Brit Hume thinks Chris Christie is paying for a “feminized atmosphere,” in which his naturally tough guy (read: male) behavior has been erroneously cast as bullying. Meanwhile, the NY Post’s film critic Kyle Smith’s take on the Golden Globes was that there was just “too much estrogren.” These are just this weekend’s examples of men having a hard time-sharing culture. Sounds an awful lot like my 3-year-old brother, who used to chant, “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!!!”
“Guys [like Christie] who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old-fashioned tough guys,” explains Hume, “Run some risks.” Like being considered massive jerks. Feminists and women are ruining the fun that people have being thuggish and getting away with it. All that being required to be civil, polite, empathetic and considerate is so horribly emasculating. If only women would stop talking so much.
Smith, in the meantime, thinks that the Globes should have just been called “Girls.” Eww. The event, he explains, “was a deep dive into a pool of estrogen.” This is unsurprising, but his response is not uncommon when it comes to perceptions of gender and visibility. This is like my friend, with whom I share a great liking for many HBO series that are almost uniformly dominated by men’s stories, explaining without a shred of irony that “Orange is the New Black” simply has too many women for him to be interested in watching.
You can’t argue with the way people feel. Hume and Smith are not my dinner companions, however and you can argue against perpetuating destructive myths. Between them, Fox News and the New York Post reach tens of millions of people who have just been misinformed by poor framing and false equivalencies.
The Globes red carpet and crowd shots suggested a nice gender parity, everyone seemed to have a spouse or a date, usually of the opposite sex. There were a lot of glamorous and talented women. And they talked.
But, the night was a celebration of an industry in which women are remarkably discriminated against, hypersexualized, and subjected to double standards regarding how they look, age, paid and invested in. Yes, there’s that uncomfortable phrase, “discriminated against.”
First, let’s put Smith’s disgust in context. He makes the miserly complaint that Sandra “Bullock had ten times as much screen time as her costar, Clooney being reduced to playing her coach.” This is the perfect example of how this works. It is a ridiculous distortion of the facts to suggest some sort of equivalence between opportunities for women and men to play lead roles in Hollywood. What Kyle is actually saying, with a straight face, that even one film out of 250, in which a woman is the protagonist and a man is supportive is JUST TOO MUCH. Clooney himself has pointed this gender imbalance out.
Consider these statistics from Women and Hollywood, The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the Writers Guild of America, The Representation Project, and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism five year study, Gender Equality in 500 Popular Films:
- In 2012, men were 95.6 percent of directors, 91.8 percent of writers, and 80 percent of producers. This is a behind the screen ratio of 5 men to every 1 woman behind the camera.
- Just 16.7 percent of the 1,228 directors, writers, and producers of the top-grossing 100 films of 2012 were women.
- Of 2012’s 4,475 speaking characters on screen only 28.4 percent were female. No one has done a word count, but I can guarantee you that the ratio of substantive content is even more deplorable.
- Only 6 percent of the top-grossing films in 2012 featured a balanced cast.
- The top 500 movies showed a ratio of 2.51 males to every 1 female on screen.
- Only 2 of the 10 best picture nominees had stories primarily about women and almost all failed the Bechdel Test — the most basic test of even just the presence of women, not even of stories that feature progressive stories about women.
- Exactly ZERO women were nominated in directing or writing categories for film.
- Only 4 percent of films currently slated for release in 2014 are directed by women.
- All of this takes place in an environment where racial and ethnic diversity is also deplorable. Kerry Washington remains the first woman to play the lead in a television drama in almost 40 years.
- Despite some really amazing female characters on television today, women made up only 18.6 percent of executive producers for television shows in 2011-12, men of all ethnic/racial backgrounds combined, made up 81.4 percent.
- Ten percent of all shows on television have NO women or minority writers and a third have no minority writers at all.
- Only 24 percent of TV pipeline pilots for 2012 had at least one woman writer
It is in this context that Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and every other woman in television and film, works. This not because we have an excess of estrogen or because women aren’t interested, or talented, or ambitious. It’s because we have systemic problems with misogyny and sexism and those problems inform how money is distributed and to whom; whose stories are told and how. Seriously, the man was really complaining of too much estrogen?
Likewise, Hume’s casual concerns about “feminized atmosphere.” In the context being discussed, Hume was referring to the tiptoeing that men like Christie have to engage in to avoid media fiascos like the one he’s currently embroiled in. Media is hardly a “feminized atmosphere.” According to the Women’s Media Center 2013 Status of Women in Media Report, the Fourth Estate Project, The Op-Ed Project, American University’s Women and Politics Institute, Media Matters for America, the Columbia Journalism Review, and Vida:
- Men outnumbered women in front-page byline coverage of the 2012 presidential elections at top newspapers by an almost 3 to 1 margin.
- On Sunday morning talk shows, like the one that Brit Hume specializes in, one survey found that only 25 percent of guests were female. Another concluded that only 14 percent of those interviewed and 29 percent of roundtable guests.
- Radio is similarly dominated by male opinions and voices.
- Women are concentrated in “pink collar” areas in both new and old guard media food, family, furniture and fashion.
- In television, male directors outnumbered females 4 to 1 in a review of 3,100 episodes of prime-time television, broadcast and cable
- In newsrooms, women’s participation has remained static, at roughly 36.5%, since 1999.
- White men write 80% of all major publication op-eds. For example, a review of the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal shows that just one-half of one percent of op-eds were written by Latinos; For The Washington Post, that number was 0 percent. Among those publications, Asian Americans wrote an average of 2 percent; African Americans roughly 5 percent.
- The 2013 VIDA count charts of women writers have to be seen to be believed they are so shameful.
- And, lest we forget, our story telling biases start in childhood literature.
This is not to disparage the fantastic work that male journalists and writers, producers and directors do. But, men apparently really cannot stop talking. They just want to share what they think and want us to listen and like it. Huh. Imagine that.
It’s useful to remember that corporate boards and Congress are similarly composed. No one is running around talking about masculinized spaces that intimidate and disturb women. Those are just our norms, so suck it up, ladies.
But, you know what’s really interesting about these numbers? Despite long debunked myths about women talking more than men, and too much, there is good evidence showing a marked tendency in dialog for a minority of men to take over conversation. They do this in the actual amount of talking being done and through intimidation expressed in tone and rhetoric. One lingers on the brain in particular: early research about how men and women communicate and interact online. Published in 1993 in the journal Gender And Democracy In Computer-Mediated Communication, Susan C. Herring documented these patterns and argued that these tendencies create a type of censorship by making the kind of diverse, public discourse that this necessary for true democracy impossible. Her findings are reinforced by dozens of studies and the reality of our media statistics, which are like personal interactions writ large and systematized.
Here’s a fascinating and helpful little tidbit to mull over. Herring’s work indicated that when women talked just 30% of the time, men thought that were dominating. I just love that. More recently, a 2012 study published in the American Political Science Review, conducted by researchers at Brigham Young and Princeton, confirmed the ways in which women in minority positions are silenced and their opinions disregarded. As researchers put it, “Having a seat at the table (and for women it’s still generally one seat in 12) is very different from having a voice.” In the majority of groups they studied — across a diversity of industries, the duration of time that women spoke was significantly less than their proportional representation and amounted to less than 75 percent of the total time time that men spoke.
What Kyle, Hume and the entire Fox network are expressing is more than just variations on #Maleproverbs that insist women talk too much. First, they demonstrate a profound disinterest in a reality in which male voices overwhelmingly dominate. Second, their opinions are a gross, misleading distortions of this reality that degrade public discourse. It’s barely a hop, skip and a jump away from the Sex Pistol’s Johnny Rotten’s honest remark to an Australian woman newscaster, “Now listen, when a man is talking, do not interrupt.”
Kyle goes on to explain that Poehler and Fey engaged in the “tiresome defense mechanism of female nightclub comics to make it all about gender before their hecklers can.” You know what’s tiresome? SEXISM is tiresome. SEXIST HECKLERS are tiresome. SEXIST media commentators are tiresome. We, women, are tired and have every right to be.
When Fey and Poehler dropped their funny and deadpan joke about Clooney’s inability to date anyone his own age (“‘Gravity’ is nominated for best film. It’s the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”) it was a direct reference to Seth MacFarlane’s disturbing and offensive joke about Clooney and nine-year old Quvenzhane Wallis at the Oscars. When they mocked penises and prosthetics, they were dishing out, in pointed parody, the ridiculously sexist and uncomfortable commentary on women’s bodies. McFarlane’s little ditty “We Saw Your Breasts,” last February set the tone by immediately reducing women to their boobs. My only criticism of their performance is that, calibrated consciously or not to the Oscar debacle, it played by the very rules that they were challenging. But really, it was a response to working, day in and day out, with casual sexism and subjected to double standards.
As for Hume, he expressed an understanding that I believe many boys and men feel: concern that they will do or say something that will “make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever.” This is a legitimate worry, this confusion, and something that I often hear expressed. But expressing it in the way he did is part of the problem and a frequent Fox News habit. Fox is singularly obsessed with the dangers of “feminization.” The issue is not that men have been emasculated by feminists or are disoriented by a “feminized” environment. It’s that we haven’t taught boys why it’s ok and important to adapt. It is that we fail, time and again, and for decades, to entertain serious questions about masculinity as culturally informed. Our media (excuse me, just clearing my throat a bit) continues to rigidly refuse to discuss the ways in which American ideas of masculinity have failed to adapt to our changing society, economy and culture. That’s not feminization, it’s stubborn and destructive nostalgia for uncontested dominance.
There are no shortage of people that feel put upon by the reality that women have ideas and ambitions and the right and ability to express themselves publicly. What is truly shocking though is a superficial defensiveness and calculated know-nothingness that accompanies their resentment. Nor is this a man v. woman problem. There are many men who understand justice and fairness and women, perfectly capable of expressing sexism and racism, who don’t.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m going to spend a lovely evening listening to a panel try and figure out, very timely, “Why are Women Missing from the News.”