Women, artists, and anonymity

Recently blogger Nick Waters watched 30 different movies designed to appeal to women – “chick flicks” – to see what he could learn about modern women. 

The answer was, not much … and that’s hardly a surprise.  But what was startling, as Salon pointed out, was that he could only find 11 out of 30 movies that had actually been directed by women.  That’s right: two thirds of the movies designed to appeal to women were actually written and directed by men.

Even that makes the situation look better than it is.  According to a recent report by The Center for Study of Women and Television in Film, in 2008, women directed only nine percent of the 250 top-grossing films … and in 2007, it was only six percent.

Looking ahead, only five of the 50 biggest movies slated for 2010 have female leads – and that includes “Sex and the City,” the next “Twilight,” and an animated fairy tale. 

Clearly, women are hugely underrepresented in American film.  Even more amazing, says Steve Pritzker, a former Hollywood comedy writer who chairs Saybrook’s MA Psychology program with a specialization in Creativity Studies, is that when women have made significant contributions to film and television, they’ve been quickly forgotten.

Pritzker feels this issue personally.  A writer for the Mary Tyler Moore Show, he was at the forefront of creating a program meant to chronicle the experiences of being a woman working in a man’s industry.  “That was the point, that was the premise,” he remembers.  “And the majority of episodes were written by men.  It’s something that didn’t even occur to us at the time.  We just didn’t think about it.”

 Many women writers did get their first credit on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but in the first three years, only 29% of the episodes were written by women.  “That was probably among the highest at that time,” Pritzker says.  “Treva Silverman wrote many of the episodes and did receive an Emmy for her work.””

As the editor of the Encyclopedia of Creativity, Pritzker was recently looking for biographies of female creative figures – and had a disturbingly difficult time finding them. 

“I hadn’t really been cognizant of it in the first edition of the Encyclopedia, but it’s very clear that women have been shut out of a lot of creative professions, and their success has been downplayed,” he says.  “To correct that for the Encyclopedia, we started looking for biographies of eminent creative women, and it was very, very, hard to find people who were doing this.”

Equally problematic, he says, is the way that the creative women who are widely recognized have often been seen as attached to famous men – Frieda Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe come to mind.  “If you look at their work, it’s fabulous, but we talk about them in relation to men, and that’s a way of kind of dampening their achievement,” Pritzker says. 

The thing we need to realize, Pritzker says, is that it has nothing to do with creative ability and everything to do with a society that still holds powerful women at arm’s length. 

“This is true for Fortune 500 companies, being president of the United States, there’s still that ceiling on women, and whether it’s the old boys’ network or whether it’s just that men are more comfortable working with other men, and women don’t even try after a while … the odds are against them,” he says.  “While nobody would publicly make the case that women are less creatively talented, or their work isn’t up to snuff, I think that privately people are saying just that sort of thing.  We don’t have to guess or estimate:  women are clearly not receiving their due for creative work.”

The good news, he says, is that the necessary change is happening faster than ever.

“If you look at the long term trend – women got the vote 90 years ago – then it looks good.  We’ve come so far with Kathyrn Bigelow finally becoming the first woman to win an Oscar for directing,” he says.  “But if you have to live in the real world, and you’re a talented woman trying to make it in Hollywood, it’s still a lot harder for you than for a man.”

One thing you can be sure of, though:  the next edition of the Encyclopedia of Creativity is working hard to make sure that there’s a record of the work that women have done.  

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