Feb 2017

Solutions to Gender Inequality and Predatory Behavior – We Do It Together

By Margaret Gardiner

Margaret Gardiner
(l-r) Melissa Goodman, Jennifer Warren, Sharon Waxman, Frances Fisher, Jeremy Kagan, Chiara Tilesi

The day after Alabama chose not to elect Roy Moore to office, due in part to 98% of African American women turning out to make their voices heard, ‘We Do It Together’ and the Alliance of Women Directors, hosted the first in a series of panels to explore solutions to gender inequity and predatory behavior.

Reason for the panel discussion

“Our aim,” explained Chiara Tilesi, Founder and President of We Do It Together, “is to put an action plan or list of solutions together, to propose to organizations, institutions and guilds. This is a historically important moment, and we have the opportunity to make the big shift. In order to do this, we need incorporate two elements: Focusing on the solutions, and doing it together. It is not just” diverse genders and ethnicities, “but also different sectors of our society, businesses and professions. I proposed the idea to Jennifer Warren, the president of the Alliance of Women Directors, who immediately added so much value and insight to it. Together we developed the idea.”

The theme of the first discussion reflected the words Gloria Steinem said to me at the Women’s March in Washington on January 20th, 2017. When I asked her the way forward, she noted, “Women have been asleep. We have woken up and we are never going to sleep again.” Never before have words been so prescient. Within months, Harvey Weinstein was brought down, and a deluge of women came forward, and are still coming forward, with stories we’d been keeping to ourselves or sharing with loved ones, of predatory behavior that was happening at will, with little or no consequences, silent settlements, and an age-old tradition of blaming the victim. In an earlier piece on the topic of harassment* (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-gardiner/why-women-dont-report-sex_b_11112996.html) women addressed the frustration, fear, guilt and isolation of being the recipient of lecherous behavior when simply trying to earn a wage. In many ways the litany of shared stories sounded like the feudal system of a by-gone era where those in power – usually men – saw it as their right to do as they wanted with those within their employ.

The Panelists

The ‘We Do It Together’ panel, hosted by Tilesi, was made up of Jennifer Warren – Founder and President of the Alliance of Women Directors, Melissa Goodman – Director of LGBTQ Gender and Reproductive Justice Project as ACLUSO, Sharon Waxman – Founder and Chief Editor of The WRAP, Jeremy Kagan – writer, producer, director and tenured professor at USC and Frances Fisher – actress, director and activist. One of the questions they explored, is, ‘Why now? What had happened that it’s become okay for women to be heard?

Those very words are explosive as they reflect the micro infractions that women endure up and down society when talking in power circles and social circles, and are ignored, cut off, or talked over. Go to: https://www.goldenglobes.com/entertainment-news/women-hollywood to see the number of high-ranking women addressing solutions, in fields where women generally make up less than 25% of many job titles behind the camera, to understand that the problem is vast and endemic.

Why are women’s voices not heard?

But why have women’s voices not been heard? Sharon Waxman of The Wrap commented on a controversial back and forth between herself and The New York Times** that resulted from a story she wrote while working for them more than a decade ago. She’d tried to include in a story on Weinstein, an exposé of a man in Harvey’s employ who, in her words, was, ‘involved in procuring women’. The story ran “with no reference to women.” As often happens, the people in power, didn’t feel that that part of the story was relevant. Ms Waxman wasn’t throwing shade, merely sharing an experience, and not implying any conclusions about the particular editor at the time nor the venerable newspaper. It simply may have been an editorial choice for any number of journalistic reasons. But it brings up a sediment truth that is part of the larger picture. If the majority of decision makers are white males, huge portions of society may not be getting their truth heard. Nothing against white males; they have been the creators of great things and molded history – but maybe if others had been allowed into the room, white men would not have had to carry the burden. Just saying.

Waxman’s story is just one cloudy example, and maybe not the best one, of how often the male point of view is deemed the only relevant one to consider, and how this plays out in creating a climate where predatory behavior has been swept under the carpet. Small norms have major consequences. For instance, in an interview for GoldenGlobes.com, Nancy Meyers*** referenced that women’s movies are often panned by male critics, decreasing their chances of general viewership. It’s one of those things ‘we all know’ – like the predatory behavior that is excused as, ‘boys being boys’, that we all know about, and talk about, but until recently, was often not acted upon.

How women are made invisible through unequal access

The truth of her words were brought home to me on a recent vacation where there was a discussion of television and films that people enjoyed. The split often went along gender lines, though on television gender choices were more aligned. This highlights a circular ‘known’ that has to change. If some men don’t enjoy what women enjoy, and men determine what is made, and recommend what to see – there are more male critics than women and more male producers and decision makers generally – the entire medium is skewed, and feeds the false concept that women related themes don’t do well at the box office. Women’s movies generally are not advocated by critics who are mostly men, so in theory, may earn less, and then they are less likely to be made, and women are less likely to be empowered behind the camera and enter the power funnel as decision makers. Adding to the inequity is the number of theaters in which women related films run and the duration of their run. If fewer theaters run women related films for a shorter period, it is harder for those films to reach box office bonanzas. But is this idea that women’s movies don’t perform well, actually true?

False ‘Knowns’

There’s a false propagated idea that women and minority themed entertainment doesn’t deliver at the box office. Nancy Meyers’ movies regularly make over $200 million, yet she struggles to get movies funded. Despite Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman pulling in $819 million worldwide****, Mischa Green recently tweeted that she’s meeting resistance getting project support for the action hero, Storm. Storm is of course a woman action hero of color, so likely having to overcome the double fallacy that not only do women-centric films fail to deliver at the box office, but that films showcasing stories of people of color don’t deliver either. Given the success of films like Get Out, The Big Sick, and Hidden Figures to name just a few, and television shows like Atlanta, Black-ish and any Shonda Rhymes show, and the idea that minority-centric entertainment doesn’t deliver viewership, has to also be called out as flagrantly false. To wit, Slated*****, an online film-financing hub, conducted a study between 2010 and 2015 and found that films produced by, written by or starring women, enjoyed a greater average return on investment than those made by men.

Women are a large part of the viewing audience

Women make up 51% of the population. How are their needs being met? Where are their stories? Where are the women protagonists? How are women portrayed in films that do get made? Could it be that the idea that fewer movies skewed toward women get made because fewer women go to movies, be putting the cart before the horse? Maybe fewer women go to movies because there are fewer stories that are being made that women want to see? But the concept of women missing as an audience is also false. The MPAA reported that in 2016 women comprised 52% of all movie goers. In 2014 The MockingJay Part 1 showed the strongest female attendance of the top five films with women making up 57% of the total adult audience, meaning, if you make it, they will come, and giving the powers that be, (Sir, I’m referring to you!), incentive to green light more women centric films generally, and action films with women protagonists, specifically.

The connection between lack of equality and predatory behavior

On the panel, Tilesi noted that most women in film are portrayed as the girlfriend, the wife, the assistant to, or the victim. Research supports this assertion. Again, it is something women talk about and has been a truth for decades. Why is this relevant? If women are portrayed as subordinates, usually victimized, and often sexualized, then is it such a stretch that men in power might feel it’s okay to do as they want with women in their domain? If little boys grow up viewing material where the mother is absent, and boys play video games where women are sexualized, read graphic novels where women are sexualized, view images on the internet where women are sexualized, could this play out in a potent soup of power and entitlement toward women generally? Professor Jeremy Kagan of USC noted that there is a Hopi saying, ‘He who controls the story, rules.’ This is not a new concept. What’s new is that we are stringing links together that make us question our complicity in failing to join forces and evoke change.

No more. Women are stepping up across industries. For the first time the press smells blood and is showcasing these stories women have been telling for eons. That means that it cannot be hidden, explained away, or compromised with a non disclosure contract women have to sign in order to get employment.

Raise your voice

As the scales have tipped to the exposure of some powerful men ravishing at will, with no consequence – one who is on record talking about such behavior and still being elected to the highest office in the United States of America – women have become enraged. Where is decency? There is a Helen Reddy song, that captured the swell of 70’s Women Empowerment entitled, I Am Woman, the first line of which is, ‘I am woman, hear me roar.’ That sound you hear, that in some places is being touted as a witch hunt, or ‘going too far,’ that sound is the beginning of a scared whisper told in subjugated shadows, becoming a roar.

The conclusion of the ‘We Do It Together’ panel discussion at SoHo House in Beverly Hills, summed up by ACLU lawyer, Melissa Goodman, is that it is incumbent on bystanders, men and women, people of all colors and genders, to speak up in the moment and support each other. Not just when infractions are done to you, but when you see it done to another. It is the only way the climate of inequality will change.

Stay tuned for more updates on future panel discussions. Let me know your thoughts. Follow me on Twitter at: @Margaretggg Read about women behind the camera succeeding in entertainment despite making up less than 25% of the industry in most categories in occupations behind the camera on:  https://www.goldenglobes.com/entertainment-news/women-hollywood