Why discriminate if it doesn’t profit?

There’s a question that comes up every time I tell my story about how I slowly realized that Hollywood didn’t want movies/shows for, by or about women to profit. To sum up that story, what tipped me off was that whenever film students pointed out how movies/shows for, by or about women had indeed profited, film professionals wouldn’t hear it. Those movies/shows were exceptions! Or it was really the alien/Terminator/Hannibal Lechter people wanted to see, not Ripley, Connor or Starling. Etc. It couldn’t be that people were actually happy to see movies/shows for, by or about women, because that was impossible – end of argument.

The question this brings to mind is: why would they discriminate against a group when there’s more profit to be made by doing the right thing? That’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer.

In comments on the above-linked entry, I explained that I think it boils down to the ego. Even greed is fueled by the ego – it’s the ego that wants more than enough so it feels safe or better than its neighbors. It’s the ego that wants to feel important, unique, successful. Eliminating entire clumps of humanity from the “race” your ego thinks it’s in is a quick way to get rid of competition. It’s the same question you have to ask about store owners and restaurateurs who refused to serve African-American patrons whose money was as green as everyone else’s. They sacrificed profit, and for what? Ego.

But that’s not necessarily the only answer. Laziness is also a factor.

Pardon the topic switch (it’ll all make sense in a paragraph or two), but I have naturally curly hair. As Lorraine Massey’s book Curly Girl explains (and most curly-haired women can tell you from personal experience), stylists are trained to cut “against the curl”, which explains why until recently no stylist at any price ever gave me a good cut unless I was straightening. They also give you precisely the wrong advice for your hair, which is emphatically not “just like straight hair.” In fact it’s so different, Massey says many curlies should never shampoo – there are better ways to get your hair and scalp clean that don’t damage your hair.

Why would stylists ignore the curly market? You wouldn’t know it from looking at the media, but we are probably a majority – or close enough. Why not cater to us? (I finally found a curly-haired stylist who can cut my hair properly, and I’m paying her handsomely for her work, and I’m glad to do it. No one else wanted my business.)

As Massey points out, it is a side effect of Western racism. Curly hair belongs to Africans, whom we once saw fit to enslave. It belongs to the Irish (that’s me), who were fit only for unsafe cheap labor, and loathed for “taking jobs from” the good, straight-haired white people. It belongs to Jews, resented because they keep thriving no matter what people do to them. There’s a longterm association of curly hair with groups of people Anglos want to exploit or “keep down”, who make trouble if you don’t make sure they know their place. Ignoring their differences from you can be as effective as highlighting them.

Curly-haired women are often made to feel unfashionable, weird, unwanted. We think we have bad hair when in fact we just have bad information on hair care. And straightening isn’t as simple a solution as you think. It’s expensive, damaging, time-consuming, and always, always, always the curl lurks just around the corner, waiting for the slightest humidity (or whatever your hair’s trigger is) to revert to its true nature.

So ego is part of it – part of the industry’s belief it’s we curlies who are wrong, not the industry. That we should change by straightening, not the industry that should change by accepting the facts and adapting to the customer.

But ego’s not all of it. I really don’t believe stylists understand that they don’t understand what curly hair needs. Not so many years ago, people learned trades through apprenticeships; mere decades ago, X years of experience on the job could equal a college degree in a field. Now we’re all so dependent on school and certificates, even vocational school, which causes us to skip the thinking process, as if stuff we learn at school represents the whole of human knowledge and all we need to do is memorize it. If it didn’t come up in your Vidal Sassoon class, it can’t exist. Even though it seems to exist right in front of you, you know it can’t, or Vidal would’ve mentioned it.

Despite Massey’s book, the hair care industry still largely fails to get it. If they suddenly acknowledge curly hair really is different (duh!) then holy shit, suddenly everyone needs remedial classes. Vidal Sassoon’s training starts to look pretty stupid. What a pain in the ass! Can’t we just pretend there’s nothing new to learn, no matter who it hurts, and sit back and feel good about ourselves? Ego and laziness – the intrepid supervillain team!

That laziness factors into TV and film because in the case of TV advertisers don’t seem to want to know that women are worth pitching products to because it would mean learning something new (look at the shortcuts they take when pressed: “make it pink, mention shoes”), like what types of ads women respond to. In the case of movies, it would mean… well, nothing. Honestly, you write women pretty much like you write men. But they think it would mean learning something new, and to be fair, for many of them it would mean learning to write credible voices belonging to a group of people they associate with little more than high school rejection, being told to clean up their room, divorce and child support checks. It would also, for many of them, mean noticing someone who has never before existed to their eyes: women who don’t fit the “hot chick” profile. Women who, like so many of our favorite male movie icons, are more fascinating than modelesque, who are sexy because they’re made of awesome, instead of just looking awesome.

Even more frightening is the prospect of letting into the industry people who don’t have a beef against women. Because you know what other traits non-bigots tend to share? Intelligence and self-confidence. That’s why they’re able to come to grips with their own shortcomings without making scapegoats out of huge classes of people. If you’re not – if you only think you look good because you’re standing on top of millions of people you and your friends have discredited out of existence – your antiperspirant fails at the very thought of smart, secure people flooding into the job market you depend on.

Is it laziness or ego that holds you back from overcoming your desire to blame entire groups for your own shortcomings? Maybe in the end, it’s the ego that fuels laziness too. Whatever the case, it’s not that hard to explain why people who claim to worship profit above all else sometimes actually worship what they want to believe is profitable.


  1. says

    Holy shit, I didn’t actually expect you to do it…but you just explained the WHY (that I was looking for from last post) remarkably well.

    (and that is not meant to imply I had low expectations of you…I didn’t know if ANYONE could do it. Kudos! And thanks.)

    Any luck on my other request? :)

  2. says

    That was the silly thing about the F&SF / Eclipse claims – you’d think that symphony orchestras would want to have the best performers regardless of their gender, too, in order to attract more audiences…but that wasn’t how it worked. Funny enough. (You’d also think people would not drink and drive, or smoke a pack a day, or lie down in the middle of the road on a dare, or strike up romances with known killers, or leave a gun on the stove while frying bacon in the presence of a cat, or any number of things, on account of wanting to stay alive/maintain quality thereof, but they do every day. Odd how logic doesn’t rule human decisionamaking in all areas, innit?)

  3. says

    Spartakos, by “other request, I assume you mean this?

    Good article, though…let me know when you can write the followup, “How To Make the Film Industry Think Rationally”.

    I don’t think you can make them think differently. I think if enough of us got into position, we could force them into acting as if they think differently. I mean, that’s how culture works. There was a time when people felt comfortable being overtly racist in public – they knew the culture supported them in this. Now, even though there are still plenty of racists around, it’s less common for people to be overt about it, because they’re not so sure the culture will support them on it.

    Industries and markets are subcultures, and the same rules apply. It’s the “got into position” part of what I said that’s tough because the hatches are battened down. Bigots instinctively, unconsciously understand how this stuff works. You’d almost need a covert operation culminating in a coup: inserting line-toeing spies into the industry until there are enough of them with enough power to take over.

    Because that would be such a challenge, a better hope might be a very big earthquake.

    Bellatrys, that’s very true. There’s a very fine line between being rational and rationalizing, and our emotions cause us to cross it all the time. The film industry is hardly unique in this.

  4. SunlessNick says

    Or it was really the alien/Terminator/Hannibal Lechter people wanted to see, not Ripley, Connor or Starling.

    So once again, I find myself wondering why it was that none of my friends (male or female) wanted to see Terminator 3 upon learning for sure that Sarah Connor would not be in it. An Alien without Ripley I can get – it forms a “villain franchise” where the monster is a draw – but Ripley is still held by everyone I know as the standard the human lead must live up to. Oh, and none of them watched Hannibal either.

    That’s a small sample set, but it’s a pattern I see reported over and over.

    Which makes me suspect, in the reasons you suggest, ego over leaziness. Because it must take a heck of an effort to maintain the mythology that fans only want to men, white men, straight white men, tremendously macho straight white men in lead roles.

  5. SunlessNick says

    Another facet to ego might be a desire to believe that they “get” people – after all, they tell stories about people don’t they, they must understand them, mustn’t they? If their models about what types of film audiences want are wrong, it calls into question the validity of what’s inside the films as well – the most basic part of their jobs.

    Cowardice too: people frequently fear trying new things, and rarely want to be the first to do so. So they shy away from rethinking their models, because they don’t want to be the first to take the risk – and rationalise away any evidence that the risk may not actually be very great.

    Case in point: I ask you; who the hell goes to see a film called Titanic without the expectation of watching a ship get smashed with an iceberg, the people aboard it trying to survive, and many of them suffering icy death? I can’t help but suspect that if women flocked to it in such greater numbers than they do to other romance films, something besides the romance was a draw – and could it have perhaps been the one thing we’re guaranteed to get in a film called Titanic?

  6. says

    “I think if enough of us got into position, we could force them into acting as if they think differently.”

    Yes. This.

    Kinda like how most book bestseller lists had to suddenly pretend as if they all thought that kid lit was actually worthy of being noticed, or else Harry Potter was going to constantly shove the “real lit” off the lists. Although, obviously, that still results in a lot of marginalization, it’s better that not being noticed at all.

    The other, more remote option, is that the industry gets seriously hit by the recession and that makes room for some people to take chances and try (suposedly) new things.

    Kinda like how most comic book store people still look down on manga – but they still sell it to survive.

    (although the earthquake’s a pretty funny idea. maybe we could make it the subplot of the next made for TV disaster movie)

  7. sbg says

    The other, more remote option, is that the industry gets seriously hit by the recession and that makes room for some people to take chances and try (suposedly) new things.

    Alas, I think this will just bring out more “reality” TV. Like “Greatest American Dog” on CBS, a reality show with the goal of finding the perfect canine pet.

    Er. I suppose that might be an example of the industry focusing on an underused demographic?

  8. says


    yuck. and you are probably right.


    I shall thank the goddess daily for my Buffy, Criminal Minds, Cagney and Lacey, and Veronica Mars dvds. (and many more, of course, but I didn’t want to take up half the page)

  9. S. A. Bonasi says

    You mention greed coming from ego, but I wonder if greed itself might not (as well) be a powerful factor in and of itself. After all, on a large scale, it is profitable, since anything that helps to perpetuate the system ensures that privileged white men still have the best shot at the top jobs. So…lose money on the short term to ensure that the money that is made is always made by privileged white men.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    Nick, they seem to take a lot of pride in the idea that they (smugly) understand how mentally deficient the audience is. Writers in HW seem to think they’re so sophisticated that no mass audience could understand the Truly Artistic Movies they would write, if only they were allowed. I was scoffed at for saying I suspected most of the audience was smarter than they thought, and the rest was too indiscriminate to mind watching “smart” movies as long as they still had the rip-roarin’ special effects and other stock “formula” stuff (which in time you could wean them off of).

    And good point: you can’t say Titanic did so well because of the romance, because 50 billion other romances came out that same year and didn’t do so well. Which, I imagine, is why they claim it’s Leo (but is anybody buying that? Nothing against him, but I don’t know anyone who thinks that highly of him).

    Mickle, yes, but where’s the second season of C&L? When’s that coming out? When they decide the first season sold enough to make it worthwhile. Wonder if that’ll happen? Sorry, I’m pissed that it’s not out already.

    S.A. Bonasi, you’re exactly right – job security is just as important to profiteers as profit. Maybe more so. Probably a bit of a balancing act.

    After a point with “ego”, it gets down to semantics. Someone on LJ brought up (in response to this article) some great points about economics: “Those businessmen who discriminated against black people were not just doing it because they wanted to feel better or safer than anyone else. It was also because if they went ahead and served the 10% of the population they were screwing over, they could potentially lose 50% of their customers. That was their fear.”

    Good point. But I choose to trace back to motivations of the customers – why did they want to frequent places that excluded certain people? Because it made them exclusive and special, that they could get served. Why did they want to feel exclusive and special? Ego.

    Why does anyone want more than they need (the beginning of greed)? Security, but again that’s an ego thing. The body knows when it’s full and warm. It doesn’t think ahead to the future and freak out about the possibility of Not Having. That’s not the animal brain at work – that’s the ego. And then greed – the ability to hurt others to get more than you need until your ego feels safe – is something *I* would define as purely ego-driven.

    That’s just how I see the words and perceive things working. I’m not trying to prove my view right, just clarifying how I use the terms.

  11. says

    I’ll tell you what’s made of awesome. This post. Right here.

    The digression about curly hair made me want to stand up and cheer and it wasn’t even the main point.

    Greed/ego/laziness – whatever the combination of traits/life philosophies, the effect is that of pretense. A pretense that we all too often internalize, so that those most represented on screen are normalized. A white dude is normal – needs no description – he is the ‘default setting’ for human. If you’re not a white dude and you’ve got that mess in your head, it’ll do a number on ya.

  12. says

    I believe you are correct about ‘not wanting business’ and ‘keeping people in their [perceived] place’. Now, the question is, how to remedy and restore the damage done to the blessed by the afflicted-and-insecure who don’t really like business as much as they like the privilege of pretending like they’re the only people whose humanity is of material worth?

  13. says

    That’s always the tough question, skywardprodigal, and I don’t claim to have the answer. For the purpose of longterm change, I’ve always believed it’s more important to change our culture and the messages we’re sending than to change laws, but I think a combination of the two can set the stage for reducing future problems and raising awareness.

    But to fix what’s already been damaged? I personally am of the belief that Affirmative Action was a pretty damn good idea and we may have ended it too soon. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it did help to normalize diversity in what used to be almost exclusively white male spaces. Normalization is a big step toward creating generations that can’t even imagine all-white/male spaces, and that’s a big push in the right direction. As are laws that attempt to nudge employers toward hiring other groups who’ve been discriminated against. Maybe the momentum started from those will carry us through until these attitudes are so unpopular that they don’t cause problems anymore (I’d like to see them eliminated, but am not holding my breath).

    This is why I started this site. TV and film have tremendous power to normalize things in our minds. Right now, they’re still mostly still normalizing the idea that only white men have interesting stories and everyone else is a satellite orbiting them, or a burden they have to carry. I just want to break that up and show all different sorts of people in all different sorts of roles, and then at least they’d stop reinforcing bad messages.

  14. Paul W. says

    I’ve been thinking about this particular subject at great length and just recently stumbled on this article and I have my own hypothesis on this subject.
    I believe what you’ve been describing in the two articles can also be described as effective marketing through the entertainment industry by the consumer goods industry and from a psychological point of view what could essentially be called brainwashing.

    I’ve noticed in nearly all parts of the entertainment industry (television, movies and popular music) there’s a constant subconscious reinforcing of stereotypes. Now you could say that that’s what people want to see, that that’s all the general public would be comfortable with but I have another possible explanation.

    There’s a very good reason for reinforcing stereotypes to a mass consumer audience. The consumer audience will subconsciously base their taboos and expectations of other individuals and themselves on those stereotypes. The strongest undercurrent of this is the reinforcing of masculine and feminine ideals, as it applies to the entire audience.

    Now the most obvious proponent of subconscious stereotype reinforcment is the consumer goods industry. This is relatively easy to illustrate by looking at current subcultures. Hip hop culture, for instance is subconsciously encouraged through mainstream music and television to wear certain styles of clothes, use certain fragrances (almost all of which are marketed by members of the mainstream music industry) and idolize a misogynist masculine ideal and a promiscuous feminine ideal. Now my personal belief is that the main reason for this is to change the focus of a culture that in America’s past has been deeply spiritual to a culture that is primarily focused on materialism and self image, which is far more profitable.

    Now I’m getting a little off topic but I feel it must be said, but what bothers me most of all about the stereotypes presented to the hip hop community through the music industry (the CEOs of which are all white males) is the encouragement of a low income minority to deal and use illegal substances and idolize individuals that have served time in prison. Recently I’m becoming more and more sure the drug war is almost entirely for the profit of privatized prisons and recently I discovered a well researched article that shocked me because it almost explicitly states that this is correct.

    Back to what I was originally saying, what all of this suggests to me is that far more profit can be generated from sponsors (which in turn get some say in who the entertainment’s target audience is) than from viewers, especially with the rise in pirating of copyright materials and every episode of nearly every popular tv show being accessible as internet video.

    Now before now there was no doubt in my mind the strong influence the pharmaceutical industry, the automotive industry, the oil industry and the consumer goods industry were having on popular entertainment, but now, after reading your original post I have to wonder if there’s some other stronger influence on the entertainment industry. There’s nothing that would suggest that the subliminal stereotyping of women as only ever talking about men would be profitable which makes me believe there’s some other reason for it. But what, then?

    The only thing I can think of is subliminally encouraged sexism, but that seems too much like conspiracy for me to believe…

    Anyway, some things I’ve been thinking about recently, any input or criticism would be appreciated.

  15. says

    Paul W., that makes a ton of sense.

    I would argue that there IS a consumer goods marketing benefit to the way women are portrayed on TV: we are constantly being made to feel not good enough, too ugly, diminished. Our bodies are never right. Our hair is never good enough. We rarely see women breaking the glass ceilling without getting punished somehow for it; we see women being victimized over and over, but rarely see a woman kick a would-be rapist in the balls or pop his eyes out and get away.

    What does this sell? Cosmetics, fashion, anti-depressants, cosmetic surgery, etc. All the “solutions” women are offered for “fixing” ourselves, when it’s our lives and the society we live in that needs fixing.

  16. Paul W. says

    Jennifer, I can’t believe that didn’t occur to me. Especially since all I can think about on the days I work in the cosmetic section of the large, soul crushing corporation that is my employer is how infuriating it is that the oil and pharmaceutical companies have found a way to make a profit off of insecurities reinforced by the media, ESPECIALLY since they seem to be marketing to younger and younger female audiences (Bratz? Barbie? What the hell is wrong with this culture?). The fact that so much of it contains toxins just makes it worse!

    I guess, thinking about it a bit more, I realize the reason I most likely didn’t catch on to that is that it wasn’t as blatant as what I’m used to seeing that really pisses me off. I’m used to seeing commercials for shampoos and body washes presented by what I think of as “photoshopped women” that are obviously attacking feminine self image, where as what you’re talking about is much subtler and far more insidious. Things like women getting into a bad relationship in a sitcom and not trying to change things or women being presented as not knowing what they want is almost worse, I think, because subconsciously encouraging women to follow what they see on TV as their role models could, in some cases, actually be destructive to their psychological or physical health, depending on their respective situations.

    This makes me wonder if it’s healthy to show relationships on television at all. How can one develop a personal sense of what love is if one’s force fed an insincere emotion packaged by industry?

    I guess I feel the same way about beauty and most of all God. Those words need to have personal meaning based on the individual, not meaning given them by corporation or religion.

  17. says

    Yes, seeing a character you admire get into an inadvisable relationship is maddening. It could indeed be damaging to anyone who’s looking for answers about relationships – i.e., a young person or an adult who’s realized her current approach to relationships isn’t working and she needs new ideas.

    The subtle and insidious stuff is kind of what this site’s all about, which is why it occurred to me quickly. I don’t actually think there are boardrooms where people say things like, “No, don’t show her becoming CEO without something bad happening to her to balance it out – that’ll give women hope and lower Paxil sales.” I think it’s more a result of the default story being one that’s about men, and any story about a woman (or a black man, or a disabled person, etc.) being seen as an “issue” story, a story not about a woman, but about being a woman. And the part of womanhood it has to be about, being an “issue” movie, is the bad stuff. And from that theory, people take stock stereotypes and tropes, figuring it worked before and therefore will convince their bosses it’ll work again.

    But I do think there may be boardrooms in the cosmetics and pharma industries where people discuss which shows they should buy air time on, and confident women who behave like adults are not their target audience, and not where they want to spend their money. And in turn the industry notices where the dollars are going and gives the advertisers what they’re looking for. Vicious circle.

    My theories, anyway. :)

  18. Jacqueline S. Homan says

    When I see that the fraudulent standard of beauty (thin, young, flawless female bodies) – which has disenfranchised all women unable to conform to it – I see white male upper-middle/upper class privilege. I also see a shallow selfishness rife with entitlement attitudes that makes me want to hurl.

    The damage wrought by Big Media’s portrayal (or lack thereof) of anyone in society that does not conform to unrealistic standards of attractiveness and desirability extends beyond limited representation of everyone in our society. It also encompasses social engineering with very real devastating consequences for those who have been marginalized.

    Weight/appearance and age discrimination hurts women far more than it does men, and it disproportionately hurts poor women the most (left out of the dating/mating game and denied employment for being “too fat”, “too ugly”, etc). It was spoiled, coddled, over-privileged, super rich white males in positions of power in “Big Media” and corporate America who created this hell for us. This is why I have become a “fashionista” – wearing nothing but military surplus cammies, and why I chucked the TV many years ago, and I will not spend one dime on movies.

    A recent survey in Minnesota revealed that 70% of all girls aged 9 – 12 had been on strict diets at least once. For every young girl who diets to the point of unhealthiness in fear of becoming fat (hence “unworthy”), I hold these superficial, shallow, rich white males responsible. For every new mom who suffers pregnancy and birth related PTSD out of extreme emotional angst over her changing body, I hold these superficial, shallow, rich white males responsible. For every middle-aged and/or overweight woman struggling in poverty because of being denied a job due to our culture of “body fascism”, I hold superficial shallow rich white males responsible. When I see middle-aged housewives handed divorce papers and thrust into the downward spiral of poverty because hubby wants a “younger, prettier, thinner model”, I hold the shallow, rich white males of “Big Media” responsible.

    The media elite take no responsibility for the social injustices left in their wake. Women who find themselves unemployable due to age and appearance discrimination are told that they must “do something about it” – that is to say, they must somehow find the money for abdominoplasty and liposuction and breast augmentation, personal fitness trainers, and buy over-priced “Frankenstein” diet foods loaded with more chemicals than DuPont. If these “soluitions” are financially out of reach for them, they’re blamed for “not working hard enough” or not “trying hard enough” to get the money to pay for all of these “fixes.”

    Not having to risk death from anorexia or bulimia in an endeavor to conform to what is “attractive” and be rated “desirable” as a wife or as a middle class professional deserving of a good job, and to maintain the status of “worthiness” and “deservingness” in our society; is a social class privilege enjoyed by rich white males at the helm of corporate America, “Big Media”, and to a lesser extent, thin, young, and pretty white females (”Barbies”). The “Barbies” who are usually depicted as supporting the lead males are “Aunt Tomasinas” – ever-ready to do the massa’s bidding while writing off their underprivileged sisters as no account uppity bitches who need to shut up and somehow find the money in order to lose some weight and correct their physical flaws.

  19. Paul W. says

    The more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that the problem is only partly the fault of the media and corporate powers. The problem is equally the part of the masses that allow it to happen and encourage it. We easily control what the corporations sell us by simply not buying what we disagree with. Coffee is an excellent example of this. As soon as people started demanding fair trade coffee the entire industry changed and fair trade coffee became widely available. Consumers are encouraging the way the media advertises to them by buying what’s being advertised. It’s a social feedback loop of the masses encouraging the media encouraging the masses.

    As far as I’m concerned the only way to solve this is to teach critical thinking and discerning propaganda (which is clearly what advertising is) in elementary school. But that’s impossible because then politicians wouldn’t be able to lie to the people and a lot of companies would fail because people wouldn’t be buying the things they don’t need.

  20. says

    Paul, I agree with your comment… except if you meant to suggest a boycott of sponsors of bad shows would help, I disagree on that one point. See this post:


    If, for example, women stop watching these shows or buying what their sponsors sell or paying for movie tickets, we will simply be branded a “bad demographic” and TV will become *more* macho-guy oriented in an attempt to replace female viewers with male viewers. If we do watch them and buy the products, they’ll conclude it’s because we do whatever our menfolk tell us. No matter what we do, Hollywood has a rationalization ready to make it “support” the status quo beliefs that women are just satellites of men, without tastes, dreams or hopes of our own.

    That quibble aside, I absolute agree that educating consumers is our best defense – and that’s the purpose of this site, really: many people get annoyed with bad gender portrayals, but they don’t analyze why it’s happening or even why exactly it’s bothering them. We aim to do the analysis and put the show/film in perspective with the sexist culture it’s helping perpetuate.

  21. says

    Your discussion of how most hair stylists haven’t clue #1 about how to cut naturally curly hair is so true. And there might be similar reasons behind both issues (films and haircuts).

    I’ve thought about this issue a lot. Why do hair stylists all say they know how to cut naturally curly hair when they patently do not know how? I don’t want to think that every hairstylist that I’ve ever seen was deliberately lying, yet I could never come up with any other conclusion.

    However, it recently struck me: Perhaps they think they can cut naturally curly hair because they think that permed hair behaves the same as naturally curly hair. Of course it doesn’t, but maybe they think it does and they just aren’t actually looking at the results of their cuts.

    The only person who ever gave me a great hair cut was long ago in Arizona. He was the owner of two salons in Tucson; his wife was watching my young child every day while I worked. One day he took pity on me and offered to cut my hair. He did a fabulous job and it looked lovely for months. He even told me what he did, which was to individually cut strands longer and shorter all over, so that the shorter strands supported the longer strands with their extra curliness. After I moved back to California, I tried telling other stylists about the technique, but got nowhere. Only one stylist was honest enough to tell me that it was just too much work.

    And perhaps that, in a nutshell, is the main problem with people not writing good roles for women and people not figuring out how to cut naturally curly hair: It is just too much work and there aren’t large, apparent rewards to make it worth the extra effort.

  22. says

    It is just too much work and there aren’t large, apparent rewards to make it worth the extra effort.

    Yes, but I think even *that* is a deliberate perception of which they’re convincing themselves. There are lots of very successful movies that featured women and/or appealed to women as an audience, but somehow these guys keep turning a blind eye without even realizing it.

    As for writing women… women are a huge and varied group, just like men. We can be as wildly different from each other as any man and woman can be. The only problem is when a writer perceives a whole gender as a collective: “men are like this, and women are like that.” It’s just not true. You can find examples of every human psychological and personality trait in both genders. Writers may perform better with certain traits than others, but there’s no reason to assign those traits strictly to one gender or the other.

    On an interesting and ironic note, I notice male writers have NO problem writing women characters as narcissists of supreme degree. In reality, extreme narcissists (where it’s actually a personality disorder) are male 75% of the time, and even when women are narcissists they tend to manifest it very differently than these entitled TV and movie women do. It intrigues me that male writers claim they can’t write women because they don’t understand them, but have absolutely no difficulty transposing an actually male-trending personality disorder onto female characters (who I’m guessing represent “that bitch that turned me down for the prom” or some similar ego bruise, as many of these women characters get their comeuppance from the male writers for not being humble and sweet).

  23. Jacqueline S. Homan says

    O also disagree with Paul W.’s position that the masses are equally at fault for “choosing” forms of entertainment, fashion styles, etc. that promote a Euro-centric fraudulent standard of beauty. What we “choose” are really the options on a finite and very limited menu. Our choices are restricted to those proffered to us by the media and the corporate elite. If something’s not on the menu, we can’t choose it now can we?

  24. says

    Jennifer: Yes, I think I understand. Are you speculating that there is an unconscious bias (per this Web site!) against women period, but perhaps these men’s conscious explanation of the actions that arise out of this bias is that “there isn’t a market”?

    Interesting comment on narcissists and narcissism. I hadn’t pinned down why it was that the movie portrayals of narcissistic women always seemed off to me, but you nailed it: They are females portraying a male version of that syndrome.

    Jacqueline: The issue of choice is something that I have gnawed on a lot, without a strong conclusion one way or the other. I do believe that we all have choices, and I also believe that the information we need to make informed choices is available in so many ways, and yet there are so many people who are unaware of how they have choices, or of the fact even that there is an alternate way of looking at things. So, power of choice, yes, but KNOWLEDGE of that power of choice, less so. I have great hopes for the Internet as a solution to the latter as more and more people come online.

  25. says

    Are you speculating that there is an unconscious bias (per this Web site!) against women period, but perhaps these men’s conscious explanation of the actions that arise out of this bias is that “there isn’t a market”?

    If I understand you correctly, yes. Even successful corporations and industries tend to operate on a number of bad assumptions. I mean, sub-prime mortgages: anyone who ever managed a small household knows you can’t have that as a standard. But the banks and financial industry managed to convince themselves, probably because it made them, the realtors and the home buyers they worked with feel good. I believe we humans are hopelessly emotion-centered – even the desire to be logical is still a desire, and the possibilities that occur to us as logical solutions are colored by our emotional outlooks.

    In the case of the belief there isn’t a market for mainstream films featuring women, I’d say a lot of people in the industry believe it simply because they’ve been told it’s true so often, and unlike me, they have no emotional reason to question it and see the holes in the logic. I’m sure there are also those who just hate women and tend to see women as useless in every part of their lives, but I think most prejudices involve a small percentage of serious haters backed up by a lot of people who have just swallowed their mullarky without thinking about it critically.

    So, power of choice, yes, but KNOWLEDGE of that power of choice, less so.

    This is good. I agree with Jacqueline that the way choices are PRESENTED can be very problematic. An analogy I used on this site a few times: if you offer me apples or oranges, and the apples are all rotten, of course I’m going to pick the oranges. If you conclude from that that I prefer oranges generally, you’re so wrong. A more familiar example is opinion-polling, in which questions are phrased to get the answer the pollers, or the people paying them, want to hear.

    And, yes, people do have the ability to see through this, but unless they have a strong emotional incentive – like, say, frustration from personal experiences with bias – it’s unlikely they will think about it critically.

  26. Paul W. says

    O also disagree with Paul W.’s position that the masses are equally at fault for “choosing” forms of entertainment, fashion styles, etc. that promote a Euro-centric fraudulent standard of beauty. What we “choose” are really the options on a finite and very limited menu. Our choices are restricted to those proffered to us by the media and the corporate elite. If something’s not on the menu, we can’t choose it now can we?

    I agree that at this point there’s very little alternative to mainstream entertainment presented to a broad audience. All of the entertainment that’s widely distributed to consumers is produced by corporations and sold through corporations.

    Up until now there was little to nothing anyone could do to present alternatives to mainstream entertainment, particularly to a broad audience. Before the internet alternatives had to be distributed locally but as the internet becomes more widely distributed it’s becoming easier and easier to produce and freely distribute “locally grown” entertainment.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, perhaps the internet is the perfect opportunity to create an alternative to mainstream entertainment and if there were a website dedicated to distributing alt-entertainment perhaps it could be successful, since there IS a demand for authentic, sincere entertainment. If something like that were to succeed perhaps it could change the products being produced by the corporate entertainment industry.

    Sure, there’s no alternative currently, so why not create it? We are the consumers, we can have an effect on the market.

  27. says

    Sure, there’s no alternative currently, so why not create it? We are the consumers, we can have an effect on the market.

    That’s exactly what I would do… if someone would hand me the necessary start-up capital. So there’s your answer – the people who care about this don’t typically have enough money to make a movie on their own, and the financiers are mostly all just looking for a sure thing, not something new and untried. Getting the right people together is a challenge.

  28. Jorgen says

    What this also means is that there is tons of money to be made by being less prejudiced than everybody else. Your curly favorable stylist is probably cleaning up. A production studio that let women be more than objects would likely make tons of money. Back in the day, when Jews couldn’t get hired into banks in this country, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers cleaned up by hiring Jewish bankers for cheaper.

    The problem is, every time that you have a cohesive industry, with a small number of schools that give credentials needed for entry, you make it easier for the bigots to hold everybody else out. This is why I think the best tool to fight bigotry and discrimination are open access to markets, antitrust and a light regulatory touch, particularly on small firms. In a competitive market, leaving money on the table because of ego problems results in bankruptcy.

  29. says

    Jorgen, I really agree with your assessment of what’s needed in the market place, so long as the “light regulatory” regulations are sensible. We have a tendency to regulate what doesn’t need regulating, IMO, while failing to regulate the stuff that can most hurt people who have no power to fight the system.

    The thing about a competitive market is: there’s more to it than just “not too many rules and regs.” In the past 10 years, there have been periods where a monkey could make a fortune in housing, film, banking, etc. It didn’t have to know squat because the mechanisms were in place. The monkey just walked in, spouted some gibberish that people didn’t want to admit they couldn’t understand and so instead applauded as genius (I’m thinking of credit default swaps, among others), and collected its ungodly bonus check.

    And businesses thought it made damn good sense to write contracts which specified that the monkey got his small-national-economy-sized bonus regardless of whether he benefited the company or ran it into Chapter 11.

    With that level of stupid, of course you get fail. Because the market isn’t competitive anymore – a few huge companies have it all sewn up. When they can hire monkeys and still profit – at least up to the point where the entire economy tanks and everybody is in trouble – you know some manipulation has taken place that is preventing smaller, more innovative firms (fresh blood) from getting into the market and stirring things up for the better.

    It’s a lot like personal inheritance, actually – when a kid’s whole life is paved in gold with trust funds and introductions to anyone who can help him from the moment she leaves the womb, she’s likely to follow the path set for her instead of trying anything new. Meanwhile, the kid who’s had to find her own way will likely have more to offer, but go undiscovered because she’s been shut out.

  30. says

    This pisses me off. I really, really want to see a TV series adaptation of David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels, and this stupidity is a large part of why I probably never will. I want to watch a six-foot-tall, athletic, half-Caucasian-half-Chinese naval officer command starships in battle, and take down her (usually male) enemies in person with pistols and swords and her bare hands and feet. I want to see the flashback scene where Midshipman Lord Pavel Young surprises Honor in the acadamy showers, intent on rape — and she beats him into a bloody pulp. I want to see Dominica Santos sacrificing herself to save H.M.S. Fearless from destruction as her fusion reactor fails, and Gunnery Sergeant Iris Babcock leading her marines into battle, Michelle Henke serving as Honor’s XO and confidante before taking command of her own cruiser, and Elizabeth III shaping her government’s strategy in the war against Haven. (The latter two, incidentally, are black, making it all the more unlikely we’d ever see them in those roles in a TV series — although Dualla, on BSG, does give me some hope. Actually, now I think of it, Kandyse McClure would make a pretty good Elizabeth.)

    I want to see Honor’s female foes, too: the worthy ones, like Genevieve Chin, Esther McQueen, and Shannon Foraker, and the not-so-worthy — Cordelia Ransom is one of the best sci-fi villains ever written. (Imagine Anne Coulter in charge of the Soviet Ministry of Information — the particular stripe of her politics, after all, matters far less than her shameless mendacity, gleeful cruelty, and knee-jerk authoritarianism.)

  31. says

    Companies like Fox and Sony own movie studios and have a vested interest in maintaining the Patriarchal meta-narrative. If women become fully human we may well be able to influence the economy and society toward a less military/industrial model. Sure there’s profit in having women in movies, but those profits threaten the power structure.

  32. Heather says

    I love this discussion. I would further suggest to you that the current oligarchic structure is increasingly terrified of the open unstructured market for entertainment which the Inarwebz *could* provide. When I understood the potential there, I started expecting to see industry moves by various corporate and/or government agencies or quasi-for-profit boards of various kinds (folks like RIAA, say?) to control what you can access on the internet. Taking aside all the geekdom arguments about whether vidding corporate content is legitimate fair use or not, why is there such an effort to control content? Why aren’t they using the Japanese anime corporate model of celebrating the fans and encouraging home-grown content? Because it’s subversive over here. It defies the official lines. It emphasizes all the Wrong People, or it warps the characters in ways they are afraid to show people at church.
    And it might even fail to make women feel inadequate enough to buy more household cleaning products, or clothes, or anti-aging creams, or diet pills.

  33. Sarah says

    “Now we’re all so dependent on school and certificates, even vocational school, which causes us to skip the thinking process, as if stuff we learn at school represents the whole of human knowledge and all we need to do is memorize it.”
    So true! I’m 24, I’ve been to university, but since I started reading about feminism and racism a few months back I can’t stop thinking “Why didn’t I notice this before? Why did no-one mention it?”

  34. Amanda says


    Also, everyone I know likes Alien, Aliens, Alien III but not Resurrection. The alien was still awesome, but they changed Ripley and then it didn’t work.

    Changed her into a sexist trope, too. (Joss is not always awesome.)

  35. says

    I lived in L.A. for 12 years, and I was always floored by the sexism I encountered among the older generation of male screenwriters. It really is straight out of the 1950’s. Bravo for telling it like it is. Your posts make so much sense.


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