A Human Consequence of “Moral Objections”

So last week the Department of Health and Human Services announced they were starting up a division to shield health care workers who object to providing certain types of care on account of “moral objections”. Among the covered refusals would be refusing to treat LGBT people. Put simply, a doctor could refuse to treat an LGBT person just because of who they are as long as they can muster some claim of it being against their morals.

For me as a trans woman, having to worry about access to care wouldn’t be just about possibly facing longer times looking for a doctor. Not just about the possible consequences of an infection not treated as promptly as it should be. Not the possible effects of having to skip on preventative care. And keep in mind outside of two prescriptions and blood work to monitor hormone levels, any care I might need is no different than from the care anyone else might need.

What it would be about, is another consequence. One that doesn’t come up in discussions of larger society. Something that goes for me and many others in the LGBT community. Take a look at the map:

USmap

The red dot is Chicago, where I live. The blue dots are New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. Those would be the places where I could live and work and be pretty sure I’d not have to worry about access to medical care. As well as not having issues with trans specific care.

Now you could think I’m overreacting a bit. After all plenty of other cities are places where I wouldn’t need to worry about finding regular medical care. That may be true, but there’s another issue, housing security:

housing

 

All those states in grey? Those are states where it would be perfectly legal to deny me a place to rent because of my gender identity and sexual orientation. The light yellow? In those two it would be legal to deny me a place on account of my gender identity. Between the grey and light yellow, that’s 30 states.

There is one more issue, employment:

employment

The states in grey are where I could be denied or fired from a job for being trans or gay. Indeed it’s only the dark purple states where I could not be fired from any form of employment for being trans or gay.  The other shades offer varying level of protection but not full protection in all jobs.

Take those two maps together and there are 20 states where I couldn’t be denied housing or a job on account of being trans or gay. That’s just 20 states where I could live and work and know that legally I have equal tanding. Now factor in things like ready access to trans care, and what’s left is the cities I named. That’s it.

I know it would be easy to say that I’m being overly cautious or irrationally afraid of being denied a place to live or job. That just because someone could, doesn’t mean they would. But that’s the issue, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere it could happen. No matter how unlikely it is that it would happen. It’s a matter of basic security and not having extra things to worry about. Which the move by HHS adds to.

It’s worth remembering that for those of us in the LGBT community there’s also what we know has happened. Partners thrown out of homes after a death when the deceased’s family doesn’t approve of their “lifestyle”. Issues about child custody when a partner dies, no matter how much paperwork was drawn up. Having a marriage that was valid in one state but not another. That and myriad other things is why it’s hard to have much faith in “just because someone could do it, doesn’t mean they would”.

What makes the issue of medical care access particularly troubling is that it enforces a second class status upon the LGBT community. That we can’t count on getting care from any doctor of our choosing like others. That our health can be seen as not worth dealing with if someone can drum up some objection they claim is based in morals. That treating us as second class is seen as morally acceptable. That our potential lack of well being is not seen as contrary to someone else’s claimed morals.

And while yes large cities are generally better than other places, even their own suburbs, for LGBT issues, it would be wrong to think they’d all be equally fine places. Just on the subject of health care, a city in a conservative area could find itself with access to health care curtailed for LGBT people. To say nothing of what some states might do with things. So while on a social level a city might be alright, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a possibility of other issues.

I could go one about the health side of things, the deleterious effects of not getting prompt care, the consequences of further marginalization and so on. But while all that is a factor here, there’s something bigger. That without assured access to even just basic health care, the United States becomes a much smaller country not only for myself, but the entire LGBT population. Instead of increasing certainty, we’d rely on hope and whatever certainty sympathetic populations can provide. Instead of gaining in where we could be without worry, we’d lose. And that is something we desperately don’t want. We shouldn’t have to be afraid of what could happen on account of others’ morals. We shouldn’t have to be afraid.

 

 

The Problem With Aziz & “Good Guys”

So as has been well discussed to the point of repetitious repetition, Aziz Ansari went on a date and things didn’t go so well. Per what was reported by the date he managed to not only make her uncomfortable, but completely ignore her. And a lots has been made of her, after all why didn’t she leave, what was she expecting and so on. But wasn’t gotten as much attention is Ansari himself, specifically his own attitude that shows through in how things went.

The issue that has not gotten much attention in the whole thing is the reality of men’s entitlement to women’s bodies. It’s expressed in every comment of “What does a woman expect going over to a man’s place?”. As if the only purpose for a woman to go to a man’s place is for sex. That men have women over only for the purpose of their bodies. That when a man invites a woman over he’s saying “I’m gracious enough to do this now I get what I want”. And sure enough when Ansari got his date home, he didn’t really waste much time getting to what he wanted. To what he felt entitled to.

Now you could argue that it’s assuming too much to say he felt entitled. But if he wasn’t then the rest of everything doesn’t happen. If he didn’t feel entitled he’d have made sure his date was alright with having sex as well as what he wanted to do and have her do. His date would have been an equal participant not merely someone engaged in providing him what he wanted. Not only would he ask if she was up for what he wanted, but he’d ask what she’s into and what she’d like. Absent entitlement, she’s an equal partner so what she wants counts as much as what he wants.

Another sign of entitlement is how everything proceeded. Starting with fingers in the mouth. Who does that right off with someone their first time together? That’s not exactly going to make much of a mood for a woman or work her into it. And then it went from there. Eventually getting to where she pushed him away as well as pulled away from him. Now anyone who is paying even a sliver of attention to their partner knows both mean something is not right. Something is not right and needs to be addressed.

And that night there were a whole lot of things not right. All because Ansari felt so entitled to her body that he could only focus on himself. And let’s be honest, that sort of entitlement doesn’t come out of the blue. It’s been there. The immaturity of not engaging a partner to seek their ascent to what he wants and to know what they want, didn’t just show up that night. It’s been there. All because he feels entitled to a woman’s body. Not just hers. As his conduct wasn’t something to appear out of the ether so too would his entitlement not be limited to her body.

Where things turn odious is when the assumption of his entitlement and the implicit right of it is used to try to shame his date. Or to shout down criticisms of Ansari. Like if she didn’t want to have sex she shouldn’t gone with him. Which says women have to accept men’s entitlement to their bodies. You’d expect a guy to just hang out? Oh silly girl, you’re at his place, you’re there to put out, not hang out. He doesn’t want you to hang out. He expects to have his entitlement fulfilled. And there are those who’ve even said that if she didn’t want sex that her presence at his place would be a waste of his time. In other words her being is reduced to something of no interest to a man except as an object for sex. She is not a woman with her own agency, in a man’s realm she exists only as an object for his wants.

Also within every criticism of “Why didn’t she leave?”, “Why didn’t she say no?”, “She sent him mixed signals” is the seed of entitlement. That it’s not up to him to care about her comfort, her pleasure, it’s up to her to assert herself. And she most do so in a proper manner, for an entitled man can’t be expected to notice his partner. It’s in effect beneath him to pay attention to anything not directly related to his own pleasure.

And beyond that where the slut shaming, and let’s be honest that’s what it is, also turns bad is in the expectation the date act as others expect her to. That is if she doesn’t do what others declare, if not demand, she do then whatever happens is her fault. Her reactions, responses and conduct are no longer valid. Of course this assumes a woman who is a blank slate. Which no woman is. We know nothing of her history, her past experiences with men. Experiences that could lead her to simply just go along with what a man wants. To feel that if she’s ignored at first she’ll continue to be ignored so any further assertion of herself would be futile.

In the end the entire defense of Ansari, of the entire premise of the night at his place and of how men treat women in such instances, comes down to men’s entitlement. That men are entitled to women’s bodies and that the maturity to engage with a partner is not a requirement. That a man need no have interest in his partner’s agency or pleasure. She’s there, so it’s all on her, because her body is there for him. For his pleasure. Because he’s a man and that’s how it is. And taken to their conclusions that’s what every defense of Ansari gets to.

Of course Ansari isn’t alone in being entitled. It’s not even rare. The very existence of men whining about being “friend zoned” speaks to that. When a man complains a woman has put him in the “friend zone” he’s saying that she didn’t yield to his entitlement to her body. That without giving into it, she’s of no worth to him. Also often present is the idea that if a man does the right things a woman will yield. If she doesn’t do so, the man views her as flawed. Her offer of friendship of no interest, she’s doesn’t exist for him to be that. Indeed men will say it’s frustrating to be around a woman they know they won’t have sex with. Or even not worth their time, which is as great a declaration of their feeling of entitlement as there can be. Well, short of actually saying they’re entitled.

In the talk of being “friend zoned” what also emerges is men’s pleas of being “good guys”. That they behave well and properly, they do what a woman expects or what they think she expects. And that her refusal to yield is a rejection of them and terribly unfair to someone who is such a “good guy”. That a man reducing women to existing only for his pleasure may seem incongruous with being a “good guy” is of no consequence. He’s a “good guy” darn it and it’s so unfair another woman just wants to be friends.

Beyond the case of the “friend zone” there are plenty of other men claiming to be good in the absence of any justification. Perhaps the most common over the last few months is the men who by declaring they’ve never harassed a woman and never assaulted a woman, ought be seen as good. As if merely obeying general norms of conduct and not breaking the law qualifies as making them good. That not making things worse for women should count as if it were making things better.

For women, that rings hallow since not making things worse still means they’re not good. A man who declares his goodness by virtue of meeting minimal standards seems more interested in earning praise than in actually bettering things for women. It too is a form of entitlement. That by not acting badly a man is entitled to the praise of women. That his part in things being bad should be overlooked.

Of course they do have a part in it. They may not harass, but they say nothing when they witness a woman being catcalled. I’ve had a man tell me it’s not his responsibility to do anything about that. Another said he wasn’t going to get in a fight over “mere words”. Showing a gross ignorance of what catcalling is. In both cases, the men thought women just need to put up with the daily harassment of other men. That them not interceding, was not contrary to their status as “good guys”.

There is plenty more that could be said about men who claim there goodness and how it effects things for women. And how utterly useless it is as far as actually doing anything. That it’s merely a way for men to declare their expectation and even entitlement to praise from women. They are saying “Hey I didn’t shout you’ve got nice tits, now shower me with praise” or “I didn’t grab your ass, so now tell me how wonderful I am”. There’s no way to parse that but men feeling entitled to validation from women for not mistreating them. As if in the absence of that validation, why bother not mistreating women?

In the end, the defense of Ansari is of the same cloth as men claiming to be “good guys”. It rests on the idea of men being entitled to women’s bodies and praise. Ansari’s entitlement caused him to ignore his date’s own clear indications of how she felt. The entitlement other men feel causes them to expect praise for doing nothing. In both cases, without men’s entitlement being dealt with the rest of each issue can’t be dealt with. Because at the end of the day, both are about unchecked entitlement and the consequences of it for women. .

New Stories and Voices Up Against Established Authority

There’s been a fair bit, or a lot in certain circles, made about having new stories and new voices. But not much about just where that comes from, or even how far from previous work do you have to go to be considered “new”. But more than that, little has been made of what really matters and that is who decides what gets read or seen. After all the writers are around, writing away.  It’s a matter of what are those who have the power to determine what gets read or seen actually willing to go with. How far from the established usual are they willing to go.

Perhaps the thorniest part of it is personal biases and internalized issues. Which could effect even usual stuff. Take for instance a story about workplace sexual harassment and the failures of HR department. A topic that’s been done, a topic of known general public interest. So can’t argue there’s a lack of audience. Now imagine this story has a primary antagonist, a secondary antagonist and some ancillary antagonizing characters (or don’t imagine it, that’s what it has). Oh they’re all men. And none is redeemed in the end. Part of the story is that in the environment and in light of their actions and words, they can’t be redeemed.

So now what happens if someone were to read it? Well a man might object to all the named male characters being or ending up not good guys. After all, “not all men” as the mantra goes. A man might also object to the absence of redemption. Why aren’t they allowed to redeem themselves? Can’t we have at least one man make himself look good? And this is all just internalized stuff for a great many men. They want men, because they are men, to be portrayed in certain comfortable and familiar ways. They don’t care for something that might make them squirm on account of being men. Or even something that might make other men squirm. Even if it’s in the service of driving home a point or trying to trigger some thinking.

Which leads to the next part, what happens to the story? Well if the editor or producer feels strongly enough about having their ego soothed, changes can be asked for. Like redeem someone. Which if it’s a novel, pad the ending a bit perhaps change a thing or two elsewhere and you have it. Not the ending intended and it breaks the mood a bit, but it could work. It also could be cat box liner. If it’s a movie, because of how things weave together in movie, changing the ending a bit and you are going to have to change other things. After all a character turning on a dime in the last 20 minutes in order to be redeemed is going to seem forced, fake, a consolation to men and/or other things. Never mind the mood is quite altered.

So a story that on the surface is pretty usual stuff, could end up altered into something watered down, minus it’s intended message and mood. Just because of someone’s own internalized feelings. And this without getting into appeals based on marketing potential, target audience preferences and a whole lot of other stuff rarely included in the public discussion.

Now what if a woman reads it? Well being a woman, she pretty likely can relate to the story at hand in some form. Just reading this post has probably made a few of my women readers go “Oh I’d like that”. Because, relatable content. A woman could see the story and think it’s great, it hits all the points she’d want such a story to tell. But. But there could be a man involved in the process who isn’t going to like it so much. Or she might worry she’s seen as endorsing ball busting or something. Which could have future consequences for her professionally. Or she might just feel that it could. So you’re back to making changes. Not necessarily the same changes as a man would want but still changes. Also a woman could be of the mind she has to treat the story the way her male peers/counterparts would for some reason.

So either way, a story that’s nothing out of the ordinary, mainstream as can be, might end up not being what it was meant to be. Simply on account of personal feelings someone in power can’t get past or won’t get past.

That’s a usual story, what about something that would qualify under the heading of “new stories by new voices”? Like say a character study of a trans woman who as she has various interactions ends up talking about what it is to be trans (I’m nowhere near naive enough to write out the full synopsis here. want it? Get in touch.). So it’s definitely not a trans woman version of Boys Don’t Cry and nothing like Dallas Buyers Club. Or much of anything else that’s centered on LGBT issues.

Show this to someone and right off the bat you’ve got an issue, they’ve almost certainly never read anything like it. Which gets into the whole “it can’t be worth it because no one’s done it before” self-fulfilling prophecy trap. Certain editors or producers would take someone else not going first as an excuse to not bother. In part because they like the security of someone else showing something works first. Even if they’re on the record of wanting new stuff, they didn’t mean this new. Or this kind of new. They’re not about to jump first. And this possibly without even reading the full thing, whether manuscript or screenplay, just an outline or synopsis.

But let’s say they don’t have that hang up or get past it. There’s the next one, who would want to read/see such a story? This especially because people tend to get caught up in their own social and professional bubbles. Though of all the hang ups, this one might be the most rationally amenable to challenge. Point to numbers, even back of the envelope stuff could point to a nice plausible case for getting enough people to read or see the story. Each would have different lines it would be helpful to demonstrate you cold reasonably cross eg copies sold or certain box office returns. But it could be done. If that’s what it takes.

Though before that might be the whole issue of it being a character study. Something where the person’s revelations are the point of the story and everything else just serves as a way to get them out. On the written side, character studies are common enough it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. On the movie side, well there’s always The Breakfast Club. And other movies to bring up. But there may still be the feeling you need something that revolves around plot, not plot in service of character development and nothing more. But along with the audience issue, at least there’s some rational way to stand for things.

Which leads to the issue of is whoever is reading it really into the whole new story thing or just treating it as a marketing/PR thing or relegating it to sideshow status? Because they’ll be looking at something that tells a story totally outside of their experience (unless you manage to get the Wachowski sisters to read it). And it may turn out that’s not what they want. They want something they relate to that just happens to be a bit different so they can label it something new. Or it may be there’s no real desire to make a big thing out of it with the idea it be treated as such met with some condescension. Or maybe no desire to follow through on whatever they’ve hyped as wanting and called the future. It was just cynical PR.

Of course with something seemingly outside of the mainstream, there’d be the temptation to go to a small publisher or independent production company/studio. Both of which could have issues the bigs don’t have, like everything has to conform to the tastes of whoever is in charge. Since that’s why they run it. Also there’s a different sort of audience size issue here, how many people would ever get to read the story or see it coming from here? Oh sure it gets published or produced, but how worth is it to have something on few shelves or on few screens? Sure some people see it, but not many and it can fuel the feeling that that’s the only audience there is.

I know I’ve left out the issue of changes to the story, but that’s because in this case it’s hard to imagine a scenario where some rewrites would turn someone from not wanting to publish or produce the story. No amount of changing settings or pacing is going to alter what it is. It’s just what it is, a character study about a trans woman. Making the dialogue a bit different is just different dialogue. It’s not like the first example where you can change things to make certain themes or characters more agreeable.

So in the end, it comes down to who is in power, who is in charge. Which is an issue itself these days in relation to other things. Though part of changing that has to do with that if you change it for other reasons, you could get new stories and new voices. But even if who’s in charge changes that doesn’t mean it changes how things get done. And while talking about new stories and new voices sounds great, makes for great copy and sound bites, it’s not the whole conversation. After all it’s been around a while now and how many new stories and voices have come out? Not very many, even if you use the most liberal concepts of new stories and new voices. But as with any thing to do with power, nothing is in a vacuum. And it’s well worth remembering that because it determines how real the desire for new stories and voices is, but also the futures of various participants in two industries may depend on it.

 

The Bridge

And as I walked I came to a precipice,
below only void and with another step my end
then under my feet the ground began to crack
and I felt as it started to move
walk back and it would follow until I was caught
then there as I stood I turned
and in the mist I saw a bridge
only the end,
I could not see how long or to where it lead
and as the cracks under my feet grew
I decided I would not stay.

I walked towards the bridge
until I stood at it’s edge
and as I looked into the mist I could not see the end
only the flicker of shadows out in the distance
but if there are shadows there is light
as I trembled I took in a deep breath
and a first step away from the only land I’d ever known
then a another
slow and uneasy
then another and then more
but each more sure than the one before
and as I crossed
in the distance a glow in the mist
that grew brighter with every step

As I came towards the bridge’s end
ahead was more light than I had ever known
then another step
and I set my foot onto new ground
I did not know what was ahead or around
only that there was light
and in the light, myself

Women Screenwriters, There But Not

In all that’s been made about women in Hollywood lately,  a lot has focused on women behind the camera. And with that, all sorts of numbers have flown around about what percentage of each various role is women. The one place where things looks less than abysmal is writing. Given the scope, film and/or TV, the numbers go anywhere between 13% to 28%. Which given that women are 50.8% of the population,  even the 28% is actually not good. But that 28% is way better than the percentages for directors, cinematographers, editors, key grips and everything else you see in a credit roll. And women writing for TV do better than those working as screenwriters at least as percentage of the labor pool. And  it’s screenwriting that needs the look.

It might seem like a bit of pleading, to consider screenwriters distinct from everyone else. But there’s are reasons for that, reasons that make screenwriting different enough it has to be considered alone. One thing is that screenwriters have numerous modes of work. Another is that screenwriters can do quite a bit of work, paid work, and have nothing to show for it except a deposit in their bank account. And it’s there, in how things work, that women get shut out.

The first thing about screenwriters that’s different from directors, cinematographers, editors and all the rest, is they’re not always hired. Many screenplays spring from screenwriter’s mind as their own creative work. And that writing, called writing on spec, represents a good amount of all screenplay work. Not however paid work since most screenwriters writing on spec have to hope to find someone who will pay for their work. Which is where things start going sideways because of how screenplays are acquired and dealt with, as well as what screenplays get so much as considered. It’s why even if women do a lot of work, they can find themselves underrepresented and with nothing to show for their work.

For most screenwriters once they’re done with a screenplay written on spec, they have to hope to find someone to pick it up (we’re assuming a screenwriter with an agent just to keep things simple). Now it can happen that the screenplay is shown to someone who likes it enough to want to produce it, that is, actually turn it into a movie. Though even if that happens, that doesn’t mean the screenplay will ever become a movie. Plenty of screenplays have in effect died in what’s charmingly called development hell. Where for any of a long list of reasons, things just stall. But it’s not that many screenplays that get picked up this way.

What is far more common, is that a screenplay is optioned. Which means a studio, production company or even just producer pays to have exclusive rights to develop a movie from the screenplay for some period of time. From the studio or producer’s standpoint optioning is nice because it’s cheaper to option a screenplay than to pay for the production rights outright. So development can start without much of an outlay upfront. Interest from directors, actors etc can be gauged and other things dealt with. And if nothing comes out of it, well the studio or producer isn’t out much. Plus for the screenwriter, if nothing happens, once the option period ends they take the screenplay elsewhere. Where it might get optioned again. And again.

Now if you’ve been paying attention you might notice there’s not a whole ton of original stuff as far as movies go lately. Most movies are adaptations, of books, comics etc or sequels to adaptations. For these movies the screenplays are written by screenwriters hired for the purpose. Sometimes it’s a single screenwriter, sometimes, it’s a collaboration. And it’s not uncommon for a screenplay to get written and then rewritten by someone else. Sometimes rewritten again. And again. Plus screenwriters can be brought in to touch up, polish, doctor, pick a term, a script. Meaning they’re not doing a full rewrite just fixing up some things.

So now that we’ve covered that can look at where women screenwriters end up. The most immediate thing is that with screenplays written on spec not being a big thing these days, women are behind the 8 ball from the word go. Even if a fair number of screenplays are optioned by the studios and such, with few getting produced, a woman screenwriter can have multiple screenplays optioned and that’s it. This is also where bias starts showing up in a big way. Specifically the bias that women only write certain types of movies (same bias is present in publishing). And it’s expected these movies have certain qualities and elements. So that whole thing about women telling “their stories”? Sounds awesome, but absent a seismic shift in things, it will be limited to sounding awesome.  That seismic shift being, in large part, that the vast majority of movies no longer be targeted towards young male audiences by default. And even if that occurs, that doesn’t mean action, science fiction etc movies written by women will start popping up. Because that takes another shift.

That bias, that women only write certain kinds of movies, is also an issue with adaptations. After all if you think women only write A, B and C and you’re making movie of type D, well you’re not going to call in a woman. It’s why if you pour over blockbusters of the last many years, you’ll notice there aren’t many women’s names to see in the screenwriting credits. Even when a movie might seem like a woman’s perspective would be nice, hello Wonder Woman, the work falls to men (that’s not to say I take issue with the writing for Wonder Woman, I don’t). So even where there is a lot of work, women can find themselves with little of it. Purely because, the work there is, is not work there seen as doing/capable of.

Then there’s the last little thing, a woman can write a screenplay, that gets produced and still not have her name in the credits. This because as a movie wanders through development the script gets rewritten to the point the original screenwriter’s name no longer appears (there are rules regarding this, but we’ll leave them aside here). This of course also effects men, but when women already have such a smaller place it’s more deleterious to their standing. So even if a woman gets a screenplay written on spec produced or gets hired to write an adaptation, doesn’t mean anyone is going to know. Which at the end of the day, is a big part of the problem. That women can do work, get paid for the work and yet find men’s names where their’s could’ve been. And the whole issue of script rewrites is a thing unto itself. People on the side of studios and producers will swear they’re important and justified. People not on that side, may not be so accommodating to the idea.

So while women screenwriters face issues like women directors, cinematographers etc, they also face unique issues. Also worth remembering the bias that effects screenwriters also effects others, after all if women don’t/can’t write certain types of movies, how likely are they to get to direct them? Though the issue doesn’t effect the two roles the same way. And even doing away with the bias entirely that still wouldn’t fix everything for women screenwriters. The paucity of screenplays written on spec being produced hits women hard. Because it grants so few chances for women to do truly original work. Which means to really get equal standing for women, the entire industry will have to change. But at this point, given other things, there appears little choice left. Thankfully.

 

 

When Boys Don’t Let Girls Play

There’s been much said over the last few months about how women haven’t gained much in certain work places and even in those where they have, it’s not much. Also much has been made about men not sharing power. Along with that wondering how so many men are so incapable of considering what women say or even getting women have a different view on things. For me, I get it, it’s one of those things that thanks to my own life experience, I got long ago.

Back when I was growing up I spent a lot of my summers playing baseball with a few friends and sometimes some other neighborhood boys (being athletic being one of the things that gave me some way to appear to be the boy everyone thought I was). On a few occasions I expressed my wish that there were some girls to play with us. This was met with responses of that girls don’t play baseball, girls don’t like baseball and so on. This when several of the boys had played Little League baseball on teams with girls. When everyone knew girls play in Little League. There was no way anyone could honestly claim there aren’t girls who like and play baseball. Yet they did.

Then there was one particular incident when I was 11 that taught me more than I comprehended in the moment. It was just another day, friends and a couple other neighborhood boys. While we were just standing around in between games I mentioned how I wished there were some girls to come play with us. To which one of the neighborhood boys responded with why would I want that and there’s no way he’d ever let girls play with us. That he didn’t care if a girl asked to play, he wouldn’t let her join in.

Hearing all that, in the moment, felt like I was having a dagger driven into my heart. I was only getting to play because who the boys thought I was, because of how they saw me. And there was not a thing I could say. Even bringing up that refusing to let girls join in is pretty mean. I knew better, even then, to bring it up. I already knew that some boys get really unpleasant if you call them on certain things or try to question them. And this boy was one of those boys. So I just stood there quiet, trying to not let it show how I felt.

Then there was the other part to it. I did most of the pitching back then as I was the best pitcher out of the group. And sure enough a few minutes after having a dagger driven into my heart I’m tossed the ball so I could pitch. I could think then that being a good pitcher would have put things right. But then it dawned on me later, how could it if I was never allowed to join in in the first place? It wouldn’t matter how good I was, since I wouldn’t be allowed to show it. So what good then would the skill and whatever talent for it I have ever do? What good does skill and talent do when you don’t even get a chance because of who you are or what you are or how you look?

I also knew there was nothing I could do about any of it. There would’ve been nothing a girl who wanted to join in could’ve done. Go to the boy’s mom? That wouldn’t do anything. Go to her own mom? She might get some comforting but that’s it, and it wouldn’t fix anything. A boy could refuse to let a girl join in for no reason other than she’s a girl, and that’s just how it was. No one would correct him. And no one would act on her behalf. She might even get told that boys just don’t want to play with girls and why not do something with some girls.

While in my case it was just a hypothetical, I knew it really happened. That girls were refused a chance to join in by boys, not just with baseball but all sorts of things. I’ve heard stories over the years from girls and women of things they didn’t get to do because some boy or boys wouldn’t let them join just because they were girls. And never did a boy get a talking to about how wrong that is. Almost never did someone come to stand up for the girl. And even if they did, it never lead to them feeling welcome among the boys. It just taught them boys can reject them for being girls and that there aren’t very many people in the world who will listen to never mind help out a girl being rejected just because she’s a girl.

Now go forward to adulthood and what becomes of those boys and what the mindset they grew up in fosters in them as adults. A boy who thought girls aren’t into model rockets and wouldn’t let one join in building them, isn’t going to be a man who thinks a woman can run an R&D department. A boy who thought girls aren’t into scary movies or action movies, isn’t going to be a man who hires a woman to direct or do work as a cinematographer. Even if it started as something specific, over time it’ll just grow to something general. And anyways, if they could turn girls away, what’s so different about turning women away? That’s what men do, it’s part of what they get to do. Without ever needing to think of what it is they’re doing.

There’s much been made over the years of girls and women not having certain opportunities. Yet not much is made of what causes it. That men refuse to give women chances, because it’s always been a validated prerogative to not allow girls/women to join in with things just because they’re a girl or a woman. At every step of the way, it’s validated. From early childhood through adulthood. And as boys become men they find themselves in settings where no one even thinks this is how they are.

Also it’s where women being held to different standards just to get a chance comes from. A man can do A, B and C and that’s enough, a woman does A, B and C just as well as the man and is told it’s not enough. Just because it’s a way to deny her a chance, because there actually isn’t a standard. It’s just ad-hoc bar to cross, because she’s a woman. Because no girl could’ve ever proved herself, now no woman could prove herself. So women scrape looking for those who’d give them a chance those very few who do. Because there aren’t many. After all if there were many, women would have more chances.

Now as attention goes towards, among other things, how few women get to work as directors, it’s worth considering why. That it’s sexism is a given. But it’s worth remembering where it comes from. And that this isn’t something that lends itself to easy remedy. Nor quick remedy. The only quick remedy would be to topple how things are done. And given that every day that goes by when women aren’t even considered, regardless the job, is a day and potential not just wasted, but denied, it may just have to be how it goes. Because in the end, the men who as boys wouldn’t let girls join in, aren’t all of a sudden going to reverse course. And to change the culture, means to change it, not wait around for their comfort.

A Love of TV and Movies

There’s a funny thing about my love of TV and movies. Namely that growing up I just figured everyone watched like I did. That everyone noticed camera angles, how different shows had different lighting, color palettes and camera work, that movies tended to use music differently from TV shows and so on. I assumed everyone in their head came up with alternate lines of dialogue for things they felt fell flat. That everyone constructed next week’s episode in their head as soon as they saw a preview. That everyone found some sense of the world and guides that weren’t provided in their own life.

Among my earliest memories of watching TV is watching Sesame Street and loving all the animated short segment pieces. From Ladybugs’ Picnic to the Madrigal Alphabet to the pinball number segments. For some reason the animation, mixed as it so often was with music, just stuck in my head more than anything else. I loved all the rest of the show, but the animated bits were always my favorites.

Beyond Sesame Street, there was The Muppet Show, The Waltons, The Dukes of Hazard, The Incredible Hulk, Dallas and others. Though I’ve never figured out how, from early on I was aware that each one looked different. Each one sounded different. Each one was different in other ways. And there were all the little things I noticed and wasn’t even necessarily aware of or didn’t have a way to explain then. I would notice the sound of voices was different on different shows but it would be a while before I learned why that is. Or learned what a tracking shot was. But I noticed you’d see more of them in some shows than others. Among the other things I noticed was how differently characters spoke on different shows. And I got that that was part of what made each show work. That changing dialogue would change a show.

Then there were movies, The Great Muppet Caper, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Superman II, E.T., War Games and others. And with each one I got that part of what makes movies different is how they look, how they use music and so on. Star Wars without the instrumental leitmotif’s just wouldn’t be the same movies. Even though they have nothing to do with the story as such, they are a part of it. Course it wasn’t all like that, as in the rest of my life there was some lack of consideration for age appropriate things from my mom and dad. So I got taken along to see Kramer v. Kramer, The Blue Lagoon, An Officer and Gentleman some other movies, that you probably shouldn’t see with a kid whose age is in single digits. Then there was The Blues Brothers, which if not a movie for kids, well at least it wasn’t going to present anything a kid wouldn’t get. But even if I didn’t get the stories, I still picked up on various things. Figuring that was part of watching a movie, because I was still away from discovering that no, not everyone does that.

And being a child of the 80s, there were Saturday morning cartoons, after school cartoons and so many old TV shows in reruns. Including Wonder Woman which was the only superhero I felt any sort of connection with. Where something stirred inside making me think “I want to be her when I grow up”. Something that didn’t quite stir with any other female character. But beyond that, there was seeing how very different TV shows used to look, beyond some being in black and white. Also with some Saturday morning cartoons was my first experience with the reality that some ideas aren’t good. Like a cartoon based on the video game Pole Position. Or a cartoon about a Rubik’s cube that comes to life when it’s solved. Never mind that I was rapidly noticing when things like plots seemed very similar between shows. And how some didn’t look as finished as others.

And as with seeing movies I probably shouldn’t have so young, things weren’t exactly right. My dad would mock me for watching TV so much and get mad at me for talking about TV and movies as much as I did. Or repeating favorite lines or scenes from movies. My mom flat out ignored most of my wishes to see movies at the theater. I got to see E.T. mostly because my mom wanted to see it because it was everywhere. Ditto, Karate Kid. Meanwhile it would be at least a few years before I saw movies like Tron, The Dark Crystal or The Last Starfighter.

In wanting to see Tron was the first time where I desperately wanted to see a movie even without friends and schoolmates talking about it. I saw the commercials, posters and film stills and just had to see it. But like I said, it would be a few years. And by the time I saw it the backlog of movies I had wanted to see in theaters but hadn’t was a few dozen movies long. Along the way neither one my mom or dad ever show the interest to ask that since I love movies and TV so much, is that what I’d like to do with my life? Be a director? A writer? As it was, I never did mention that from about the age of 9 I thought that would be pretty sweet, especially writing. The screenplay categories at the Oscars being my favorite two categories each year.

And somewhere along the way bit by bit, I started getting that no, not everyone notices what I do. Not everyone’s mind thinks up stuff like mine. Not everyone gets the stuff that makes Miami Vice so different from every other TV show, even though it was on paper at least just another procedural. And with Miami Vice and shows like MacGuyver came having an entire roster of shows I watched on my own not because my mom watched them. That along with my newfound realizations just made me long for someone somewhere who got things like I did. But even as I pined for that, I saw in Clark Griswold a father who even if everything blew up in his face, it did so only because he was trying so hard. In the characters of John Hughes’ teen movies, someone to relate to and some idea of what life could be like. And in among other movies and TV shows little bits and pieces of things that weren’t there in my life, but I desperately wished they were.

There also came other things along the way, like that I had from early on no problem standing by my opinions. I to this day maintain that Max Headroom is one of the most underrated and underappreciated TV shows ever. And that it only got one season is damn near a crime. Also I started to hold that any list of best American directors that doesn’t have Steven Spielberg in the top 3 is a waste of space. As well as, even way back then, there are far too many things that haven’t been done, stories that haven’t been told. Where’s the girl version of Ferris Bueller? How about a chick-flick that isn’t you know, a chick-flick? What about something about various people who aren’t usually the subjects of  films that doesn’t reduce them to tropes of “strength” and “perseverance”? Who’s ass do I kick for cancelling Max Headroom? Why was there never a Sweet Valley High series?

That stuff has always stayed with me, just changing over time a bit. As has the love of TV and movies that go back to when I didn’t even know what the words were for what I was noticing. The feeling of awe from watching Tron, when I finally first got to see it, has never left. Nor has that feeling of something that made me think, oh so this is what you can do in film that I hadn’t considered before. Even if there was no one who when I was 12 or 13 who would’ve listened to me and gone “So, NYU, USC or UCLA once you finish high school?”, my head never stopped. Even when I knew saying I wanted to go to UCLA would’ve caused more headache than it was worth with my mom and dad, the love I felt didn’t dwindle. Somewhere out there I’d just have to find the path that I set for myself so many years ago. And I still plan on finding it.

Up in front, but not behind

As you may have heard, the three biggest movies in the United States in 2017 all featured female lead characters. First time that’s happened since 1958. The three movies, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and The Beast and Wonder Woman did over $1.4 billion in domestic box office. Pretty good for just three movies in any year. And since women are mentioned up front of course there’s some feeling of euphoria and “What a great time for women!”.

But I’m reminded of a Harvey Keitel line from Pulp Fiction, “Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet”. In other words, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For one it’s worth remembering all three movies were in the works for a while. None of these productions were fired off to capture the current zeitgeist or be part of the cultural milieu. Though Wonder Woman managed to snag being one of the most fortuitously timed releases ever. Also all three movies are adaptations. One, Beauty and the Beast, being a live action adaptation of an animated adaptation.

And that’s where you have to turn to the other side of things. From who’s in front of the camera, to who’s behind it and who is responsible for their being anything to film in the first place. Because that’s where a lot of the conversation has to be focused on, for it’s there women get shoved aside the most.

Start with screenplays and there’s not a single woman’s name to be found. Though in a true Hollywood moment, the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast is just an update of the screenplay for the animated version, which was written by Linda Woolverton. Indeed she was the first woman to ever write the screenplay for a Disney animated feature. And you might think that given she is very much alive and has been involved with Disney, that she’d get to update her own screenplay. And you’d be wrong. For reasons no one outside of Disney could articulate. Perhaps even at Disney no one can.

Then there are the directors, with Patty Jenkins who directed Wonder Woman, as the only woman among them. There are the cinematographers, all men. Then there are the editors, Virginia Katz who edited Beauty and the Beast, is the only woman there.

So between twelve positions spread among three movies, only two went to women. In numerical terms, women had 16.6% of the top positions in the three movies. Meanwhile women are near 51% of the US population. And given Beauty and the Beast had two screenwriters, it gets worse. It’s not two women out of 12 but two women out of 13.

But there is one more Star Wars movie in the current trilogy left and a Wonder Woman sequel in the works. Perhaps Hollywood has taken a hint. Well the Star Wars movie has been in the works for a few years already, having gone through a few directors and writers. And not a woman among them. The cinematographer has already been announced as well, and it’s a man. However at least as of now, the two attached editors are women, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. As for Wonder Woman, well Jenkins will be back to direct and co-write the screenplay with two men. No word on a cinematographer or editor as yet.

So for two movies in the future things will be a little better. And while it would be tempting to give Star Wars a break, since it’s been in development since 2014, well it’s been in development since 2014. The fact that no woman had a hand in writing it nor was given a chance to direct, that status quo is part of what’s causing so many women to push back now.

It might be tempting to look at 2017 and get a bit excited by the box office for women but that’s doing nothing to get more women in places behind the camera. Or to shake Hollywood’s mantra that women aren’t a viable target audience, certainly not ahead of men. Which is where the problems lie and until they’re done and dusted, actual change isn’t going to happen.

 

 

 

End of the Year List

Yep, this is exactly what it sounds like. A list of some of the most worthy stuff from this year. According to who? Me.

BEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR ON TV

I cried when I first saw this. Seeing that a woman would be the Doctor. Something I’d hoped for ever since I was a little kid, five or six years old, watching Tom Baker as Doctor Who. And watching it just now, yeah I’m getting a bit choked up.

SECOND BEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR ON TV

Just this last Monday. I’ll admit I was crying during the whole last 15 or so minutes but hearing Peter Capaldi’s last words as the Doctor and then seeing Jodie Whittaker, that was all the feels.

BEST SUPERHERO ANYTHING OF THE YEAR/BEST MOVIE

I’d waited since I was a kid for a Wonder Woman movie. Wonder Woman was the only superhero I ever could relate to back then. Superman, Batman and the rest, those were boys, I didn’t relate to that. And ever since they announced it all I could think was “I hope they don’t screw it up”. They didn’t. It was better than anything I had ever imagined for a Wonder Woman movie. Also the “No Man’s Land” scene, is just so brilliant beyond the obvious action and word play at work.

BEST TEAM SPORTS MOMENT

England defeats India in the final of the Cricket World Cup. The actual winning moment is up with the greatest last moments of any team game I’ve ever seen. And the last 20 or so minutes of the match are as good as the end to any match ever played by men. Only a handful of men’s matches ever are on the same level. And yes I’m a cricket fan, which I’m sure I’ll write up how that came to be eventually.

BEST INDIVIDUAL SPORTS MOMENT

Serena Williams’ match point at the Australian Open. When she won she moved ahead of Steffi Graf for most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era, with 23 (Margaret Court has 24 singles titles, but they stretch back to the pre-Open Era). And she was about to do it against her sister,  Venus. The only tennis player on Earth who knew exactly what it meant to her. And the only tennis player who could’ve kept her from getting so many titles having faced each other in 9 Grand Slam finals, with Serena winning 7 of those. Before the first serve, it’s almost as if it’s all hitting Serena. Then having won as she hugs her sister, everyone knew it was hitting her. A girl born in Saginaw, Michigan, who spent several years of her childhood in Compton, had just surpassed Steffi Graf.

 

MOST WTF MOMENT

Oh come on, what else could it be? And who could’ve at the time imagined that by year’s end, we wished this was the worst thing that happened. Watching this live was surreal, actually more than that. Like how do you fuck up the biggest award in film? It would be bad enough to screw up any Oscar award, but Best Picture? If someone had put it in a script it would’ve been rejected as totally unrealistic. Yet it happened.

MOST AWESOME DAY

The Women’s March, there’s nothing I can add and no need for me to explain how amazing it was to see women all over the country come together. I picked a clip from Chicago, cause Chicago is home.