Women Directors and the Curse of Twofer Tokenism

115“She’s called Lita Cheata Directorita! You wind her up, put

her on set, and she counts twice– ethnic minority and female!


By Maria Giese, MFA

One of the most important issues facing women directors today is the curse of “Twofer Tokenism.”  The current membership of the Directors Guild of America is comprised of 1,160 women directors, but only a handful of those women are very highly-employed, another 25 women directors manage to make a living, and the remaining 1,125 are mostly unemployed.

The DGA supports the few highly-employed women, including them as leaders on the Guild Councils, Committees and governing Board.  The names of those few women alone are included on special lists disseminated by the DGA Diversity department to producers and showrunners seeking to hire women directors.  In the meantime, the Guild has recently mandated ByLaws that exclude, silence and further marginalize the under-employed women director members of the Guild, women who may be just as qualified and talented.

The most egregious of these bylaws is the “Working in the Trade” requirement, which relegates women who have had a difficult time finding work to the humiliating and stigmatizing category, “No Longer Working in the Trade.”  These women are not included on any lists and cannot even run for elected leadership positions on their own diversity committee, the DGA “Women’s Steering Committee,” which was established in 1979 to serve the needs of those very women.

U.S. Department of Labor Office-of-Labor-Management-Standard regulations which states in Chapter 4 of the Election Guide:

“If a union has a ‘working at the trade’ qualification requiring a member to be employed in the industry in which the union has collective bargaining agreements, the union should consider an unemployed member who is actively seeking employment in the trade to be ‘working at the trade.’

This regulation is a simplified interpretation of the Federal Regulations stated in the Election Provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959: § 452.41   Working at the trade.

It would ordinarily be reasonable for a union to require candidates to be employed at the trade or even to have been so employed for a reasonable period. In applying such a rule an unemployed member is considered to be working at the trade if he is actively seeking such employment…

Having a tiny pool of highly-employed women directors who are provided special status and advantages by the Guild is known as “Tokenism.” Many recent studies have demonstrated how damaging tokenism is to the broader members of a marginalized group.  Advantaging individual women may seem like a good deal to those individuals while they benefit; they may have fought very hard to achieve their privileged position, and they may feel justified in protecting their turf from other women, but it harms the greater good, and the future for women at large.

The problem with tokenism isn’t limited simply to the implication that those select women don’t really deserve their positions. For the most part, it is true that that they have almost certainly worked very hard against innumerable odds to achieve their seat in the boys’ club.  But any woman member of the DGA has, without a doubt, taken on and overcome the same difficult challenges.

The much bigger problem with tokenism is the very serious damage it does to other all other women directors who are seeking employment.  The few token women directors are of little concern to white male directors, as those women are positioned specifically to compete with each other for the few TV episodes allotted them. They do not stand as a threat to their male counterparts who already enjoy a virtually guaranteed lion’s share of the employment “pie.”  The only competitors these women really face are other women.

This problem is exacerbated by the Guild’s emphasis of “Twofer Tokenism” which is sometimes abused.  The fact that some women directors only claim to be women of ethnicity is not carefully considered.Blends of ethnicity in melting pot America are difficult to discern, and some women make the ethnicity cut using ethnic-sounding surnames, or those of a spouse. This is especially damaging to women of color, as the number of employed ethnic minority females becomes falsely inflated, resulting in lessened efforts to increase the need for their heightened inclusion.

This issue is not one that has been closely looked into, and is a trifle to the DGA. As long as the Guild and the studio executives can “tick” two diversity boxes, then they feel covered.For this reason, when DGA diversity leaders “tap” women directors for entry into lucrative TV directing, they are tempted to lean toward individuals with double-minority status. “Twofer Tokenism,” for obvious reasons, serves the interest of white male DGA directors such that one women director may fulfill the numerical diversity requirement of two, leaving more space in the ratio “pie” for white men.

As Warren Buffet wrote: “Resistance among the powerful is natural when change clashes with their self-interest. After all, who wants to double the number of competitors for top positions? But an even greater enemy of change may well be the ingrained attitudes of those who simply can’t imagine a world different from the one they’ve lived in.”

Tokenism, and particularly “Twofer Tokenism” is truly a curse on the efforts women directors are making to work toward employment equity. Women need to make a commitment to solidarity and embrace the fact that we make up 51% of the population. Women are not minorities, and it does in no way advantage women as a population to merge our gender employment issues with those of ethnic minority men. Women directors of all the marvelous blends of ethnicity are much better served, legally and socially, by establishing our status as a majority population, but one that is unlawfully discriminated against, marginalized, and under-employed. Only then—in unity—can we truly change the status quo.

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