THE EEOC INVESTIGATION UNDER TRUMP could go several ways: Trump just appointed Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General. The Attorney General is the boss of the Department of Justice, and the EEOC is a division of the DOJ. On the surface, Sessions looks very bad for civil rights in general— he is on record as being against gay marriage, for example, and I suspect equality is not his passion.
Also, the EEOC’s General Council (head lawyer), David Lopez, announced he will be stepping down in the next six months. This means Trump will be appointing a new General Council, which could be good or bad depending on who he picks. So far all his picks have been very conservative.
Unfortunately, the current head of the EEOC, Jenny Yang, is also soon stepping down so Trump will also be appointing a new Chair. Yang’s key pursuit has been equal pay, and obviously she also has supported the investigation into discrimination against women directors.
Vice president Mike Pence has consistently opposed equal pay, but this contradiction could be good for us. If equal pay efforts in the EEOC are stalled, that could help encourage a new chair to shift the commission’s emphasis onto discrimination against women in Hollywood. As new reports indicate a continued sinking in female director hires in 2016 (Celluloid Ceiling 2017), the problem is more glaring than ever.
One good thing is that the EEOC is a quasi-independent agency under the jurisdiction of the justice department. Independent agencies in our Federal government generally have wide latitude and discretion in what they choose to pursue, however it all depends on who’s running things, and Trump will make those decisions. We can only hope the new EEOC Chair and General Counsel will maintain the commission’s commitment to the investigation.
An interesting consideration is whether Trump will make budget cuts to the EEOC as conservative administrations are apt to do. Historically, when faced with budget cuts, the EEOC tends to pursue high-impact, high-visibility, systemic cases. That could be good for us as our case is precisely those things: high-impact, high-visibility, and systemic.
Add to that the fact that it could advantage Trump to blast a spotlight on liberal, democratic Hollywood hypocrisy in keeping women shut out of the directing profession. He might like to see the Feds go after the studios and networks to shame the industry that stands as the worst violator of Title VII in the United States. Also, supporting the investigation could help Trump improve his dismal reputation among women.
All of these considerations could present auspicious signs.
On the other hand, there have been concerns that the immensity of the threat Trump poses to civil rights in general may trivialize the battle for women directors. This could be a problem, but the EEOC and the ACLU have clearly demonstrated their understanding that all women’s issues and all civil rights issues are profoundly influenced by our entertainment media.
We must press forward with the knowledge that gender equal hiring among U.S. directors and storytellers is the keystone to all American civil rights issues because if women contribute equally to our nation’s storytelling, our cultural narrative will naturally begin to shift all people’s thinking toward a more equitable ethos.
I hope that in this dark time the EEOC will continue to prioritize the investigation, and that the ACLU will not view this important issue as trivial compared to the other daunting challenges they face. Never have American women been more united. We may be experiencing the dawn of the greatest movement feminist movement in American history. Certainly, this is truly our greatest chance to win the most significant battle for equality since suffrage.
It’s all a big chess game. We women must be deft in our moves and keep our eyes on the prize.