When a journalist discovered that the FX network had the worst record for hiring women directors, the network’s President was horrified. Within a year, instead of being 89% male and 11% female, it was 50/50.
That’s one of the things I learned in the 2018 documentary, This Changes Everything. It’s about gender disparity in the movie industry. “So what?”, one might ask. But that’s why you’d need to watch the film. It was backed by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and includes the woman herself, along with other acting and directing powerhouses. Women used to dominate the movie and TV industry when it was young. Deliberately, systematically, they were squeezed out. That means fewer stories about women. Fewer little girls watching stories that reflect their lives and fewer little boys seeing females depicted as anything more than a lead character’s girlfriend.
What it will take to change this not just in entertainment but in all types or work, is for the men in power to acknowledge their unearned privilege just by being male. And, in most cases, white. It’s difficult for many men to accept this because they feel like they’re losing something. In fact, the gains are great. And if you dare to utter the words “reverse discrimination” I’ll wash out your mouth with soap and pity you for your ignorance.
The doc prompted me to think about my own experiences as a woman in the male dominated industry of broadcasting. I’ve written before about being asked to call myself, Midnight Cowgirl, The Trucker’s Friend, on an overnight radio show. (I refused.) How a Program Director thought nothing of telling announcers to never play records by two female artists back to back. The male PD didn’t see the irony in telling me because, “it’s too hard on the ears”. Women were always the “other” and men were the “norm”. It was common for a job posting to read Morning Man. Arbitrary snap decisions were made all through my career that affected me and other women negatively in ways only we could notice. Certainly not by everyone. But at every station, at some point. It was routine.
Times changed and many more women got on the air but not in big numbers in the boardroom. I worked for a major company whose unofficial (but well known) rule from the CEO was that no woman on staff made more than $40k. I was there when a woman “broke” that barrier. Meanwhile, for male employees, the sky was the salary limit.
My male GM in Wingham was ahead of his time. He promoted me to Program Director when the only other female PD in Canada was Sharon Taylor in Toronto. But meetings were brutal. Older, male managers openly belittled me, stole my ideas and passed them off as their own,. They shut me out of crucial decisions. They would have taken me under their wing only to suffocate me. Only a couple of male peers, Matt Miller and Scott Pettigrew, helped me survive it until I fled back to a purely on air role.
When the Audience is Sexist
And it’s not just colleagues and supervisors. It’s listeners too. Social media has made anyone in a public role – and by and large they go after women – a target for critics. They want to comment on our hair, our clothes, our weight. Regardless of our education level or knowledge, they’ll tell us we’re stupid. I was on the receiving end of sexism by social media, text, and email every single week, sometimes daily.
Three times in my career someone has threatened my life. Police caught the first one: a psychiatric patient who picked me at random along with several others. The second, an elderly woman who, when she finally saw me in person, tried to hit me with her umbrella. She wasn’t capable of deadly force!
The most recent one singled me out for being female. He blamed me for the changes at his beloved radio station and attacked me with vulgarities and threats. For some reason I’ll never understand, he called me a “Christ-hater”. He hated women and blamed them for everything wrong in his life. He knew my routine. I was typically the first one at the station in the dark of morning, alone, vulnerable. This was how I found out that the security camera at the radio station was connected to…nothing. I had to ask myself – did I want to be right or did I want to be safe?
So, I unblocked the man long enough to send a sincere-sounding apology. I was sorry for nothing but tired of being scared. He melted when I said sorry and promised to leave me alone. He didn’t contact me again.
Women on the Edge
I don’t know the stats on females in decision-making positions in radio now. I only know individual stories of middle-manager women who are not being supported by their male supervisors. There are exceptions. Some male executives have deliberately hired bright, competent people who happen to be women, rather than bring mirror images along for the ride.
A great example is Rogers radio, where Julie Adam has earned her way up to the top of the food chain and has many women on her team. Women who have the right to be there. No one has to exclude a better-qualified man in order to promote a woman. Bias has kept countless qualified women out of decision-making positions. Promoting them on merit could be done quickly and with great results.
The Bottom Line
So, what happened to the FX network when the heterosexual, white male in charge changed their hiring practices? FX received 50 Emmy nominations and had their most financially successful year ever. Inclusion is better, period. Whether it’s race, sexual orientation of gender, it’s just better when we are all on equal footing.