The XX Factor

Standard

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?

Advertisement

F*ck You, Clint Eastwood

Standard

This week, I planned to write about the cringe-inducing example of “femininity” that sat behind me on a recent flight from Wisconsin to Los Angeles (#UnfortunatelySomeWomen). She had artfully tousled hair, that baby-infused voice, and an Ed Hardy tank top two sizes too small for her boobs, and when given the choice between the last two empty seats on the plane (she was late boarding), she bypassed the one next to me in favor of the one between the two middle-aged refrigeration company managers in the next row.

As I listed to her breathlessly inquire about one man’s cracked cell phone (“that’s what happens when you have kids – shit breaks”), coyly threaten to “fall asleep and drool” on them, and feign doe-eyed fascination while failing to correctly comprehend a single detail about their work (which irked the one on the aisle), I could not help but marvel…at how great it is to luck into the only empty seat on an airplane. Oh, and at how this girl represents everything that is wrong with gender relations in our society.

In my brain, I cried out, “Why do some women act like this?!” Almost immediately, the other side of my brain yelled back, “Because it works!” As angry as I am at this girl for choosing to be such a disgusting caricature of stupidity, I am equally annoyed by the men who responded by giving her everything she wanted – including a shoulder to sleep on, both arm rests, several Bloody Marys, and the use of all three tray tables as she redid her manicure mid-flight. Too many women giggle their way through life with an “I just might fuck you” overtone because too many men would rather believe that fantasy is true than demand basic human competence.

So I was going to write about all of that and how it relates to gender imbalances in work and life, but then I watched the Tony Awards. Clint Eastwood showed up to present the awards for Best Direction, and hot damn if that man doesn’t make me completely flip my shit.

I get it – he is very talented. I do not deny that his acting work is iconic, or that the movies he has directed are often brilliant. His career and status are not mysteries to me. But he also appears incapable of opening his mouth without some spectacularly casual sexism falling out.

Even on the Tonys, after delivering the prepared remarks about what makes for great direction, he ended with, “and that’s all true of these guys…and they are guys…because…well…[shrug].” Because well what? Because that’s the way the cookie crumbles? Because directing is a man’s game? Because he failed to notice one of the nominees was actually a woman?

Sure, it’s possible that at this point Mr. Eastwood is more senile than sexist. But I also think age is a lot like alcohol – it doesn’t create new feelings so much as lower our willingness to temper long-existent ones. Age lets the freak flag fly – and America’s Cowboy has flown his skull and cross-boobs flag too many times to be discounted.

My vitriol toward Clint Eastwood as spokesman for misogyny started in August, 2010, when I read an interview he gave in Entertainment Weekly about his then-upcoming film Hereafter. In it, he said, “I like to think of it as a chick flick. But one that men will like too. Or at least one that won’t make them want to stick a Swiss Army Knife into their leg.” Now, Clint was certainly not the first man in Hollywood to make such a jackass comment, nor were his words the most obnoxious thing ever said about “chick flicks”, but the context of the quote brings its inherent fear of the feminine to a whole new level.

Setting aside the disrespect contained in the label “chick flick”, the comment is particularly infuriating because Hereafter doesn’t even satisfy any markers of the stereotype. It is a movie starring Matt Damon, not Meg Ryan; it is a movie with three loosely-related stories about people dealing with the idea of mortality and loss; it is a movie written by a (male) screenwriter who also earned an Oscar nomination for writing Frost/Nixon. Sure, the main character has girlfriend trouble because his psychic connection to the afterlife is intrusive, but the movie also deals with the 2004 tsunami and the London subway bombings.

What exactly was it about Hereafter that made Mr. Eastwood think of it as a “chick flick”? Usually this derogatory term is reserved for films about “girly” things, like marriage and shopping and having babies; by Clint’s logic, a movie is aimed at women if it deals with love, torment, or emotions of any kind, since no man could be expected to tolerate such nonsense without wanting to stab himself. That is the equivalent of me calling The Wizard of Oz a “dick flick” because it has a chase scene and a couple of explosions (not to mention two murders).

The problem, of course, isn’t actually Clint Eastwood, or even that Clint Eastwood sees the world as divided into “girl stuff” and “boy stuff”. It is that too many people still think like Clint Eastwood, and too many of those people are in positions of authority.

As long as our world is primarily run by men, as long as most of those men continue to see women as “other” – be it sexual objects, emotional mysteries, innocent victims, or simply less competent beings – and as long as too many women choose to play into these stereotypes to get ahead, we won’t make much progress as a species. Eliminating all pink toys might be the solution, but so might demanding mutual respect to and from each other.

I know, it sounds crazy, but I’m putting it out there anyway. Maybe I just feel lucky.