Friday, September 9, 2011
Setting out west across the Mojave last week, our audiobook of choice was Tina Fey's Bossypants, a collection of Fey's autobiographical ruminations on motherhood, aging, angst, and leadership (which essentially amounted to "Hire talented co-workers you wouldn't mind seeing at 3 AM, then get out of their way"). I really can't recommend Bossypants enough, and the audiobook is especially awesome since Fey reads it herself.
Fey's chapters on her rise to the top of the male-dominated comedy writing world are particularly interesting in light of Maureen Ryan's recent column on the startling decline of female television writers. A San Diego State University study recently found the percentage of female writers on broadcast, prime-time television has fallen from 35% in 2006-2007 to 15% in 2010-2011.
A number of male and female showrunners have weighed in on the drop. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter points to demographics as a root cause, since most viewers are men aged 18-49. United States of Tara producer Jill Solloway supports that theory, with some additional insight:
The only ad dollars that appeal solely to women only are diapers and cleaning products. The expensive ad dollars, like cars and air travel, must appeal to both genders.... Sometimes I watch Louie, which, for my money, is one of the best shows I have ever seen on television, and wonder if a network would air a show where a woman was talking about masturbating and farting (in an awesomely deep way, mind you). The answer is no—not because networks hate women, not because studios refuse to hire women creators—but because there is no brand that would be willing to be associated with the idea of such an anti-heroic woman.
I couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt at these reports. In my fall television reviews, most of the shows I looked forward to were clearly aimed at men, and many of the shows I dismissed were obviously pointed at women. Further, of the shows I really enjoy, only 30 Rock, The Office, and Parks & Recreation feature women who are not highly sexualized.
I'm not horribly distraught at my apparent chauvinism. I can't help but like the shows I like, and it just so happens most of those shows are male-centric. I like The League because I think it's an accurate and extremely funny depiction of male community. Perhaps I'd watch a female equivalent, but such a show simply doesn't exist right now.
Despite her charming insecurities and anxieties, if there's one fact that's abundantly clear in Bossypants, it is that Tina Fey is well-adjusted. The world of comedy may be XY dominant, but it's also a world in which dysfunction is prized, and Fey's success as the product of a secure, loving environment is almost as impressive as her success against gender inequality. In one revealing bit, she recalls the one and only time a male co-worker angrily called referred to her as an epithet a step well above "bitch". (The following is paraphrased, since I don't have the book in front of me) "No. You don't get to call me that," Fey responds. "My family loved me."
That's what I want my 2 year-old daughter to be. I want her to be someone who follows her dream and succeeds because she is sure of herself and courageous in the face of daunting odds, whether it's the world of comedy-writing, medicine, law, or waste management (which I assume is also male-dominated). I want her to value wit and humor. Tina Fey reminded me I have a role in helping that happen. The San Diego State University study may be discouraging, but there are still women out there fighting upstream, and we owe it to our daughters to cheer them on.