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.