August 12, 2008

Peter Bart - Misogynist in Chief

I guess I should be thanking Peter Bart for his short-sighted, sexist, petty, pathetic editorial exposing a supposedly dirty secret about women in Hollywood - that they are competitive for jobs and recognition.

So thank you Peter Bart for illuminating the misogyny in Hollywood that women feel and sense but isn't always laid out in such clear fashion. I'm sure he thought it was cute making fun of the women who have fought their way to power, but what he has succeeded in doing is pissing women off. It might have taken a week (this is August after all) but in the last two days Bart's editorial has been ping ponging around town and hopefully the anger will create a call to action.

Here are some of his "brilliant" thoughts (my thoughts not indented):

Publications love to publish lists of power women, to be sure, not because publishers necessarily admire women but because women's lists spout money -- big money.

And here's the other dirty little secret about them: There is more competition -- ferocious competition -- among women to gain placement on these power lists than for any other feature in Variety. I'm talking petulant phone calls, veiled pleas (and threats) from male bosses, bottles of expensive wine -- and yes, yelling and screaming.
So it's not the men not the women making the threats -- shocker!
Sure, there's also some nudging and elbowing for placement on male power lists, but it's nothing compared to the women's issues.

Why do these women's lists generate so much "heat"? Here's one theory:

The "glass ceiling" preventing women from attaining top jobs has all but vanished -- especially in the media and entertainment business.
Can the editor in chief of Variety really believe that the glass ceiling has all but vanished when all the top decision makers except Amy Pascal at Sony are men? Doesn't he know who runs the studios?
As a result, the competitiveness of women has now surpassed that of their masculine counterparts. The guys these days have suddenly awakened to their "sensitive," huggy side. The women are keenly aware that they can compete with the guys, and win. And, by god, they're going for it.

The upshot: It's rough out there. And the prepping of the lists reflects it.

"You've got to include X on your power list," the esteemed chief of one top talent agency told me. "She's deserving. And if she's not included, she'll cut my balls off."

How can you ignore that urgent a request?

"I'm the one who made this network tick," urged one woman programmer. "What criteria are you using if I'm not on that list?"

Of course, lists are always dicey in the criteria department. Variety's list is intended to recognize women who have had a significant impact on the business during the past year. Forbes, to be sure, has it easier: They just add up the bucks. (J.K. Rowling had the biggest stash thanks to the "Potter" factory.)

Madelyn Hammond, Variety's chief marketing officer, who has presided over myriad women's events, both agrees and disagrees with these theories.

"Women are attaining more power these days, but the achievements of women over 40 still tend to be taken for granted. They become invisible. That's why a little recognition goes a long way."

Maybe she's right. We all suffer our moments of invisibility, male or female. Come to think of it, I haven't been on a power list lately.
It's hysterical that Bart is put in his place by his own own chief marketing officer clarifying for him the realities of women. I think he should be embarrassed. Here's my advice to Peter -- shut up and write about something you know, cause clearly you have no clue what's going on with women.

Dr. Martha Lauzen (the one who started the chain of sending this around) wrote a response that says it so much better than I ever could.
Letter to the Editor:

In last week's column (Variety, Aug 4-10) , Peter Bart described the "ferocious competition" among women seeking to gain a place on Variety's annual list of female power players. The column included a quotation from an unnamed talent agency chief who claimed that if his female client were not included on the list, she'd "cut (his) balls off." Hmmm, powerful women as cat fighting, castrating shrews. Not an original stereotype but certainly one with staying power.

Mr. Bart's characterization belies a worldview that categorizes ambitious women as overly competitive and puts women in a classic double bind. These observations smack of sexism just as those who criticize Barack Obama for his confidence and arrogance reek of racism. ... A woman willing and able to compete in a highly competitive business is a ballbuster, whereas a man exhibiting similar behavior is simply playing the game. It's a double standard, clear and simple. If women don't express an interest in being on the list, they don't gain the recognition they likely deserve. If they do lobby for a position as one of the most powerful women, they're ballbusters. Luckily, the women who occupy powerful positions aren't naïve enough to be cowed by this type of name-calling.

In addition, Mr. Bart surmised that the reason women have become more competitive is that the glass ceiling that once prevented them from attaining top positions has "vanished -- especially in the media and entertainment business." Sadly, this reasoning is simply inconsistent with reality. Do women hold high-profile positions in television and film? Absolutely. Is there any evidence that women have shattered the glass ceiling by achieving employment parity with their male counterparts? Not a shred.

Let's consider the facts. Only one woman, Amy Pascal, currently serves as chairman of a major film studio. Two women hold the position of president of entertainment at the broadcast networks, Dawn Ostroff at the CW and Nina Tassler at CBS. ...According to the latest Boxed In study, women comprised only 22% of executive producers working on primetime television programs airing on the broadcast networks during the 2007-08 season. According to the latest Celluloid Ceiling study, women comprised a scant 6% of directors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2007.

Perhaps a more accurate explanation for women's competitiveness regarding inclusion on the power list is that they know the glass ceiling remains firmly in place -- especially in the media and entertainment industries. I suspect that the women Mr. Bart hears from recognize that the Hollywood myth-making machinery continues to lionize the careers of men who direct and produce films or reside in executive suites at the studios and networks. Positive press helps enable men who perform at even average levels to get booted up the corporate ladder or get their next directing deal. In contrast, when women perform well they are considered somewhat unattractive exceptions in a world still dominated by men.

In the business of show, the visibility-creating apparatus of power lists -- and even talkshows focusing on the film industry ("Shootout," for example) --can be integral to one's success. If women contact Variety regarding inclusion on the power list, they simply recognize the importance of being seen in a business that rewards such recognition.

-- Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director, Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, School of Theatre, Television and Film, San Diego State U.