Last month, the National Women’s Council of Ireland and DCU’s Institute for Future Media and Journalism published a report called ‘Hearing Women’s Voices? Exploring Women’s Underrepresentation in Current Affairs Radio Programming at Peak Listening Times in Ireland’. The report showed a significant imbalance across three leading national radio stations in terms of the representation of women. The overall breakdown of voices was 28 per cent female versus 72 per cent male, while the report also revealed that women tend to get shorter air time, and that the stations surveyed favoured male guests and experts.
In our latest blog, the Women in Film and Television Ireland group respond to the findings of the report.
Reading the statistics in the ‘Hearing Women’s Voices’ report is disappointing, but not surprising. They reflect the statistics Women in Film and Television Ireland has been gathering on gender equality since our formation in September 2015.
The data gathered so far paint a shameful and embarrassing picture of the Irish film and television industry. Only 13 per cent of produced screenplays from 1993 to 2013 were written by women. We have reason to suspect that this under-representation is replicated in directing, editing, animation, design and other roles in film and television.
If you don’t know the circumstances, it’s easy to ask: could it be that men are just better at these jobs than women? This is where unconscious bias takes hold. For those in decision-making roles, it’s sometimes impossible to resist the idea that gambling on a man’s creative potential is inherently less risky than gambling on a woman’s. We’re culturally biased, all of us, in this respect.
As an example of this bias in action, Fiach Mac Conghail came under fire recently for including just two women in the 20-person line-up of writers and directors for the National Theatre’s 1916 centenary season.
His initial defence (which he later retracted) was that: “I took decisions based on who I admired and wanted to work with”. This is a very honest, and very leading, admission. He admired and wanted to work with men. He felt comfortable with men.
He went on, with even greater candour, to assert: “Sometimes plays we have commissioned by and about women just don’t work out. That has happened. Them’s the breaks.” In other words, when plays by and about men don’t work out, it’s nothing to do with their man-centred-ness. But women’s plays – well, they don’t work out because there’s a woman in there. And Fiach is by no means the only decision-maker to take this view.
In answer to that, let’s address just the area of writing – not just screenplay writing or theatre writing – but creative writing as a whole. In August 2015, figures from Amazon UK revealed that 18 out of the Top 20 best-selling eBooks sold in the year so far were written by women. Women creatively and financially outstripped their male counterparts by a whopping 80 per cent. This is no accident; it is just a simple case of creative writing talent being promoted and marketed on more equal terms than would be conventionally upheld in the literary business.
Female authors do still struggle against their male counterparts in the traditional methods of publishing, but these figures from eBook sales clearly show that, when placed on a level playing field, women’s work is demonstrably as good – if not better – than men’s.
Book to film is another area that is hugely successful for women in terms of creating massive revenue for film studios. Think of ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn; the ‘Hunger Games’ series by Suzanne Collins; the ‘Harry Potter’ series by JK Rowling; the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ series by EL James; the ‘Divergent’ series by Veronica Roth; and the ‘Twilight’ series by Stephanie Meyers – and there are many more. Billions of euro of Box Office returns, all derived from the creative output of women’s writing – and still the industry has no faith to transfer these skills into other areas.
Therein lies our right, as women, to question the decision-making process when it comes to not only writing, but to all other working areas of media and the arts as a whole.
The NWCI / DCU report clearly showed the challenges women face in Ireland’s broadcasting sector. On a more positive note, Women in Film and Television are heartened and inspired by the recent actions taken by women in radio and theatre to shine a light on gender imbalance. We, as a group, have made positive steps in the same direction. Together, we will achieve and defend gender equality in our cultural life.
Women in Film and Television Ireland is a voluntary body run by film and TV professionals of international standing, representing the creative, business and technical divisions of the Irish audiovisual sector. The group promotes greater representation of women on screen and behind the camera. Its aim is to ensure that the Irish film and television industry functions as a meritocratic, sustainable and successful force into the future. Further information is available at: www.wft.ie.