Conferences are a great way to get away from the computer screen, share ideas, thoughts on research and catch up with other academics from related fields so I felt very honoured to have a paper accepted as part of a panel presentation on the 2nd ‘Doing Women’s Film and Television History’ conference organised by a committee of academics from the Women’s Film and Television History Network (click on link to take you straight to their site).

The purpose of this conference is to provide a space for academics, activists and industry professionals to consider the specific contribution of women to film and television. Given that women have been significantly contributing to film and television for over a hundred years, it is perhaps a little depressing that this is only the second year that the conference has been running but here’s hoping that its scope and status continues to develop into the future.

I’ve attached the conference schedule so you can see the range of papers included and the names of all the contributors. My paper was part of a panel presentation alongside Dr Bridget Conor and PhD candidate Natalie Wreyford, both from Kings College London (click on links to go to their individual staff pages for bios etc) under the title Forget the female, take that away from my job title, I’m a writer and I expect to be treated the same’: Challenging myths of participation in creative work.

 Bridget introduced the themes that all three of us alluded to in our work, that of considering the relationship between the structural conditions of the creative industries and the subjective experiences of those within its workforce with particular interest on how women’s stories of working in a ‘creative’ context challenge assumptions and myths about what it is to be a creative or cultural producer. Bridget referred to her own research on screenwriters (click here for her full research profile and list of publications). I found Bridget’s description on the celebration of ‘newness’ in discourse on the ‘new creative economy’ or ‘new media’ which she described as an almost ‘fetishisation’ really interesting especially when considering how it covers up or creates a lack of openness to think about alternative histories or genealogies in the creative industries.

 

My paper drew on my research which is looking specifically at the experience of working mothers in creative work. The purpose of my research is to consider how the experience of work adopted by the creative industries covers up the subjective experience of certain groups who through other social demands cannot participate in a celebrated model that foregrounds work identity over any other social, cultural, biological factor. In my paper, I broke down the need to look at how different social factors including race, class, disability, geographical place, religion both in relation with and independently from gender intersect and limit an individuals ability to participate in a particular working model that is all-encompassing and puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the individual to manage all aspects of his or her own career. Drawing from extracts from policy documents relating to both the creative industries and on parenthood my purpose was to show how two separate identities have been constructed that of the ideal worker and the intensive mother and it is the case of the working mother in the creative industries that highlights the clash between these two identities and the inability of certain people, in this context working mothers, to operate within a workforce regime that requires such individual management.

 

Natalie’s paper drew from her research which is considering the continued scarcity of female screenwriters in film. Her research approach applies critical discourse analysis to interviews with both screenwriters and employers in the UK film industry to question a notion of ‘acceptable inequalities’ and challenge reasons given for the continued scarcity of female screenwriters in film. Her paper highlighted a series of myths about female screenwriters, namely that women write in a certain way that limits their opportunity to be commissioned for bigger budget action films and an assumption that ‘things are getting better’.

 

Natalie’s paper put together data from US academic, Dr Martha Lauzen’s series of surveys of the top 250 grossing films in the US over the past 16 years which clearly outlined that there hasn’t been a steady increase in the number of films written by women on a high ranking scale and that the number has continuously fluctuated between the 8-16%. She then presented quotations from her own empirical research to show how industry gatekeepers continually reinforce discourses that entrench women screenwriters in the drama genre, a genre that traditionally attracts limited funding. As you can see from the power point attached this notion that women only write drama whereas men can cross over different genres is defunct. She also used her paper to challenge this notion that things are getting or will get better for female screenwriters if these myths or assumptions continue to dominate gatekeepers discourse.

 

I’ve attached the power point presentation from our session and I know that both Bridget and Natalie would be happy to receive direct comments or questions on their work.

 

What I found interesting is how this theme of ‘myths’ within the Film and Television kept cropping up as a recurrent theme throughout the conference. As I attended different papers and talks themes like ‘women don’t work because they have children’, ‘women write differently to men’, ‘women aren’t funny’, ‘films directed by women don’t make any money’ were mentioned again and again and – this is the depressing part – in each and every single case it was shown that we have got the research to prove that the myth is false (I’ve attached links to the relevant individuals who highlighted the research alluded to so you can find out some more about them). It seems that we know have a growing body of research to prove that women can be funny; women can work and raise healthy, well-balanced children at the same time. Films written or made by women are very successful. A women can write an action thriller. I’m not highlighting these terms as a way to prove that somehow women are better than men, more to point out that so many of the decisions made by those in power are based on myths that are fantasy and despite clear evidence to the contrary. Perhaps more is needed to be done in terms of research in order to further break down how these myths prevail and think about more direct action that could be taken to ensure women’s participation in the film and television industry is not limited due to stereotypical assumptions.

Just as I had finished this blog post, Tanya Gold published this article in the Guardian on the UK’s media and political reception of UN Special Rappoteur’s Rashida Manjoo report on violence against women in the UK. I’d urge you to read the article which links to the report as I won’t do either justice but one stand out comment that I’d like to quote is: “we have a well-trod response to a woman telling truths about the failures of our country ….. It is to ignore her professional expertise and paint her as insane.”

DWFTH 2014 Conference Provisional Schedule

Presentation slides

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