By Rena Sternfeld
A few days ago, view the Canadian organization “Women in View”* published its first annual report on the appalling state of under-employment of women in Canadian TV, particularly in content-determining positions: directors, writers, and cinematographers. What astounds the American reader is how closely the problems of gender disparity in the Canadian entertainment industry parallel those of women in Hollywood. Ironically, the numerous differences between U.S. and Canadian equal employment laws and policies, in conjunction with stronger policies of employment gender equity in Canada, indicate that the reasons behind such profound gender disparity in both industries must lie in something beyond law— but what could it be?
An abundance of contemporary research demonstrates that women employed in media industries are disproportionately represented in the stereotypically female occupations—what are known as “caretaking” roles like wardrobe, hair and make-up, rather than in “taking charge” roles such as producers, writers, cinematographers and directors. As the report states: “There is increasing evidence that even when women succeed in establishing themselves in positions of creative authority, they are rarely seen in the top-most echelons; and that, at almost every level, they earn less than their male counterparts.”
The research examined 21 Canadian TV shows reflecting a specific slice of Canadian TV, not including documentaries or animation.
Here are the findings:
- In 11 out of those 21 shows NO WOMAN DIRECTORS were employed in a combined 133 episodes.
- NO minority women were employed as director.
- There were 272 episodes examined, employing 87 directors: 73 men and 14 women, a ratio of five men to every woman. About 16%.
- Women directors were employed on just 34 of those 272 episodes (87.5/12.5 percent)
- The number of directors employed on more than 1 episode in the 2010-2011 season—four (4!). By contrast, 73 men were employed on more than two episodes in the same year.
- NONE of those 21 shows employed a woman cinematographer.
- 13 of the 21 shows focus on male protagonists. Six focus on women, and two have a male/female team.
Why are those findings so important?
These findings are of particular significance because the 21 shows that were examined are receiving the highest levels of investment (between $1 million to $9.1 million per series) from the Canada Media Fund. These 21 series represent a total investment of $100 million of public money in the Canadian television industry. Even though some of the shows on the list are made for American TV, how public funds are allocated is a matter of government policy, and are not supposed to reflect individual prejudice.
The report concludes with the phrase: “My Canada Includes Women” and raises three important points:
1. This is more than an issue of employment equity. “Once they have completed their professional training, undergone their apprenticeships and internships, demonstrated their ability and earned their accreditation, Canadian women have the right to expect fair access to employment and professional fulfillment…”
2. This is more than an issue of industrial development. “Diversifying our labor force not only allows us to draw from a deeper well of talent, but it also better reflects the global marketplace for our cultural products.”
3. Media is more than industry. “Media industries are unique in their power to influence attitudes and behaviors. If they weren’t, corporations wouldn’t invest so much of their marketing budgets there. This makes it critically important to ensure that we are not investing in media products that reinforce narrow stereotypes and outdated mores.”
Recent studies on the employment disparities involving American women in film and TV, reflected by 2012 statistics published by the Directors Guild of America (www.DGA.org) and 2013 numerical analyses of nearly 10,000 of episodic TV shows over the past 70 years by “Women Directors: Navigating the Boys’ Club” (www.womendirectorsinhollywood.com), the employment ratios of male and female directors in the United States and Canada are remarkable similar, even though government policy and TV production financing vary widely.
What is apparent is that both entertainment industries seem to view the job of “film and TV director” as being a “male” role; employment of women in that role is invariably an exception to the rule. Considering the fact that directing films and TV shows is so clearly not gender-specific (the skills involved in directing do not require qualities inherent to either sex), it can only be deduced that sexual discrimination must be at play.
Since neither national equal employment laws nor government efforts toward gender employment parity are making a significant difference in either country, what is the reason for such striking employment disparity? We would suggest that the problem rests in festering, unabated sexual discrimination and widespread conscious and unconscious misogyny. Clearly, new efforts in both the U.S. and Canada must be made to properly enforce both our respective civil rights laws and our equal employment policies.
In a recent interview, Rina Fraticelli boldly stated that there should not be a bigger gender gap than 60/40 for either of the sexes in the Canadian entertainment industry. We women directors from across the border applaud her. It is high time that women in Canada and in the United States—and around the globe— come together to force all nations of the world to create gender parity in the industry that most influences people in all cultures of the world: MEDIA.
* Women in View is a national non-profit organization dedicated to revitalizing the Canadian media industry by strengthening gender and cultural diversity both on screen and behind the scenes.
This report was prepared by Rina Fraticelli (executive director of “Women in View”), Katie McMillan and Kay Armatage. Read the whole report, with graphics, here.