Young women working in film and TV share their experiences of sexism in the industry
‘There isn’t much protection for young women in the early stages of their career and I think men in power definitely exploit this’
It’s no secret that both the film and the TV industries are dominated by men. Out of the 100 highest-grossing films of 2020, just 16 per cent of them were directed by women, up from four per cent in 2018. Looking at the same films, women occupied 28 per cent of producer positions and worked 21 per cent of executive producer jobs, while just 12 per cent of writers and three per cent of cinematographers were women.
And unfortunately, a culture of misogyny and sexual harassment has for too long gone hand-in-hand with this male-dominated environment. Ex-Dr Who actor Noel Clarke was embroiled in the most recent scandal which saw him alleged to have sexually harassed and inappropriately touched co-workers. While Clarke has denied the allegations, it has been a catalyst for women working in the industry to share their own experiences.
The Tab spoke to three women, two of whom requested to have their identity changed to preserve their anonymity. Both said that any criticisms they voiced about the industry may harm their respective careers.
‘It’s not uncommon for people to have their reputation damaged by speaking about these kind of topics’
Sophie*, an art department assistant on a returning period drama, described how close-knit the TV industry is and how everyone seems to know everyone. “If I was to cause any kind of fuss or stand up for myself, my name would get around and it would make it 10 times harder to get work, particularly if I was speaking against someone in a really high position like a producer,” Sophie told The Tab. “They could essentially blacklist me by telling every other producer they know to avoid working with me.”
Olivia*, a support engineer working on a popular soap, articulated the same idea, saying: “It’s not uncommon for people to have their reputation damaged by speaking about these kind of topics.”
Although Olivia has never had any trouble with men in prominent positions within the industry, she’s well-accustomed to sexist comments within male-dominated departments, saying that outside broadcasts such as sports fixtures are the worst for it. Olivia recalls hearing “riggers talk about other runners sexually, judging them for wearing leggings despite being the most appropriate thing to wear when working outside in 25 degree heat.”
One time, Olivia witnessed a camera crew leader pressure other female camera assistants into hugging him. Olivia had to use other staff members as a buffer.
‘If anything was to happen to me, I wouldn’t be able to speak up about it’
Sophie works in an environment that can get quite shouty, but is thankfully yet to receive any direct sexist remarks. That’s not to say she isn’t acutely aware of her gender in the workplace. “As a 21-year-old girl, there’s definitely a difference in how I feel being shouted at by a middle-aged man compared to a mid-twenties woman!” Sophie told The Tab.
Although Sophie hasn’t experienced sexism or harassment within the industry, she’s got no idea what she’d realistically be able to do if she did. “I think what’s scary is that if anything was to happen to me or if I was to have a bad experience with a man in power, I know I wouldn’t be able to speak up about it,” Sophie told The Tab. “My career would be over in a millisecond.
“It’s not like other industries where you have a HR department or a code of conduct to follow. Everyone is working as a freelancer. Everyone is their own boss to a degree. This means that there isn’t much protection in place, particularly for young women in the early stages of their career, and I think men in power definitely exploit this.”
‘Occasionally you will hear a comment that belittles or objectifies women’
For film production specialist Jessica, the picture isn’t so bleak. “In my experience, the industry is notably male-dominated, however I have never felt overly intimidated by this.”
Jessica is the only women in her company and has never felt “disempowered” by any of her colleagues or any other men she’s worked with. Jessica told The Tab: “I take real pride in my work, and am so grateful to know that the men I work with respect and treat me as I’d like to be treated: not as ‘a woman’, just as ‘a human’.”
But, Jessica does concede that sexism exists within the industry in which she works. “The occasional sexist joke or comment gets batted about, but in all honesty, I’m really fine with them, and if anything I find the jokes quite funny and am usually one to join in with them.
“Occasionally you will hear a comment that belittles or objectifies women, but I come with the opinion that you can only change things in your control, and in this case, that’s your response to the comments, not the comments themselves. Plus, women are not without fault themselves in doing this to men or other women: again, we are only human.”
Although Jessica does acknowledge the need for a wider change in attitudes within the TV and film industries, she says: “I’d change nothing about how I am currently being treated as a woman in a male dominated industry.”
Olivia, on the other hand thinks that men within the industry need to radically change their behaviour, telling The Tab: “Men need to call other men out when they see it, they need to hold each other accountable, work to improve the culture within their teams.”
*Names changed to preserve anonymity
Featured image credit: Gnepphoto / Shutterstock