Journalism, and by extension entertainment journalism, is a boys club. There are women in the industry, but we are marginalized and must fight at every turn to keep our dignity and our jobs. If we’re lucky, we’ll avoid online death threats. If we’re lucky, we’ll have a chance to do the thing we love in spite of the numerous men trying to stop us from doing just that.
This isn’t a tirade against men, I promise. I have met some incredible men working in this industry, people I’m proud to call my “film family.” They are the good ones, the egalitarians of our industry who believe that a critic’s writing is what matters — not their gender or ethnicity. Without the guys who have helped me along the way, I would have given up on my dream long ago.
I’m not the type to give up, either, but it’s an uphill battle. Every time a female freelancer gets a rejection, she has to wonder if her gender plays a role. It most often doesn’t, but the potential is there. That potential alone can lead to worlds of self-doubt. The frat-boy culture that permeates much of the film journalism community enforces this doubt, reestablishing again and again that women are only welcome as long as they don’t step on any toes.
The effects of this sexist mentality are insidious. Women are afraid to speak out about sexual harassment or assault because they’re worried about being labeled as “the one who brought (insert creep here) down.” Speaking up for yourself is dangerous. It can get you labeled as a bitch or worse, and people are more likely to believe the perpetrator anyway. (People are still defending Bill Cosby, after all.)
Even if you’re one of the ones fortunate enough to dodge overt sexual harassment (in which case you’re a unicorn), there are still the pitfalls of being thought of as a lesser force in the industry. There’s a serious issue with gatekeeping in the film critic community, as more traditional critics in editorial positions tell rising writers that they don’t know what they’re talking about, or their critique is invalid. While this is happening to both genders, I have seen much more condescension from older male editors to younger female writers.
That’s the thing about being a female in entertainment: you have to be perfect. You have to be feminine, polished, well-spoken, educated, and extremely calculated. You will be critiqued not only on your writing, but also your clothes, your hair, your makeup, your voice, and your weight. Men will call you “sweetheart,” “dear,” and “honey.” And you’re not allowed to get indignant about being called pet names because then you’re “uppity.” It’s a tightrope walk with no net and people screaming at you on either side.
Until recently, there haven’t been repercussions for men misbehaving in the industry. Occasionally people resigned or stepped down, and usually only if the press got involved. Anything that could be kept quiet was, using methods ranging from under-the-table payouts to basic bullying, like Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League asking one of Devin Faraci’s accusers to “keep this between us.”
When news broke this week that League had not only asked an accuser to be quiet but had also quietly been employing Devin Faraci since his apparent dismissal, I was livid. The de-platforming of Faraci, previous editor-in-chief of League's Birth.Movies.Death., was one of our only victories. An employer actually punished a man who had used his power for sexual misconduct. He lost his platform, his good name, and (we had hoped) his career. I bear no ill will toward the man himself. I just believe that being able to do what we love for a living is a privilege. And if you take that privilege for granted, you should lose it.
The swift internet outrage and subsequent re-resignation were great, but that’s only one tiny, sad victory in a battle we should never have been forced to fight in the first place. There should be no question, and the victim should never have been asked to keep quiet.
The Faraci incident gained quite a bit of attention in the online film community, letting another incident slip below the radar. Los Angeles's Cinefamily theater recently suspended all operations after enough employees had become fed up with the company’s apparent culture of sexual misconduct. Cinefamily's board has since hired a firm to investigate allegations of sexual harassment. The descriptions of the abuses are so familiar. I feel like every female journalist has at least one similar story.
In the course of my (admittedly rather short) career as a writer, I have been:
- Told that my knock (on a door) was too “loud and aggressive”
- Hit on in a variety of vulgar ways
- Expected to do the clerical work and research for some of my male contemporaries because apparently, all women are secretaries
- Belittled, talked down to, and patronized
- Hugged and touched without my permission
- Told by an editor “I had my concerns with a woman in this job”.
All of this is just problems within the industry, too. Perhaps the scariest thing a female entertainment writer has to fear is the public. I’ve received my fair share of hate messages, but have always been startled by how gendered those messages get. Instead of just expressing disagreement or using generic insults, people who send hate messages almost always use gendered slurs. And more often than not, they bring up my credibility as a fan. While some of the aggressors are obviously just trolls who will say anything to upset people from behind their keyboard, some of these fans are serious in their vitriol.
If a female critic doesn’t like a property, then it’s her fault. She either “isn’t a real fan” or “doesn’t know the material,” or she’s “not a real gamer/cinephile/comic geek.” We have to prove ourselves and our fandoms again and again. A male critic can simply say “I like Star Wars” and people assume he’s a Star Wars fan. A female critic will say that, and toxic fans will bombard her inbox with trivia. “If you’re a Star Wars fan, then what’s the registration number for the X-Wing Luke took to Dagobah?”
While this is the work of toxic fans and isn’t exactly an industry issue, it still makes article writing much more challenging. I once wrote a piece about the importance of inclusion in comic books, and the very first comment was a man saying that I must not read comics and I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about. (Comments have since been disabled on that site, like so many others, because of the sheer vileness of the internet.)
Fans can, unfortunately, take their vitriol to even further extremes. Individuals will send death threats, hack writer’s personal information, and otherwise go out of their way to harass female writers. This harassment goes well beyond disagreeing with a critic and into the realm of silencing dissenting voices. We're still feeling the effects of GamerGate, and I won’t be surprised if something similar ends up happening in the cinema community. There are just too many good old boys still holding out and hoping the new, rising voices in entertainment will just go away.
It's time to let us into the club, without all the secret handshakes. Entertainment journalism isn’t The Little Rascals. We need as many strong, diverse voices as we can get in this industry. We’re not going anywhere, no matter how difficult it is to stay. We do it for the same reason as those very guys that are causing the problem: we love movies. That, I think, should be the only criteria for discussing cinema. After all, isn’t all critique subjective anyway?