There’s been yet more talk of gender quotas in the film and TV industry; one writer thinks it’s about time.
It’s that time again. Following on from the BBC banning panel shows from their usual trick of including only men from the boys’ club of comedy, gender discrimination in the film and television industry is back up for discussion. The BBC acted when it was shown that just 10% of panel show guests were women, and this year’s Cannes Film Festival has offered up some equally disappointing statistics in the wake of three extensive reports undertaken by the EAO, the CNC of France, and the British Film Institute (BFI). Women average 16.1% of director chairs in Europe, in the UK just 13% of television drama has a woman behind it, and during the festival itself, there were just two women with films in the main competition.
Men already benefit from so-called positive discrimination. There are no quotas for them to fill, no diversity measures taken
It’s not just behind the scenes either. In 2013, just 15% of all protagonists and 30% of all speaking characters in the top grossing 100 films were women. It’s clear from the numbers that something needs to be done. That dreaded phrase ‘gender quotas’ has been floated around. People reacted with their usual “but positive discrimination!” horror, suddenly lit up with a fear of untalented and undeserving women being offered jobs without merit simply because of that great evil, political correctness (or as I like to call it, really just treating everyone with respect and not being a jerk-ness). But here’s what I say: bring it on.
Because it’s almost a tired cliché these days, isn’t it? We joke about it. Rich white men: won’t someone think of them? It must be really very tough after all, going from knowing you – or, at the very least, people who look and think like you – occupy 100% of powerful roles to occupying a mere 87%. Slowly and quietly, other voices will start trying to make themselves heard. If they’re loud enough, if there are enough of them, maybe we’ll start shifting away from the default assumption that the male view is the norm. This is how men already benefit from a so-called positive discrimination. There are no quotas there for them to fill, no diversity measures taken to increase their presence in the work place.
But from the initial shock around women taking up “men’s” work during world wars, to the glass ceiling, to the fact that still, even today, women are consistently paid less for doing the same roles as men (last year the gender pay gap actually widened for the first time since 2008), the figure of the regular, ideal worker has been a man. White men in particular have a history of working, earning, and being the bread-winner, where women and people of colour do not. You know the stereotype. Man goes out to work, woman stays at home and cleans and has his dinner on the table for him as soon as he gets home.
To anyone who worries the film and TV industry will suddenly be awash with women: open your eyes. There’s no lack of talent – it’s a lack of opportunity
Men see other men at the top and can identify with them and believe they can do the same. They see a wide range of male main characters they can relate to. Women see…well, they don’t see other women. Essentially, these men have had years of being given work on the basis of their gender. Of course they’ve worked hard to climb the ladder up to high power and highly paid positions, but for a long time they were the only people offered the chance to do it. If gender discrimination against women still exists in the workplace today, something the film and TV industry demonstrates with depressing clarity, then, at the same time women are disadvantaged by it, men are benefiting.
The point is we don’t all start from the same place: it’s like an Olympic race where the inside lane and outside lane are expected to start and finish in the same position. So let’s finally do something about it – it seems like some kind of gender quota could well be the way to go. What we need is everyone trying to go the same distance, and preferably without the insiders bemoaning how terribly unfair everything suddenly is. And to anyone who suffers from that crippling phobia that the film and TV industry will suddenly be awash with women who have no idea what they’re doing: open your eyes. There’s no lack of talent. It’s a lack of opportunity, and the industry needs to start looking.
More on gender quotas: ‘Positive’ discrimination and the BBC
Featured image: Soda Pictures
Inset image: BBC