Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Two Cents.

This blog is primarily about me and the industry. It's also no secret that I'm a female in a male dominated field, and so, a number of my posts relates to my experiences in regard to that fact.

And interestingly enough, I usually get two types of responses (whether it be from e-mails or comments) from those posts: The girls who go, "Yes! That's exactly how I feel / That's what happened to me too!" and the guys who go, "It's weird that being a girl is such a big deal."

The latter group usually mentions something about how it's weird I'm having all these problems because they see women on set all the time. Or they don't understand why some guys would find it so unusual to see a female juicer. And while those comments are awesome because it tells me that not all of the guys out there are sexist pigs, I feel like it kind of over generalizes the industry as a whole, because yes, while there are a number of women grips and electrics out there, they're still not as common as you may think.

To be put another way, the last time I heard, women make up about 3% of my respective departments. And if you're a follower of Michael Taylor's blog, you'll know that Hollywood is primarily a tribal industry in the sense that you work with the same people (more or less) a majority of the time. Pair that up with my observation that women in this field tend to hire other women, and it means that if you've ever worked with a female in the g/e department, then chances are, you've worked with others. Therefore, it may be odd to you that other tribes find it unusual when a woman is in their mix when your own cave is populated with them.

On the flip side of that, if you've never worked with that 3%, then you're likely to be part of the population that finds it rare to see a chick on set. And since 3% is a pretty small amount when you think about the thousands of grips and juicers out there, it's not all that hard to find those people.

Now here's another thing I've observed over the years: Even if you're in the "I work with women all the time" group, you may not be as accepting as you think you are.

For example, a friend of mine who I often exchange "war stories" with, often doesn't seem to take me seriously when I bring up the topic of there being fewer females than males in this business. "The gap's not as big as you're making it out to be. I know so many women grips and electricians," he once said to me, eyes rolling. "Oh really?" "Yeah, there's ---" and he proceeded to name a handful of them after a couple seconds of thinking. Which, to his credit, is more than a lot of guys can do. But then, as the chat fest continued, we started talking about the show I was on. While we may not exactly run in the same circles, we do know a lot of the same people and he thought it'd be fun to try to guess who the Gaffer was. And without missing a beat, he fired off at least a dozen names in the time it took him to name the handful of women just moments ago. Amazing. In the time it took him to name about five women who work in grip and electric, he could name over a dozen male names in an attempt to guess who was in a very specific position in a specific show I was on. I don't know how you can argue that our respective genders are considered equals in Hollywood after that.

Then there's the tale from a fellow female juicer I know. She has a (male) friend who works with women all the time and has no problem with it. In fact, he often recommends her to others who are looking for good crew. And even he's confessed to her that one time, while he was calling around piecing together a crew of his own, he looked down at the list of names and wondered if he perhaps had too many women on there and had concerns about whether or not he should add more men to handle the workload. That's when he paused what he was doing and had a "Wait, did I really just ask that?" moment. He ended the story with, "You just do that kind of stuff without realizing it. It's just so ingrained that you actually have to stop yourself."

I'm not saying that all guys think this way. But I am saying that even if you're completely comfortable working with women, you may still be biased (whether you believe they're everywhere or they're just as good as their male counterparts) and not realize it.

And then there's the "bulk factor". Most women (though definitely not all) who work in grip/electric are beefier than I am. These types of women are usually more accepted by the boys in the biz because they look like they can handle the heavy work load better. Send in someone with a vagina and weighs less than 150 pounds and/or stands under 5'9, and all of a sudden those guys are changing their tune about being okay with working with a chick. And, as offensive as this may sound, if you're a 130 pound female that stands at 5'4, you still have a pretty good chance of being accepted by your male peers right off the bat if you're a lesbian. I shit you not. I can't tell you how many times I've been approached by a guy on set who asks me if I, ahem, "play for the other team." "No... Why?" "Because all the other girls I know who do this job are either butch or a lesbian, but you're neither and I can't figure you out." While this type of question doesn't come up every day, as insulting as it is, it's happened to me often enough that it really doesn't surprise me anymore.

So yes, there are a number of women out there working grip/electric, and due to the nature of the business, some of us see them pulling cable and setting flags all the time. But since the pool of females is so small compared to the males, most people don't work with women often, and even when they do, there's a bunch of other factors to contend with, such as subconscious preconceptions, physical appearances and other stereotypes. This is the kind of stuff I've noticed over the years. So if you're a reader of this blog and continuously wonder why I keep having problems with sexist idiots, I hope maybe this sheds a bit of light on the situations that I deal with on an almost daily basis.

That's just my two cents on the topic. Feel free to add your own in the comments.


Niall said...

Men are never really going to ever get over women in labor intense job. Much like how if a man was doing a mainly female position they would think him gay.

It's all preconceptions based on millions of years of evolution. Men hunted and protected the group, women reared children and took care of the camp. Humans really aren't that far removed from that type of society. We only started farming 10,000 years ago and on the evolutionary clock that's a few seconds. We're still a hormonal animal that has instincts. No amount of culture or intelligence will ever rid us of that.

Only when we transcend the need to procreate, thus negating the meed for two distinct sexes will this debate ever go away.

That's my Pence worth of opinion.

JD said...

I'm obviously in the other camp, I don't have any issue with females in G&E. Less BS occurs on a day to day basis. No chest pounding. It's not necessary to be a 350lb. gorilla to do a good job in this field. On my last shoot, the gorillas managed to do over $2000 worth of damage to nets, rags, space-lights, metal scrims, even large stands like mombo combos, suffered from their savagery.

A.J. said...

Niall - At least you acknowledge the fact that women are perceived differently than men on a set. My post was more directed to those (whether they read this blog or not) who claim there isn't but then knowingly or not, discriminate between the two genders.

JD - That's pretty crazy. You almost have to try to damage a mombo.

JD said...

"Stupid is, what stupid does.", Forest Gump. Imagine this if you will: slightly uneven/tilted suburban sidewalk; windy day; dozen or so Mombos, Hi-hi overhead stands, three riser junior roller stands; all unloaded and stood up; without having the legs opened (slightly) so they would remain stable; not tied in place either. As I exit the building, I see this accident waiting to happen, person watching the truck is sitting in the cab texting, just then wind gusts.... About half of them go over like bowling pins, with enough force to snap locking handles, leg braces, etc.

A.J. said...

JD - I'm amazed no one got injured.

JD said...

No injuries. Not even to me, who stupidly bounded down the steps to try and catch them. Another of life's, "What were you thinking?", moments.

Anonymous said...

Where to begin? I know this is not the first time you've mentioned this issue. As a woman in a relatively small film city I constantly have battled set BS in regards to gender. I had been pigeon-holed as a PA for four years because the only departments that would allow me to move up were camera and production office, neither of which held my interest. While I'm fairly familiar with many important keys in both the film and commercial realm, my constant support of G&E and proving time and again that I could hold my own went largely overlooked because in a city where even as a man it's difficult to move up, as a woman it was nigh impossible. Who wants to call up a "relatively inexperienced" woman when there's a cache of big burly men with years of experience under their belt? It's frustrating when I have to strain to name more than two women that do G&E in my city when without thought I can name off at least thirty men that have been working just as long? Sure they're willing to put me to work on set when I was working as a PA, in fact they would often trust me with more complicated setups and no supervision or assistance, but hire me on their crew, nope. It's not even that I didn't have much experience because after four years of being guided and taught by several very key union guys, I have a lot of knowledge under my belt, I just needed to let you know, you're definitely not alone in your observation and frustration. I've got to say I think you are amazing. Not because you are part of that 3%, but because in spite of it or because of it, you are just doing a job that you really enjoy and remaining strong in the face of adversity. Thank you.

A.J. said...

Anonymous - Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. As hard as it is for me to move up the ranks now, I can't imagine trying to do so in a town with less opportunities to prove myself than Los Angeles. It sucks when it isn't knowledge or experience that's holding you back, but stereotypes you have no control over. I wish I had some comforting words of wisdom to share with you, but the only thing I can tell you is to keep on truckin'.

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