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Voices

Women are getting a raw deal in Hollywood and it's not much better here

Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses are speaking out about sexism and film. The truth is there are fewer women working as film and television directors and screenwriters today than there were two decades ago.

Image: Associated Press

Writing in the latest issue of Lenny Letter, actress Jennifer Lawrence spoke about the gender pay gap, saying she didn’t try to get paid as much as her male co-stars in American Hustle as she “didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’”.

Lawrence is not the first actress to ask questions about the role women play in the film industry. She joins Emma Watson, Geena Davis and many others who are speaking out about sexism and film.

However, it seems to be an issue in other parts of the world other than Hollywood. Women in Film and Television International has recently launched in Ireland, and aims to strike a gender balance in the industry.

IRELAND IS A country and a culture in transition. Moving from a traditional culture where the marriage bar prevented a majority of adult women from working right up until 1973, Ireland has moved swiftly into taking its place at the forefront of technologically and socially advanced European nations.

Film Jennifer Lawrence Source: Associated Press

But vestiges of previous cultural norms remain. Since the foundation of the state in 1918, just 91 women have been elected in Ireland.

Our Dáil has never been less than 85% male. These figures show that Ireland is failing to use its most vital resource: its people. Women, 52% of the population, make up just 15% of elected representatives.

The number of women chief executives at Fortune 500 companies is currently at an all-time high of 26, up from just 12 in 2011.

But women still hold just 5% of all Fortune 500 CEO roles. Closer to home, the situation isn’t any better. A survey published by Catalyst in January 2015 shows that just one in 10 directors of Irish publicly listed companies are women.

As a creative industry, leadership appointments in film and television are – through necessity – made using subjective judgments of creative ability, leadership quality and natural authority. But the international media industry has become increasingly atomised and decentralised over the past 20 years.

Source: Geena Davis Institute/YouTube

With little industrial regulation or governance in place, these personal judgments are at increasing risk of unconscious bias.

As a consequence, we find fewer women are working as film and television directors and screenwriters today than there were two decades ago. Pat Murphy remains the only Irish woman to have directed three feature films, despite finishing her last fiction film fifteen years ago.

Our closest neighbours in Directors UK report that only 8% of all working directors are female. This represents a significant year-on-year decline.

In the US, of the top 250 grossing American films, only 7% were directed by women, marking a drop of two percentage points in 20 years. We are at an all time low.

Without active engagement with this problem, traditional gender misconceptions and unconscious bias will increasingly hamper our industry.

59th BFI London Film Festival - Brooklyn screening Source: Doug Peters

Film and television play a profound and formative role in the cultural and economic life of our citizens, our society and our country. Yet there are scant figures available to quantify women’s participation in the Irish film and television industry.

What we do know is that in the 20 year period, 1993-2013, only 13% of Irish-produced screenplays were penned by female writers.

Comparable figures across Europe suggest that the percentage of women in directing remains in the single figures.

Women in Film & Television Ireland officially launched last week. As part of a global network of 13,000 plus members, our aim is to create an equally balanced gender landscape in the audiovisual industry through:

  • Working towards equal employment opportunities for women
  • Ensuring unconscious bias is eliminated in hiring practice
  • Researching and maintaining quantitative data on women working in the audiovisual sector
  • Providing a forum and networking opportunities for female industry professionals
  • Supporting women’s continued professional development
  • Spotlighting media women’s professional achievements
  • Supporting diverse and positive representations of women in industry
  • Supporting female professionals working in the audiovisual sector

Gender imbalance in film and television presents a socio-economic and cultural problem. We can, and must resolve this issue to ensure the sustainability and growth of Ireland’s €550 million audiovisual sector.

Gender diversity is not the problem, it is the solution.

Rachel Lysaght is an award winning film and TV producer. She is a graduate of the European EAVE programme and the Samuel Beckett School of Drama in Trinity College, Dublin. She is the current Chair of Women in Film & Television International in Ireland. You can join Women in Film & Television online at wft.ie or visit their Facebook page.

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