Women In The Writers’ Room

Maureen Ryan’s piece on the structural reasons women aren’t getting and keeping more television writing jobs has been getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. It’s terrifying to think that studios are still sticking by the idea that it’s better to hire a man because he’ll support a family or the assumptions that women can’t write male characters, and it’s depressing to see yet another arena where being a team player and supporting a creator’s vision doesn’t get you credit, it just makes you invisible. And I think in the context of our discussion yesterday about prestige television’s preoccupation with masculinity, this part of the piece is particularly important:

Women are perceived as being more appropriate for the staffs of “soapier,” ensemble-driven shows, but that’s not where TV is headed right now. “The trend in the industry has been away from that kind of [soapy] TV, toward shows that are either more episodic or more big-event shows,” said Writer B. “And in those areas, the perception — and I’m not saying I agree with this — is that they are more the province of male writers.” (Here’s a bit of advice for aspiring women writers from that showrunner, whose last few potential female hires got better offers from other shows: “If you’re a woman who writes kick-ass action, the employment picture is a lot better.”)

Comedy’s comeback could be a factor as well; networks have been bulking up on half-hour programs ever since ‘Modern Family’ became a breakthrough hit. Though late-night shows typically have very few or zero women on staff (that’s true even now, despite last year’s controversy over the overall lack of women in late-night writers’ rooms), finding a prime-time comedy in which more than a third of the writing credits come from women isn’t all that easy. Though ‘Parks and Recreation’ has many women on staff (40 percent of its Season 3 writing credits went to women), that’s not necessarily typical — of the 17 credited writers for ‘Modern Family’s’ first two seasons, five are women.

These biases are just so strange. Do we think there won’t be women in the future, or that all gender issues will have been solved by science, so women won’t have anything to say about science fiction? Women are present at big events in the real world all the time, like September 11, and in the White House during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound earlier this year, and our ovaries don’t tend to prevent us from recognizing the momentousness of occasions or thinking big thoughts about them, so it stands to reason that we might be able to translates those thoughts to fiction.


But more than that, as commenter Katie pointed out in the prestige television thread, “I also think it’s telling that the crop of female driven shows on Showtime are regulated to some kind of weird, semi-fake ‘comedy’ bracket.” There seem to be semi-contradictory tropes that suggest that women can’t write comedy but our lives and stories are sort of inherently light, not worthy of the introspective, anti-heroic treatment that the Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites of the world get. There’s about as much logic to this assumption as there is to any of the other ideas that keep women out of writers’ rooms, but it’s still disturbing.