In 1955, the Emmys recognized writers for the first time. Included in the nominees was Madelyn Pugh for “I Love Lucy.” As the lone woman, she represented five percent of writers nominated that year.
Sixty years later, with women earning the majority of college and graduate degrees and holding almost half the country’s jobs, women constitute fully … 15 percent of Emmy writer nominees.
It could be worse. And it is for directors. Only two of the 23 series episode director nominees for this year’s Emmys are women.
What accounts for this discrepancy? It’s not that women don’t direct. Half of the directors for U.S. dramatic category films at the prestigious Sundance festival last year were women. Yet according to Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, the percentages of female creators, writers and directors in prime time network television have stagnated in the last three years near the current 24 percent, 34 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
Programs undertaken by the Directors Guild of America and networks have yet to make any demonstrable difference, according to the latest DGA report.
“The statistics alone paint a stark picture of gender discrimination in the industry,” the ACLU’s Melissa Goodman says. “Despite decades of acknowledging gender and racial diversity need to improve, Guild and studio diversity agreements, and diversity programs, somehow women directors are getting less work in TV, not more, and women of color are getting nearly none.”
Stacy L. Smith of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has studied the underrepresentation of women in film and found gendered financial barriers, male-dominated industry networks and stereotyping on set. Half of the dozen industry professionals she questioned specifically about hiring women directors said that they hadn’t considered it — they didn’t think stereotypically male content would appeal to women.
This, even though Michelle MacLaren gained a director nomination last year for “Breaking Bad” and has worked on shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “NCIS.” Robin Green won two writing Emmys for the testosterone-filled “The Sopranos.” Moira Walley-Beckett is a nominee for writing for “Breaking Bad.” The only woman ever to win a directing Oscar, Kathryn Bigelow, won for “Zero, Dark, Thirty.”
And stereotypically female shows are also more often directed by men.
It’s a shame, because female involvement in media has a tangible affect on how these shows turn out. Lauzen found that shows with at least one female writer feature female characters more often, an effect magnified on shows women create. When women are involved as writer or executive producer, female characters also tend to speak more and interrupt others more often. “Both turns at talk and use of interruptions are powerful language behaviors,” Lauzen says.
The average American child spends seven hours a day with entertainment media. Girls who watch more television feel worse about themselves. Boys — or white boys, anyway — feel better. That’s no surprise if you consider that female characters appear almost 50 percent less frequently as leads or protagonists on television; they are four times more likely to be scantily clothed and three times as likely to be thin and physically attractive; and they hold only one-third of onscreen jobs of any type — much less jobs in science and technology.
As Gail Mancuso, last year’s Emmy winner for comedy directing, says: “Seeing is believing. Showing a woman winning an Emmy for directing helps normalize the idea that women can and do direct.” How can we expect TV-watching girls to set aside their diet books to explore “The Big Bang Theory” (four male geniuses and one waitress), to start up something in “Silicon Valley” (a slate of male entrepreneurs and a female assistant), or to become, say, a scriptwriter, a director or someone who runs the whole show?