Women in TV: Another example of “You can’t be what you can’t see”?

How can you dream of what you can be, and all you can be, if you never see it in the storytelling of your culture?” – Jill Golick, Writers Guild of Canada President

Tatiana Maslany should have an Emmy for her performance as the kick-ass clones of Orphan Black. Anna Silk, Laura Vandervoort and Rachel Nichols headline other popular Canadian genre shows. But when you dig deeper into the statistics of women in Canadian television, the idea of a female-friendly industry erodes.

Last year’s Women in View report and the previous Ryerson report show that the industry has a long way to go in representing women and minorities, particularly behind the scenes.  If telling our own stories is foundational to the Canadian television industry, we should aspire to have our country’s diversity of voices represented.

In this Operation Maple video, Golick and ACTRA National President Ferne Downey speak about the challenges facing women in television, onscreen and off.


8 thoughts on “Women in TV: Another example of “You can’t be what you can’t see”?”

  1. In Canada you can’t have a niche audience like you do in the States. Canadian nets can’t afford to make shows that cater only to women–they need to make shows that attract both genders. The truth of the matter is that most men won’t watch female-centered shows even though most women will watch a male-centred show. The exception to this is sci- fi which tends to skew younger and attracts both genders no matter if it’s male or female-centred and in that case, sci-fi shows also have hefty international audiences. A typical Canadian show needs to attract the following demos to have sufficient viewer numbers:
    Women & Men
    The Young & Old
    Easterners & Westerners

  2. I want to add that I kind of disagree with some of what was said in the video. I think there are a lot of good roles for women and I also think that many of the female stars on TV aren’t plastic. Out of the 37 shows I currently watch on TV (this includes fall, winter, spring and summer shows) 19 of them are centred around core female characters–Orphan Black, Call the Midwife, Nashville, Downton Abbey, The 100, Revenge, Chasing Life, Finding Carter, Reign, Hart of Dixie, Orange Is the New Black, Grey’s Anatomy, Young & Hungry, Continuum, The Fosters, Blackstone, Bitten, Heartland and Saving Hope), 7 are co-starring female and male characters (Parenthood, Sleepy Hollow, The Originals, Vampire Diaries, The Goldbergs, and Degrassi) and 9 are starring male characters but all have strong supporting female characters (Teen Wolf, Vikings, Longmire, Republic of Doyle, Hell on Wheels, Big Bang Theory, Suits, Arrow and the Walking Dead). I don’t think there is a lack if strong female characters on shows. Things are a lot better. Are Canadian shows worse when it comes to this? I really don’t believe so, especially now.

  3. Women aren’t exactly a niche audience – in the US at least they make up more of the TV audience and shows catering to men are considered more niche. (And keep in mind the stats in the video relate to film as well.) The behind the scenes stats in Canada for writers/directors/etc are abysmal, as is the relative age range of working female actresses and writers compared to men. Women age out of the business earlier than men, onscreen and off. You can choose not to care but if you’re going to argue the facts you need to bring some of your own, and anecdote isn’t data. But if you’re going that route, add up how many of the shows you watch are written and directed by women, and how old the lead actors (male or female) are.

    1. With maybe one or two exceptions, every development executive at every Canadian network or channel is a woman. There are more gay male development execs than there are straight white males in that job. These are the people who push what projects get considered, and who hold approvals over both casting and which writers and directors get hired. So long as it’s a problem that everyone can blame on someone else, nothing will change. And I’m sure there would be plenty of reasons given why the women in those positions don’t feel free to push for greater parity. But come on. An almost universally female slate — across the board. And yet we lag behind. What does that say?

  4. I don’t think blame should enter into it – and I don’t think women are immune to the influences of society. I think naming the problem and deciding how it’s important is one step towards addressing it. I know the WGC and likely other industry groups have diversity programs to help address barriers and increase opportunities for under-represented groups. Deciding it’s not important to you is your prerogative, but dismissing its importance for others isn’t and that tends to happen any time I post anything on this topic.

    It’s fairly apparent, and the data supports it, that women age out from leading roles faster than men, and it’s less apparent — but the data supports it — that they don’t enter behind the scenes roles in equal numbers and age out of those sooner too. Do we want to change that? If not, why is it an argument for CanCon regulation that we need to tell our own stories but it’s not important to come up with solutions to allow for those stories to be a better reflection of the makeup of the country?

    1. I didn’t say it wasn’t important to me. But naming the problem isn’t the solution either. And what I am alluding to is that in one of the few cases where there are lots of women in representative roles in the business, they are not appreciably or measurably better at advancing the cause of other women. Many of those same executives have made it difficult to hire female directors and writers. Sometimes by not wanting to take a chance, and sometimes by employing a double standard. What chance do we have to solve the problem when those who are in a leading role don’t actively work to solve the problem?

  5. I’ve heard this discussion a few times and I think there’s also a generational divide here. I’m not sure about behind-the-scenes people but onscreen I’ve never noticed a lack of multi-generational female stories, especially on TV. That doesnt mean it’s not an issue, just that I don’t see it In maybe s such personally. Of course I have no idea of behind the scenes people like writers and directors. If older female writers or directors are uncommon I would like to dig a bit deeper to figure out why that is. It was always my understanding that there were less women directors and writers to begin with and that’s been changing with a plethora of younger women directors and writers coming up. In maybe 15 years Id venture a guess that the number of female and male writers and directors will be much more equal.

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