Why Do Our Favorite Shows About Women Have No Women Writers?
5:00 pm, April 1st | by Meredith Lepore
Bad news again for women in television. The Writers Guild of America West 2013 TV Staffing Brief, the organization’s analysis of who was hired to write American television shows during the 2011-2012 season, was released and the number of women and minorities writing for TV shows is pretty dismal. You’d think the new shows we’ve seen with strong female characters would have more women behind them, but that’s not the case.
The analysis found that out of 1722 writers who wrote for 190 shows, 519 or 30.5% of them were women, and 269 of were minorities. From the study:
“Between the 1999-00 and 2011-12 seasons, women writers’ share of television staff employment increased about 5 percentage points — from 25 percent to 30.5 percent (see Figure 1). At this rate of increase, it would be another 42 years before women —roughly half of the U.S. population – reach proportionate representation in television staff employment. There were 519 women writers employed across the 190 shows examined in this brief for the 2011-12 season.”
Forty two years from now? Lena Dunham will be, like, 60!
“Despite pockets of promise, much more work must be done on the television diversity front before the corps of writers telling our stories look significantly more like us as a the nation,” said sociology professor Darnell Hunt, author of the report and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.
One show whose dearth of women writers might surprise you is New Girl. Despite being created by comedienne Liz Meriwhether and produced by Zooey Deschanel (who also stars), only 23% of the writers are women. Same goes for The Mindy Project. Aside from its creator, Mindy Kaling, the show has only one woman on the writing staff. Before you say I’m being sexist because men can write for women and vice versa, I want to make it clear that I’m not arguing that. But it is surprising, and we do need to get more women in general writing and producing in television. There are still shows with no women on the writing staff — not a single one. We can do better, right?
“It’s harder; there are less women looking for work. It’s easier to have an all-white male writing staff,” said Dan Harmon, the creator and former showrunner of the NBC sitcom Community. He was challenged to hire women to make up half of the writing staff of the show when it started in 2009 by then-NBC Entertainment president Angela Bromstad and he succeeded. According to this report, Community (which Harmon no longer works on) has 38.5% female writers, which isn’t terrible, but also isn’t parity.
AOLTV writer Maureen Ryan spoke with a wide variety of writers and creators, both male and female, on the subject. Everyone seemed to agree that greater gender diversity leads to better television. As one female writer told Ryan, “A balanced writers’ room is like a balanced world. Everyone thrives, good work gets done, people like each other and the show is better for it. Women keep the room moving. They’re great at multitasking and getting along with others. They don’t procrastinate and they open up with lots of personal anecdotes that make for great stories on the show and great character beats. They tend to smell good.” So what’s the holdup, entertainment industry?