Women in Books and Film

It hasn't been a stellar week for women in the arts. Let me be more specific: It’s been a lousy week for female writers and women in the film industry.


Notwithstanding the Oscar that Meryl Streep earned for her depiction of England’s first female prime minister -- a standout, bravura performance from the gold standard of acting, as I was bemoaning on Twitter (@MeredithOBrien) about the dismally boring Oscar show, I was also keeping tabs on tweets from the Women’s Media Center. Their stream of tweets reminded me, as I admired the beautiful gowns the women were wearing, of just how cruddy the state of the film industry is for women right now.


When the organization looked at the list of Oscar nominees in non-gender specific categories they discovered:


  • There were six categories in which not a single woman was nominated (directing, cinematography, documentary feature, original score, sound editing and visual effects).


  • There were five categories with only ONE female nominee (adapted screenplay, sound mixing, animated feature film, foreign language film and original song).


  • Categories where women outnumbered men (costume design, short subject documentary and art direction).


As each category was featured on the Oscar broadcast, the Women’s Media Center published a tweet reporting the grim Academy Awards stats. By the time The Artist was named best picture at the end of the show, a total of only three women had walked away with Oscars in non-gender specific categories (for art direction, documentary short and live action short film).


I suppose this shouldn’t have been surprising in light of the expose that the Los Angeles Times published just before the Academy Awards in which they’d uncovered some interesting demographic info about the 5,765 “voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,” a voter list that’s, apparently, kept secret. The Times discovered that the voters are 94 percent white, 77 percent male and have an average age of 62. “People younger than 50 constitute just 14 percent of the membership,” the paper said. Men control “90 percent of five branches [of the organization’s 15 branches]” and “women make up 19 percent of the academy’s screenwriting branch,” 18 percent of the producers and 9 percent of the directors.



I am a woman. I am stating this unequivocally before I make my point, as a sort of disclaimer. As I don't pay any attention to the Academy Awards or the film industry (other than watching what I enjoy...not what others TELL me to take pleasure in), I will only comment on the literary part of this column.
I find it ironic that the female author you mention is Jennifer Weiner. I read "Good in Bed". I will never read another of her books. Why? Because each is described in reviews exactlt as "Good" was...and I loathed it...just as I have detested every other book by a female author that comes under the category of "woman's literature", or "chick lit". The common denominators are simple: all the men are clueless, whether nice but vapid and weak, or cruel and stronger, and the women really don't need them in the end; all of the women are "victims" of some sort; everyone drinks too much, and sex is a weapon, tool and a device for, well. every conceivable issue, anxiety and dilemma. There is a male author who fits into this category as well (who I won't touch either): Wally Lamb. Save me. I have never met a man, who, once trying these books, would further investigate the authors' offerings. They pander to women, and women alone. And they sell remarkably well.
There is a comparable category for males, and it is called "men's adventure", and better bookstores use it. I won't read Clive Cussler, and he typifies the genre: bold, manly men with an excess of testosterone that even highly intellectual lesbians can't resist, who always "get it done", need no help, always seen to have, or be, the proper tool, know everything masculine (how to fix cars, swagger, climb a rope, sneer) and walk off into the sunset. If you're ignoring this subset of literature (some of which is written no more poorly then much of the so "hailed and revered" woman's literature) you've made your argument specious at best. It exists, and has for decades.
The point is, many of the female authors are not producing anything desirable or accessible to those who do not want stories and characters that are interesting only to women, about women, are somewhat...or extremely...misandrist, have poor plot lines, marginal writing and are so full of angst and bitchiness as to be unappealing.
I read female authors: Linda Fairstein, Faye Kellerman, Fanny Flagg, Katharine Slater, Mo Hayder, Poppy Z. Brite, Kathy Reichs, P. D. James. None of them pull any punches, or are in the habit of blaming men for the troubles of their female characters, who generally have strength, character (ironic, isn't it?), intensity and emotional depth...even when they are NOT sympathetic.
My current male author reading consists of James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Johnathon Kellerman, T. J. Parker, several Scandinavian authors, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Lee Childs. My older male authors, my favorites? H. P. Lovecraft. Robert E. Howard. Joseph Hellerman and Herman Rausch. Donald E. Westlake and William Faulkner.
I don't read "woman's literature". I am a woman, and I detest it as much as I detest current "man's adventure" (and before you mention Conan, maybe you should read "Red Nails" and some of the actual written stories, in which powerful women act in singular, intelligent and decidedly modern ways). It is slanted, biased, and for me, as unreadable as any Harlequin Romance ever was. Perhaps that's what's causing the lack of attention...some readers want a balanced, interesting story with full characters who don't simply hate the opposite sex.