My first official writing job on a TV series was brought to me by the letter ‘X’. Specifically, the letter ‘X’ without the letter ‘Y’.
After a friend of mine from my improv days sold a pilot script, he and his writing partner were tasked with putting together a six-man staff to complete a six-episode season. They took those instructions literally, promptly hiring four male friends to join them.
A little later, my buddy randomly spotted me in a hallway after a comedy show and this is how it went down: “Oh, hey!” (Me: Hey.) “I’m writing a series.” (Me: Congratulations.) “We staffed the show already,” (Me: Awesome for you.) “but we’re thinking maybe we should have a girl in the room too, for the perspective. You’re the only girl I know who writes.” (Me in my head: This is not true. I know your friends.) “Send me a sample?” (Me: No problem.) I sent him two screenplays and was immediately hired.
As origin stories go, it makes for a pretty lame graphic novel, but I still like to tell it. Because most people miss the point entirely.
Male writers tend to zero in on the double gender standard, while demonstrating impressive ignorance; “You only got the job because you’re a woman! You’re so lucky to have a guaranteed spot at the table.”
Um, NO. I got the job the same proud way my four male colleagues got it: nepotism. But I was the only staffer with any professional screenwriting experience, and yet I was still hired last, as an afterthought, to fill a gender quota. True, my lack of a Y-chromosome was the difference between being hired last and not being hired at all, but if I had the Y-chromosome I would have been hired first without question – or probably been hiring my own staff for my own show. Hiring me to be “the girl in the room” didn’t end sexism any more than electing Barack Obama ended racism.
Most other people take an optimistic view of the story; “Isn’t it great your friend was wise enough to recognize the value of a female voice? We should celebrate him as a shining example of enlightenment!”
Again, NO. I don’t believe in showering praise on people who “choose” to accept well-established information. Like Kindergarten graduations and participation trophies, it rewards people for doing something that should have been automatic anyway. You acknowledge the universe is billions of years old? Yes, yes, you’re very smart. Now shut up. Virtually any collaborative endeavor is improved when there is an even mix of male and female voices involved. (Notice I said a mix – I may play host to a couple of confused cats, but I am well aware that this is the true goal of feminism.) My friend was right to want “a girl in the room”, but he was the kid who shows up to all the little league games only to pick dandelions in the outfield. Hardly an MVP.
So what is the point of my origin story? The “Most Interesting Man in the World” is Satan.
They say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. While I find that statement confusing given the number of people I see on the news screaming about other people burning in hell, the sentiment applies pretty well to sexism. The true tragedy of how I got my first TV job is the part nobody – including me – noticed.
In the heated 2008 debates about which Democratic candidate had it worse – the one facing racism or the one facing sexism – I started to finally comprehend that even though both are horrible, there is one devilish difference between them. While I can’t speak to it personally, I don’t see a lot of minorities out there who are convinced that their genetics make them inferior. None of my Asian friends think they should have less right to a driver’s license, and I don’t know any Nordic folk who believe they deserve skin cancer more than others. Racism is the devil we know, see, and call out as bullshit. Sexism is too often the devil we don’t.
Women commit as many if not more sexist acts against women than the men of this world, and we do it most often to ourselves, without even noticing. The real point of my origin story is that, despite my ability to recognize and roll my eyes at how I got the job, I walked into that writers’ room on day one NOT confident because I knew I was the only one (besides the head writers) with experience, NOT comfortable because I already knew three of the six men and had performed comedy with them as an equal, but INSTEAD thinking, “I hope I can keep up. I hope they think I’m funny. I hope I manage to pull my weight.”
I had more experience and skill than any of my male counterparts (I was the only writer who maintained her credit or was kept on for more work); I had an Ivy League education and a well-honed comedic voice; I had a solid self-respect and an enviable work ethic – both resulting from a lifetime of guidance by ideal parental role models; I was loved and loving, praised and proud, supported and strong. In short: I had every possible advantage when I walked into that writers’ room, with great hair and a cherry outfit on top.
If even I walked in assuming I was the weakest link, what chance does any girl have?