Hear me roar

Several weeks ago, The Englishman’s Boy aired on CBC to glowing reviews. I’d read the book, slowly, reluctantly, wanting to like it more than I did but just not able to get into it. I’ve never met a western I liked. No, not even Unforgiven or Legends of the Fall. And yet the critics raved, so I tried to watch, tried to be the good TV, eh? person, and got about 10 minutes in before giving up.

And then I thought: I wish there were a female critic writing regularly about Canadian television.

I’m not going to pretend that no woman on earth likes westerns, or that a female critic would share my taste more than a male one, or that I don’t enjoy and admire John Doyle and Vinay Menon and Jaime Weinman and Bill Brioux and Alex Strachan and others.

So it was a silly thought. But then again … not really. There is a decided lack of estrogen in the critical community here.

Dana Gee of the Vancouver Province has been bumped from the TV beat, continuing the trend of newspapers abdicating TV criticism to the wire services and the web. Lee-Anne Goodman of the Canadian Press and Gayle MacDonald of the Globe and Mail report more than critique. Kate Taylor of the Globe and Mail fills in for Doyle infrequently and isn’t watching the same shows I am, even when she is.

Today I was reminded of that by a post from Jaime Weinman of Macleans. I’m happy he weighed in on a recent Gayle MacDonald article about female screenwriters with a less vested view than others I’d seen disparaging her thesis: that women have made huge gains in the last decade in TV writing rooms. I was also happy to see that one commenter later semi-retracted the disparagement.

It wasn’t particularly surprising that the contrary opinions I’d seen – the “it’s not even an issue” comments – were from white male writers. It’s great if the Canadian tv industry doesn’t have the gender imbalance the American one does, though credits watching makes me think otherwise. However the issue’s certainly not dead in the US, and most Canadians get their entertainment from that pool.

The WGA has a Diversity Committee to assist female and minority writers and issues an annual report called Whose Stories Are We Telling about the makeup of the Hollywood writing workforce:

“This year’s [2007] report has a familiar ring to it: while there have been some advances made by women and minorities in some sectors, white male writers continue to be a disproportionately dominant portion of the writing workforce. …. One of the few bright spots is for women writers in TV where median income rose significantly (though employment percentage numbers rose very slightly [to 27%]). … For minority writers, past trends showing gains have either slowed or stopped altogether.”

But, you know, as long as white male writers don’t think there’s an issue.

Even in the Canadian TV blogosphere diversity is not obvious, as was hit home to me when begging for help with the upcoming TV, eh? live Internet radio show. Apart from my non-Canadian TV-associated friends, my entire mailing list is white and I’m not sure there’s even 27% women on there.

The last thing we need is to lose any of the voices currently out there, behind the screens or in front of them, but it would be nice to have more voices from more places. Two women can differ just as much in opinion than a man and a woman, but it seems obvious that if we had more diverse voices writing for and about television – men and women, white and black and brown and purple, straight and gay, urban and rural – we’d all be richer for it.

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16 Responses to Hear me roar

  1. DMc says:

    But you’re arguing a “aren’t puppies and kittens great?” thesis. Of course.

    Sure. And the minority thing is dead on the money — but from the vested interest file, it’s also not like there aren’t TV showrunners desperate to find more of those voices. I know, because I’ve been in those conversations, too.

    It’s fine if you think that gender is the defining issue. That’s your right. But when you stray into the territory of “who writes who” and who decides, then you go down the road of only women can write women, only minority writers can tell minority stories, etc. And that’s a toxic thesis that doesn’t do anyone any good.

    Especially when the sector both Gayle MacDonald and you seem to be talking about is “one of the few bright spots.”

    Roar. But roar on point. Minorities and women in writing rooms are not the same thing, cannot be lumped together, and face far different issues in training and hiring.

    And though I try to walk back a comment that upset some people, what does it say that I also heard from at least half a dozen female writers furious at what they saw as an “incredibly patronizing” piece?

    Gender is a hand grenade. Careful where and what you throw.

  2. DMc says:

    Oh, and for your other issue — try Alison Cunningham. Female, and Vancouver-based to boot.


  3. Diane Kristine says:

    I think you misread something if you think I think that “gender is the defining issue.” In fact, I’m saying it isn’t. Read again and you’ll see at least a few places where I say that.

    I AM saying we need more voices other than the white male perspective. You disagree, we have to agree to disagree. I’m comfortable with that grenade.

    I’m saying it was nice to hear from a perspective that isn’t a white male one, when the critical voices in Canada – professional and amateur blogosphere voices – are overwhelmingly, predominantly white male. It’s nice to hear women talking about their experiences in the writing room instead of men talking about women’s experiences.

    I was saying the WGA lumps women and minorities together, not me. It would be nice to hear from minorities on their experiences too, instead of from white people on the minority experience.

    What does it say that some women wrote to you saying it’s patronizing? Same thing I’m saying – all women are not the same. I wish the women who wrote to you were professional critics or prominent members of the blogosphere.

    So if you’re going to comment, it would be nice if you actually read what I said first.

  4. DMc says:

    It actually sounds to me like you didn’t say what I said you said and I didn’t say what you said I said. You misunderstand me, I misunderstand you…sounds like 6000 years of comedy to me.

    What I ultimately said is, I agree with you that it’s nice to hear from that perspective. As it’s nice to hear from Shonda Rimes’ perspective. For that reason, that’s why I walked back what I wrote about the article.

    Not that I think the article didn’t exist, just that the putative thesis behind it was artificial. Which it was.

    As a scan of the crowd of working writers at the Canadian Screenwriting Awards would surely tell you.

    But whatever. I’m sorry if I misrepresented you.

    You women…you’re all so [ducks, runs into bathroom, locks door…


  5. Diane Kristine says:

    Where on earth in that comment did you ultimately write that you agree that it’s nice to hear that perspective? Not sure I misunderstood so much as … you didn’t say it.


    The issue with the Gayle MacDonald article is what Weinman said – the supporting arguments were kind of all over the place, in service of the point that women have made huge strides in the last 10 years. Which I find hard to argue with, so I find it annoying to hear from men saying “it’s not an issue, never been an issue.”

    Where I can’t defend her is where she talks about women writing like men – I don’t even know what that means. Men run the show in the US and as you’re fond of pointing out, the fare is biased toward female fantasy – or at least, what the men in charge think is the female fantasy. I think it’s always been a crock that men write a certain way and women another. That’s a pretty short literary memory if that’s her argument. Some of the finest female characters in literature have been written by men.

    If you read my post, I’m not even commenting substantively on her article, except to make a broader point about how I keep noticing the lack of diversity in writing about (not just for) Canadian television. I never even referred to the point about which writers can write for which gender or race.

    All I was commenting on as it related to you (and notice I didn’t name you, because you weren’t the only one and I wasn’t commenting on anything of the other points in your post) is the annoyance I feel at male writers saying gender imbalance in tv writing isn’t an issue, there are lots of women in writing rooms. I’d love to see a comparable study from the WGC to back up my cursory credits scan of current Canadian shows, but until then, the WGA picture is not rosy. It’s an issue. Getting better, but it’s an issue, and I cannot take you or Mr. P.M. seriously if you say there’s no need for more diversity of voice in Canadian tv.

  6. DMc says:

    Where I said that:

    “Some suggested that maybe I missed the point, that the amazing thing of profiling these great female screenwriters was enough, and should be lauded because nobody ever does that.

    I’m somewhat swayed by that. Good on MacDonald for taking a stand FOR something Canadian and not shovelling the same American-packaged newsbits. Insofar as I was overly critical, I’m sorry. I don’t want to obscure how much everyone last night was really excited by the prospect of a front page, weekend arts section article profiling screenwriters.”

    Essentially, we agree. I never said it wasn’t ever a problem. And it certainly isn’t the same problem in Canada, where female execs and writers have held power for more than twenty years. Which is the industry that Gayle was writing about.

    In closing, let me just say:


  7. Diane Kristine says:

    You can say you didn’t say it wasn’t an issue, but you did say you agreed with the guy who said it wasn’t an issue. Way to try to get off on a technicality. And my inner Lisa Simpson forces me to tell you that you don’t get to claim “What I ultimately said is, I agree with you” for something you said in a post I never linked to, that you wrote before I wrote this, especially after a comment on this post where, from start to finish, you vehemently disagreed with the imaginary post you thought I wrote.

    And in fairness to MacDonald, her whole point is that in Canada the gender imbalance has largely disappeared over the last 10 years, and she quotes female screenwriters who support the point. Your anecdotal evidence matters less than theirs in this case, and it’s apples and oranges to say “but there’s more female execs”. Not what she’s talking about.

    I guess what I’m saying is: it isn’t all about you. Not MacDonald’s article, not my post. I hate to break it to you, but sometimes it’s not, you know.

  8. Frank "Dolly" Dillon says:

    I can only reference my experience, starting around say 1985…

    the campells — two person story department jana veverka, me
    the campbells two person story department — susan snooks and me.
    street legal story department — four male writers — story editors and producers, four women
    bordertown story department — two women, one man (two seasons)
    forever knight — three person story department — two men one woman
    black stallion — two women one man
    ready or not — three women one man
    madison — one man
    madison — two women, one man (four seasons)
    traders — two and two
    cold squad — one woman, two men

    i haven’t taken time to add up the numbers but I think it splits out pretty evenly.

    (also I wouldn’t trust the imdb because according to it i was a regular on the jeffersons.)

  9. Diane Kristine says:

    Why do you think your personal experience anecdotes beat the personal experience anecdotes of the women quoted in the article? Sometimes it’s not about you, either, but maybe if you complain enough someone will write a big article on you guys.

  10. Frank "Dolly" Dillon says:

    I didn’t mean to come across as someone who is complaining or feeling put upon or anything like that. All I am trying to say is that I don’t think the thesis of the article is completely accurate (at least as it exists in this country).

  11. DMc says:

    Wow. Okay, Diane, you actually need to come down off snark mountain now.

    The reason it matters?

    The guy’s quoting shows that go back longer than ANY of the women in that article have been around. That’s called context. A context I’ve heard from most of the men AND women I’ve talked to who have been around longer than me, and them.

    And your last point — which he was responding to directly, was:

    And in fairness to MacDonald, her whole point is that in Canada the gender imbalance has largely disappeared over the last 10 years, and she quotes female screenwriters who support the point.

    Key phrase being, “in the last ten years.”

    When someone comes back and names ten shows, most from before that arbitrary Gayle MacDonald cutoff point of the last decade, you can either adjust your view or dismiss it. You choose to do the latter. Isn’t that what you’re supposedly pissed at us white males for doing?

    Further to that, if you ask around, the female equation in development has existed going back to the 1980’s, too. CBC did 80 hours of drama one upon a time, and it was all women calling the shots.

    The thesis of MacDonald’s article simply doesn’t hold.

    I walked back my comments because I didn’t want to be seen as somehow saying “female screenwriters shouldn’t be profiled.”

    Gayle can write whatever kind of article she wants. But when it doesn’t reflect the reality of the business as experienced by those in it, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Including the people profiled in the article.

    I might be vague, I might be imprecise, but that’s my thing.

    And another thing – I actually think it kind of IS all about me…isn’t it?

    Okay, no. I know. It’s not.

    But it’s not about you either. I think you missed the beam on the last comment there. Will be interesting to see if you’re willing to walk it back.

  12. Diane Kristine says:

    Wow, thanks for the advice DMc. How should I speak to you, sir? Maybe I’ll be a good girl and sit in my corner while the men sort this out.

    Yeah, he’s giving context, one person’s context, and I admire Frank/blueglow for generally being the commenter to decry the whining of the Canadian tv industry. But some women are saying “we were the only women in the room in the beginning.” In the absence of actual statistical evidence, those women’s experiences are not invalidated by Frank’s. No one is going to win an argument by anecdote, and there are definite flaws in the MacDonald argument, but trying to invalidate the women’s experiences by presenting your own is not the way to make a convincing argument against the article.

  13. Frank "Dolly" Dillon says:

    In some of the shows I mentioned I was the only male in the room and you know what, so what. Of course it was probably a little easier for me but I don’t know if that strictly gender or innate arrogance — I was in a room full of writers, that was what mattered. If women were ganged up on and treated unkindly that is, of course, a bad thing and I have no doubt that has happened on some shows.

    In the absence of hard data, I can only pull the data from shows i have worked on which cut across a wide spectrum of Canadian and industrial shows produced in Canada from 1985 until now and I have found that we have had a balance that stacks up well against any other industry.

    What I object to (well that’s a bit harsh, I don’t really object to much) is what I see as a lazy hook in an article — I could really care less about the subject of the article (it could be the whole “me generation tripe, or sandwich generation or MTV generation etc) but that wide ranges of other peoples personal experiences (and not mine in this case) are ignored so to make a point.

    As for wanting someone to write an article about me — believe me that is the last thing I want. One of the best things about being a writer is anonimity. I used to get a little pissed if I wrote something and the director got all the credit until I realized that if it goes bad, they usually get all the blame.

  14. Diane Kristine says:

    Yeah, that was a snide joke about maybe they’ll write something about you guys – sorry, it wasn’t really directed at you specifically. It was more a reaction to the point of my post – which has very little to do with this comments discussion – in that I’ve been noticing a lack of female voices out there in Canadian tvland before this article, so, you know, it’s not like there’s a shortage of the male perspective out there. I don’t actually believe you were asking to have something written about you.

    DMc on the other hand … it is all about him.

  15. DMc says:

    Yes. Me = Bad man.

    I think I’ve finally got it though. Your snide jokes = okay.

    Mine, see “Bad Man.”

    Your anecdotal feelings = okay. Mine = where’s your hard data, buster?

    Frank points out ‘lazy hook’ = okay. I do the same, let’s bust out the BM.

    The whole thing’s a bit silly, rilly. Not worthy of your general clear- headedness.

    But in the end, I guess the thing that’s most true is that it’s clear that any issue around gender is so supercharged, like race, that you mix it with internet commentary and you have yourself a nice Molotov cocktail.

    So there it is, then. I’m gonna go read Maureen Ryan now.

  16. DMc says:

    Yeah, that doesn’t actually come through with the requisite bemused wryness.

    I’d translate that into emoticon, but I’d probably break two fingers.

    And I need those fingers if I’m going to dial the phone to get all those articles written about me as great white father. Peace.

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