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.

What Few Talk About: Marginalization

If you were to ask some number of people what the biggest social issues are, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, would all show up over and over. But what wouldn’t show up is marginalization. The very thing underlying all those things and a lot more. Indeed marginalization as a thing receives little attention even while people are referred to as marginalized pretty regularly. The idea that there’s something underlying all those -isms and -phobias isn’t addressed, which is a pretty big problem. Also it’s something of personal significance since as a lesbian and transwoman I’m part of two marginalized groups myself.

In the broadest sense we could say that marginalization is holding some group of people as being an other and thus not fully including its members in society. They’re pushed to or left out on the margins of society. This can be something entrenched in the law eg Jim Crow law or it can be just within society with no legal basis. It can also be in the absence of law, as it is with legal discrimination. In my own case there are 30 states where I could legally be denied an apartment to rent simply because of who I am. So within the law, at least in those 30 states, I’m marginalized. I don’t have equal legal protections.

Now with that, can look at what the consequences of marginalization are. And there are more than I could ever hope to write about. But among the biggest and certainly the most horrific is what can be done to marginalized groups when certain people are in power. When you have people who are other, it becomes very easy to do very bad things to them. Especially when you’ve managed to create some underlying reasoning as to their being other and what that means. It’s Native Americans being other that lead to tribes being forcibly relocated. They were other, they couldn’t make legal claims to their lands and their arguments in their own defense were ignored. Because they were other.

Another thing is that when people are marginalized they can be easily turned into scapegoats. Something wrong? Blame it on them or rather “them”. You can even extend marginalization in the process. It’s what the Nazis did. Declare Jews to be the cause of Germany’s problems, which enough people would go along with owing to the consequences of historical marginalization of Jews. Then force Jews into special neighborhoods, the Jewish ghettos. This turned the marginalization into something concrete. They had to stay in their own neighborhoods, they could only live there. And once it got that far, once Jews were that stripped of standing, murdering millions isn’t that much of a stretch. And along the way the scapegoating gets turned up to justify further actions.

Now all of that fits under the umbrella of various -isms and -phobias so it might be tempting to say isn’t that what marginalization is? Not exactly. Because while they may walk hand in hand marginalization can be more subtle and pervasive. Plus it can be broken down into various parts. Like social marginalization, economic marginalization, educational marginalization and so on. Each one a part of a larger thing yet how it exists and happens varies. Economic marginalization may be the product of broader racism over the years, but it’s consequences end up tying into other forms of marginalization. It’s persistence being based on both its own inertia and it’s part of a larger whole.

Also it can be very subtle and present in ways not often accounted for. While demonstrable racism is well documented, marginalization isn’t as much. Like social marginalization. No one thinks twice of seeing a black person walking through a predominantly white neighborhood. Yet how often does anyone think that the reverse is a still a rare thing? How often do we even think of the absence of white people going to black neighborhoods and just what that means? It would most apparently contribute to the continuing of general societal segregation by having movement go one way. They come here, we don’t go there. But it also contributes to economic marginalization, since as a whole white people have more money to spend, and spend more money. And as people move, so does their money.

Another example would be in education, where schools in minority areas are shuttered and the students transferred to schools in predominantly white or entirely white areas. It doesn’t go in reverse. Which leads to the message, well understood by the effected communities and students, that their neighborhoods are other and less than the white ones. Which it wouldn’t take long to show how that can have deleterious consequences for not just the neighborhoods but most significantly the students.

Then there’s perhaps the most persistent issue of it all, the one that is least discussed. Namely that the marginalized do not cause their marginalization, so they can’t end it. It is something done to people without their participation in it. Yet there is a persistent thread in history that in order to achieve equal standing certain populations have to first appeal to the approval of those marginalizing them. Whether by changes in speech, manner of dress or otherwise. Or simply acting to standards communicated as a way to “earn” equal standing. Which of course they never actually do. It becomes a case of whatever changes are undertaken, whatever is performed, it’s never good enough or just enough. Equal standing becomes a carrot on a stick to be chased after.

It’s in having equal standing become something performative that it can also further be used to justify marginalization. A population where some members act along whatever is communicated as being part of achieving equal standing while others don’t, can have itself painted as deserving of marginalization. Simply because of how various members act towards each other. And the things that can emerge within the communities, resentment towards those who play along and are thus treated different being a notable example, can be used to further justify and perpetuate marginalization. It becomes part of the cycle that keeps it all going.

There’s even something so pervasive that it’s just taken as a part of life without ever thinking of what’s really being said. It’s the old “you’ll have to work twice as hard…” attitude. That a person has to work twice as hard as someone else for the same pay, benefit or whatever. Stand back and think about it and what it comes down to is “you have to allow yourself to be exploited”. After all if someone is demanding twice the effort of you for the same outcome as someone else, they’re saying they want to give you less for what you do. So to get as much as someone else you have to do more. And it’s all part and parcel of “earning” equal status. The one demanding it, is declaring that unless you do what they say, twice as much, they will not regard you as equal to others. In other words, you have to perform your way into equal standing. You have to show you’re deserving, you’re good enough. The whole thing resting on an other proving they deserve equal standing.

Which gets back to how marginalization is not something the marginalized can end. The marginalized do not maintain their marginalization. You can not demand the marginalized do something to end their own marginalization. It was never their fault in the first place, it’s never been something they maintain. Telling someone to earn their equal standing does nothing to change things. Even if the individual does enough, the view of the group doesn’t change. Indeed you end up with some being seen as “good” while others are not. A group being judged by the efforts of a few individuals being another sign of marginalization.

I know I’ve so far avoided using terms like racism, sexism or whatever seemingly using marginalization as a stand in, but it’s not that. Those various terms become a way to try to avoid taking a bigger picture. They become something impersonal, something society does, that doesn’t come down to the individual. It becomes about attitudes only and not actions. When it is actions that matter. It’s in actions that marginalization goes away.

To get to some sort of conclusion on all this, there is the matter of just how marginalization can be ended. Part of it is inclusion in its various forms. Which is contingent on and a step above acceptance. There’s also in realizing how pervasive marginalization is and all the forms it takes. When you tell a marginalized group or person that to be heard they have to come to you, you’re just reinforcing their marginalization. You’re saying they aren’t worth the effort of going to, they aren’t worth going to. And that is something that happens a lot. As do many other things which even in the total absence of negative attitude still perpetuate marginalization. But to really do away with a myriad of social issues, it takes doing away with marginalization.

I’m Not Surprised

Over the last couple months as the names of man after man have come out as having sexually harassed and assaulted women, there’s one thing I haven’t been. I haven’t been surprised. Not a single name, not Harvey Weinstein, not Charlie Rose, not Mario Batali, not Garrison Keillor, has surprised me. No name could surprise me.

It’s not a matter of cold cynicism or any categorical dislike of men, just an awareness of reality. An awareness that stretches across almost my entire life going back to when I was six years old. An awareness I gained as the byproduct of the abuse I experienced from my own father. The very man who if things are right was tasked with the expectation to never hurt me, did. And from that came the understanding that if he could do such things, if he could hurt, then so could another man.

The abuse I faced was emotional abuse, from emotional neglect, to gaslighting, to emotional stability and more. And even if he never laid a hand on me, the way it hurt, was as real as a slap to the face. That’s how it was from the very start. Or at least where I remember it starting, as I’m not sure my own childhood mind didn’t block out some earlier event in an act of self-preservation. But from that first remembered instance, I was aware of what a man could do, even if beyond the immediate pain I couldn’t comprehend it.

That first time, the first I remember, started out as as nothing different. I was sitting on the floor playing with my favorite toy plane and watching TV. Then my dad said something, I have no recollection of what it was or any idea what it might have been. I said something in response, I have no clue what it might have been. And next thing I see is my dad swinging the plane up and throwing it to the ground, where it broke in two.

And I just broke. I cried in a way I’m not sure I ever cried before or ever again. I had no idea what I had done, what I had said, to provoke what happened. I just pleaded with my dad to apologize. To take it back. But he refused. It was my fault. It was my fault that he did what he did even if I had no idea what it was I had done. He said he had enough of my whining, when he had never said anything about it before. When no one had ever called me whiny before. My voice would go up in pitch when I would say certain things, but that wasn’t whining. I just had the vocal inflections of a girl. And now, for all I knew, I was being hurt for how I was.

In that moment he taught me that he could take anything I had, no matter how special to me, destroy it and blame me for it. His emotions, his reactions, were my fault. It was my fault if he did something to hurt me. He wouldn’t apologize, because he had nothing to apologize for. He hadn’t done anything wrong. There was no going too far, because there were no lines he crossed.

And so I learned what a man could do. It didn’t hit me then but eventually, it would. Along with the other things, it hit me that this is what a man can do. Not any man, it’s not as if every man is a ticking time bomb. But among men are those who hurt, who are not at fault for the hurt they cause, because in their eyes it’s only the fault of who they hurt. Even with an innate expectation of men to behave, I knew some wouldn’t.

As the names of men have come forward over the last two months, there are things I feel. Anger and disgust among them. I might seem to be pretty quick with how I respond, what I say about how to change things, power structures, industry problems etc. But that’s because in among the things that go through my mind, there is one that doesn’t. One I don’t need to let pass before reacting more. No matter the name, no matter how many names, no matter what they did. I’m not surprised.