“I want to direct an episode! I actually asked at the beginning of season three, at the same time as Michael did [Shanks went on to direct Double Jeopardy] and for whatever reason [mimes her lack of penis with her wiggling finger]…I can’t say that. I’d be so fired…! I’m sure that my lack of penis had nothing to do with it. For whatever reason, I wasn’t allowed to and that’s a source of frustration to me, to be honest. “
From AMANDA TAPPING: Tapping a Nerve Dreamwatch #93, May 02, reprinted with permission at SaveDanielJackson.com.
A few days ago, I wrote about the the percentage of women in Congress is higher than the percentage of women directors, and the impact that male-female ratio has on the creative visions expressed in film. It’s hard to imagine female directors facing more roadblocks than female politicians, so why aren’t there more female directors?
The above blockquote is from Amanda Tapping, a lead cast member of Stargate SG-1 for over eight years. She finally got to direct an episode at the end of Season 7 (airing in 2004), more than four years after she made the initial request. According to Tapping, her co-star Michael Shanks requested to direct at the same time she did. He got to direct an episode at the end of Season 4 (airing in 2001). The question Tapping seems to be raising is why it took her request three more years to be granted. Before you accept that it was her “lack of a penis”, there are a few issues to consider.
Was there any reason for the producers to have more confidence in Shanks’ directing abilities? Neither actor had any directing experience that I’ve heard of, and definitely nothing that shows up on IMDB. Could it be that they only had two episodes in three years that were easy enough for new directors to handle? That doesn’t really wash, considering that the episode Shanks directed was pretty hardcore: lots of action sequences and one of the craziest duplication scenes I’ve ever witnessed, in which Richard Dean Anderson gets his duplicate in a headlock and both of them face the camera. Maybe Shanks had a better negotiating style? Very possibly, although even that bears some further scrutiny in the gender department. And last but not least, did Shanks make a big enough mess behind the scenes that they were reluctant ever to let any newbie director near an episode again? It’s entirely possible, although I can’t help but take into account it was a particularly challenging episode. And generally, when actors or writers get to direct, the rest of the crew fills in the gaps for them, to make sure it all turns out well.
The contrast between Shanks’ episode and Tapping’s interests me. Shanks’ episode killed off a bad guy and dealt with a recurring story arc. Tapping’s was a standalone that had no bearing on the overall series arc. Shanks’ involved a lot of action and a lot of actors. Tapping’s looked like it was done out back by the garbage bins with whomever showed up to work that day. Series star Richard Dean Anderson played two roles in Shanks’ episode; notably, Tapping’s episode is the second in the series’ seven-year history from which he was completely absent. And finally, Shanks’ episode was written by staff regular Robert C. Cooper. Tapping’s was written by… well, Shanks gets the debut writing credit, but rumor has it the staff writers took his story and tacked on the crappy subplot from X-files – in either case, the end result makes you want to repeat the Monty Python mantra “And now for something completely different!” at about every third scene switch.
I asked Stargate fans for some help with this article, and they raised some interesting possibilities (much thanks to Ankh, Graculus, Nialla, watchman107 and Redbyrd). For example, maybe they prefer to give episodes to behind-the-scenes crew members with career aspirations to direct. But that doesn’t explain why one actor got the chance three years ahead of another. Clearly, the producers differentiated between his request and hers on the basis of something, and gender is the most obvious distinction to be made between the two actors.
But there is another distinction between Shanks and Tapping, grossly apparent to anyone who’s followed the show behind the scenes for any amount of time. Tapping is repeatedly praised by the producers for doing exactly what she’s told. She doesn’t waste time on set. She’s so good at delivering horrific sci-fi technobabble that she’s been saddled with about 80% of it from early on. Shanks, on the other hand, could probably be framed as the poster child for “creative differences” (which at one point led him to leave the show for a year), and he’s been known to fight the producers for his artistic choices. For one of the tamer examples, a producer once commented that they gave up writing his character as full of wonder after a few seasons because even when they did, Shanks wouldn’t play it that way anymore.
If you think it’s odd that the more cooperative actor came in last… you’re probably a woman. I know I learned from birth that being cooperative, helpful and supportive was the way to get ahead in life – that’s what all girls are taught. Fortunately, I was also raised to question assumptions: after being the cooperative one who got passed over a few times, then observing dozens more like me, I started to look at women who did not get passed over. And I realized it’s not always that employers prefer men. Sometimes it’s just that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Boys are taught to vocalize their preferences where girls are taught to hint and ask politely. It’s no surprise that men, unaware of the difference in training, often assume if a woman really cared about something, she’d speak up louder.
In either case, there’s still gender bias. Whether it’s the producers actually sitting around thinking men are more important than women, or whether it’s a culture that trains girls to beg and boys to demand, the end result is often the same. It’s just that when it’s cultural, you can often overcome it by learning alternate ways to express yourself.
But I’m still no closer to figuring out why we have so few female directors.