a mathematical impossibility without a single act of oppression involved.
Actually, it's very complex you liar.

So now that we know that, we must realize that this issue is a lot more complicated than the simple Good Woman oppressed by Evil Man paradigm that people want you to believe.

As for spec scripts and female leads we are running on certain assumptions.

Women are more than 50% of the population so by that logic over 50% of spec-scripts should be written by women, and over 50% of the finished films should have female leads.

That sounds fine and would be true if everything follows simple patterns, but there is nothing simple in the real world.

Yes spec screenplays by women are down. That's happened, to just say that sexism is the cause is an over simplification because it doesn't acknowledge these questions from economics and history.

Why leave out or offend over 50% of the audience especially when demographic research shows that women have disproportionately greater purchasing power and influence than men as evidenced by trends in advertising?

How come during exponentially more sexist times like the 1930s the movies and the box office were dominated by female stars and female-themed movies?

Hmmm.... makes you think doesn't it?

Then there are the other factors...

1. The studios are becoming more and more dependent on big budget, bombastic blockbuster franchises with toy and merchandise potential. That means the whole spec script market is down unless it's related to some pre-existing sequel generating franchise or has the potential to become one. That means science-fiction and comic book style action scripts and occasional smaller scale gross out comedies over everything.

2. The genres that are traditionally seen as "female" like dramas, suspense thrillers, and romantic comedies just aren't getting made as much as they used to be because they don't really bode well for sequels and, outside of certain kinds of product placement, they don't move merchandise. Which is greedy and stupid on the part of the studios because they traditionally cost less than big franchise blockbusters, and can often have wider profit margins and improve bottom lines over-all if you find the balance of releasing enough volume without saturating the market.

3. While the studios are cutting down on movies that appeal to women, the market for books for women is exploding. Women writers who would have written a spec script 10 years ago, are now writing novels instead. In novel writing they're not bound by budget, MPAA ratings, subject matter, or the notes of people who only got their job because they joined the right fraternity at Harvard.

4. Then there's television which is undergoing a golden age in both quantity and quality. There are not only shows that appeal to women, are written by women, produced by women, and star women, there are whole television channels geared towards women. Many women who would have been trying to shill spec scripts for features are now working the less glamorous but potentially more fertile fields of television.

Now these are just the factors I'm rhyming off the top of my head. There are probably dozens more that I didn't think of, and while sexism may be a factor somewhere, it's probably not the driving force behind it.
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