Things Not Getting Better For Women In Hollywood

Never mind the soul-searching panels, the well-meaning initiatives, or the Fempire. According to a new report, the situation for women in Hollywood is actually worsening. Also, guess which has more women writers on staff: 24 or The Sarah Silverman Program?

Trick question. They both have zero.

According to the Writers Guild of America's 2009 Hollywood Writers Report, which drew on self-reported data from its members, Hollywood writers rooms remain stubbornly homogeneous:

White males continue to dominate in both the film and television sectors. Women remain stuck at 28 percent of television employment and 18 percent of film employment. The minority share of film employment has been frozen at 6 percent since 1999, while the group's share of television employment actually declined to 9 percent since the last report. Although women and minorities closed the earnings gaps with white men in television a bit, the earnings gaps in film grew.

Male television writers outnumber women by about 2 to 1. That's still better than in film, where women's participation has actually dropped by a percentage point since the last report. In fact, the study says, from 2001 to 2007, while male film writers in Hollywood were increasing their average earnings by 31 percent (from $73,332 to $96,250) between 2001 and 2007, women's earnings declined 4.7 percent (from $60,000 to $57,151.)

What accounts for such a dramatic pay gap? The WGA's director of Diversity, Kim Myers, offered one theory over at Women & Hollywood:

Although this is somewhat anecdotal, in conversation with women screenwriters most attribute this fact to the type of films that are being developed at the studios. The emphasis is on tentpole movies and franchises – many of which are comic book or graphic novel adaptations. Action is the main focus of these movies. While there are many women screenwriters who have written and continue to write action movies, this is often seen as the province of male writers.

Insert your dude/tentpole joke of choice here.

The report also ranked 133 television shows that aired during the 2007-08 season (or that were written during it). Here's their list of the writing staffs with the highest proportion of women:

1. Showtime's The L Word (100 percent)
2. CBS's Cold Case (69.2 percent)
3. Showtime's Californification (66.7 percent)
4. The CW's Life is Wild (66.7 percent)
5. NBC's Lipstick Jungle (66.7 percent, tied.)

Only two of these shows are still on. But hey, at least now we've got Mad Men! (Seven of their nine writers are women, which would put them near the top of this list.)

Fourteen of the 133 shows had no women at all writing for them. And not all of them are the ones you'd think.

1. 24 (Fox)
2. American's Funniest Home Videos (ABC)
3. Burn Notice (USA)
4. The Closer (TNT)
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
6. Flight of the Conchords (HBO)
7. Futurama (Fox)
8. Monk (USA)
9. Quarterlife (Bravo)
10. Rescue Me (FX)
11. Sarah Silverman Program (Comedy Central)
12. The Tudors (Showtime)
13. The Wire (HBO)
14. Zoey 101 (Nick)

Yeah, that's right. Sarah Silverman's show, which begins its third season early next year, has no women writers. (The study obviously doesn't count Silverman herself, though she's also credited as a writer on IMDB. The show also has a few female producers listed.)

So what difference does this make, besides annoying the crap out of us? A recent academic study that scrutinized whether sex and nudity boosted either box office or critical claim (the gist: they don't) also noted that "the greater the participation of women, the more thought-provoking but the less violent and fear-inducing is the resulting cinematic product."

The study's authors actually quantified this by creating an index of indicators like "blood/gore, disrespectful/bad attitude, frightening/tense scenes, guns/weapons, jump scenes, scary/tense music, and violence" in 914 films released from 2001 to 2005. Films with more women working on them scored high on "tense family scenes" and "topics to talk about."

So hire women writers, Hollywood! So we have "topics to talk about." Besides "same shit, different day."

2009 Hollywood Writers Report [WGA]
Still Sucks to Be a Female Writer In Hollywood [Women and Hollywood]
Sex Doesn't Sell-Nor Impress! [Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, sub req'd]

Earlier: Guess How Many Female Writers There Are On Late Night?