Who owns sexism?

By: Nikki W.

Last week I griped about prime time sexism on television. Now Think Progress’ Alyssa Rosenberg takes a step back and wonders about  “The Need For Gender Equality In Television” focusing on women behind the scenes.

This fall, an analysis by the Directors Guild of America found that white women directed just 11 percent of television episodes in the 2010-2011 television season, and women of color directed just 1 percent of episodes. Non-white men directed 11 percent of episodes of television shows.

The numbers are a little better for writers (and in television, writers normally have more influence over the overall content of an episode than directors). According to the Writers Guild of America, West, in 2009, 28 percent of television writers were women, a number that’s stayed the same since 2006. But even as the number of women who are writing for television has stayed the same, the pay gap between women and men who write for television has increased. In 2007, the median salary for a woman television writer was $5,109 less than the median man’s salary. By 2009, that gap was up to $9,400.

The question, therefore, isn’t just whether the depictions of women on television are sexist or feminist. It’s whether this increase in shows portraying women actually help more women get writing and directing jobs in the notoriously male-dominated television industry. (emphasis mine)

Of course I agree with Rosenberg’s look beyond the products to the producers, but I think there’s a key element in that production line missing. If we suggest that increasing the number of women ON television might increase the number of women BEHIND television, thereby effecting a change in how sexist or feminist television shows might be, we excuse men from the process entirely, except as Upholders of the Status Quo. Set aside the question about women behind the scenes and focus on the men behind the scenes, who are definitely still in power in the media and it’s that power structure that should be held accountable for the current portrayal of women on TV.

Men can be feminists, too! They should be, and they should translate that from being happy to have a wife who works to being adamant that their creative work product not amplify stereotypes that hurt women and girls. The question is: where are the male voices of power saying that sexist television is not entertainment? Yes, when women gain power they gain responsibility for systemic change, but those currently running the system are also responsible. Right now, perhaps the best woman for the job is a man.

Do you think there are good examples of men who write, direct, and produce strong female characters?

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