Another week, another batch of powerful, high-profile men in the entertainment industry accused of sexual misconduct. One of them even wore a TIME’S UP pin at the Golden Globe awards. Awkward.
If you’re not yet familiar, TIME’S UP is an initiative spearheaded by prominent women in the entertainment industry. It has legal, legislative, and policy branches to address sexual harassment, assault, and inequality in the workplace, in Hollywood and beyond.
For some hard numbers around why change is desperately needed, this piece in The Atlantic, about the hard math of women’s status and involvement in the entertainment business, makes for illuminating reading.
Notwithstanding the high profile of a Shonda Rhimes, Samantha Bee, or Patty Jenkins, the reality is that women are few and far between beyond (or behind) the silver screen. From directors to editors to gaffers, it’s very male dominated. Entertainment is hardly a unique industry in this regard.
Even those relatively wealthy and high-profile women on screen regularly get paid less than their male co-stars. They have been subjected to “casting couch” tactics for as long as there’s been a Hollywood (and risk their careers and safety if they say no). They’re expected to conform to insane beauty standards, and denied many good career opportunities after age 40. Or maybe 30.
You know what crazy thought went through my mind? Even with all of that, despite the fact that many, many films fail the Bechdel Test, and despite the fact that Hollywood has a long tradition of objectifying, marginalizing, threatening, abusing, harassing, underpaying, and punishing women, Hollywood might still be in better shape to address these issues than the tech industry.
At least Hollywood types don’t believe they can make TV shows and movies entirely without women. Not sure tech can claim that.
Wasn’t much of a stretch for women in tech to adapt the Bechdel Test for tech conferences: two women speaking on the same panel, which isn’t about women in tech. Raise your hand if you’ve been to a conference or on a panel that failed that one. Thought so.
Why are tech conferences the only place where there’s never a line for the women’s washroom? How many conferences have a code of conduct (that actually gets enforced)?
Canadian-born Mary Pickford may have co-founded United Artists film studio and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but instead of being remembered alongside pioneers of the industry like Louis B. Mayer, she’s “America’s Sweetheart.”
These problems aren’t even remotely new. Don’t let the occasional semi-fictionalized Hidden Figures fool you.
How many sweethearts does the tech industry have? How many tech companies have been founded with zero women involved at all?
When women are hired, does Marketing or HR stand in for best actress or best supporting actress? What are the percentages of women doing security, development, engineering, testing, network maintenance?
Per that Atlantic article, 88 per cent of the top 250 films of 2017 did not have a female director. Care to place any bets on whether women in tech management, especially at C-level, exceeds 12 percent?
The few successful women the tech industry does boast aren’t much different from the A-list actresses who get approached for all the plum roles (if they’re favoured at the time).
We invite the same handful of women any time a keynote speaker, panelist, competition judge, etc., is needed, though with a lot less money involved than for your average blockbuster.
When something has been the norm for a long time, why would those benefiting want it to change? Why would men with good unionized jobs in the entertainment biz, or who’ve earned their way into a rare and coveted spot in a writers’ room, want to give that up, or upset the brotherhood camaraderie by messing with the demographic equation?
Also, when the status quo has been thus for a long time, it comes to seem like the natural order of things to many. Just as isolated populations in the natural world tend to get weirder and more extreme, so do isolated populations of workers or ideas.
When people of extreme privilege with a very specific view of the world make creative or business decisions (in the entertainment industry), the public ends up with another stoner bro film or whitewashing of history or literature.
In tech, apps are created to “reinvent” public transportation, roommates, or corner stores. Health monitors are launched that don’t include functionality for menstruation (because so few humans do that…). This is what happens when all the voices at the table are the same.
These folks created companies to tackle problems they don’t personally have, or tell stories that aren’t theirs. (Or per the stoner bros, tell stories that may be very much theirs.) The results are often eye-rollingly lame at best, and at worst, actively damaging and offensive.
But those kinds of movies and companies still get funded. Those pulling the strings think the world just needs their particular genius and hustle to make the mega hits or change the world.
Tech doesn’t have a TIME’S UP initiative that I can think of. (If there is one, its PR sucks. And no, Lean In is not that.) When women do take on the industry, don’t bet on it ending well. Something former VC partner and Reddit CEO Ellen Pao could write the book on. Oh wait, she already did.
In addition to a number of high-profile women, the TIME’S UP initiative has the likes of Steven Spielberg behind it (or at least donating to it). Perhaps those ranks of influential male allies will grow over time.
If a similar initiative to TIME’S UP existed in tech, I’m not sure who the comparable male allies would be. Having the kings of Facebook, Google or Amazon jumping on board feels … unlikely.
Perhaps locally, though, instead of wondering who might catalyze such a movement, or who would be a great ally, our better goal would be to focus on building a smart, just industry that doesn’t need a TIME’S UP in the first place.
Hopefully it’s a more realistic dream than that of achieving Hollywood stardom.
M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or firstname.lastname@example.org.