CBS’ late-night appointment furthers Hollywood’s gender bias

By Samantha Reid
samonthetorch@gmail.com

hollywood gender bias op_ed

After the announcement of David Letterman’s retirement from the Late Show, the Internet was abuzz with possible replacements for the coveted spot. CBS wasted very little time in naming its new host as Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s hit satirical news program “The Colbert Report.”

There’s no denying that Colbert is well-loved.

“The Colbert Report” consistently kills it in the ratings, even in the younger demographics that don’t tend to frequent news-related shows. But his appointment to Letterman’s former late-night spot still leaves questions. Chiefly, will a female comedian ever be recognized as a late-night host?

Chelsea Handler has been the only exception to the boys club of late-night television, but even so, her show “Chelsea Lately” airs on cable network E!, not one of the major networks. And with Handler leaving her show at the end of this year, late night will again become completely devoid of a female voice.

Some argue that gender doesn’t matter in these situations — after all, it’s just TV. But the public consumes an unparalleled amount of the cultural dialogue from the entertainment industry, and if that dialogue is coming from an exclusively male perspective, that leaves female viewpoints in the lurch.

It’s not just late-night TV that is host to a single-sided gender perspective. Only two of the top-grossing films of 2013 were directed by women. As recently as 2012, 68 percent of television shows on broadcast networks employed no female writers.

Hollywood is permeated by a gender bias that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

“I’m a fan of ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’, and he only has one female staff writer,” said junior Amelia Enberg, a student with television writing aspirations of her own. “It’s 2014, and women in comedy are still being asked, ‘Are women funny?’ After winners like ‘30 Rock’, ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘The Mindy Project,’ there should clearly be enough evidence [that they are].”

Women are bombarded by characters on TV and in film that are nowhere near accurate depictions of themselves or their real-life peers. All too often, female characters represent two extremes: either exaggeratedly feminine with their key motivation being nabbing the right guy, or on the other end of the spectrum, ass-kicking and emotionless.

“Female representation in [entertainment] is often skewed as the significant other or a minute side role,” Enberg said. “We need more women in media to potentially change how society views women.”

Male writers, directors and producers seem to miss the fact that real women tend not to fit into the female character stereotypes. Because of their glaring oversight, women have very few characters in mass media that mimic real life. Women are, quite literally, left without an accurate voice in entertainment. And it makes sense –– the majority of people representing women in the industry are middle-aged white men.

When men are the ones solely in charge of creating a cultural dialogue, the results for women are way off the mark. Women in TV and film are all too often two-dimensional characters who are there not to exist in their own right but to move plots forward in relation to the male characters.

One way we see this manifest is in the results of the Bechdel Test. This test, which first came about in the 1980s, measures whether or not a film is “female-friendly.” It has three criteria: one, that there are at least two named female characters; two, that those two characters converse with one another; and three, that the conversation is about something other than a man.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Sadly, a number of studies have found that only about half of films made from 1990-2013 pass the test. It’s a lot easier to think of films where two women are romantic rivals, or spend all of their time together gossiping about men, than to think of films where the women have lives outside of romantic relationships.

Neda Ulaby, a reporter for National Public Radio, addressed why she thinks the Bechdel Test is an important piece in analyzing modern film and culture.

“[The Bechdel Test] articulates something often missing in popular culture,” Ulaby said. “Not the number of women we see on screen, but the depth of their stories, and the range of their concerns.”

As for television, there are a handful of female showrunners out there now: Mindy Kaling, Shonda Rhimes and Lena Dunham. Even still, until we see more women given opportunities to direct and produce their own content, we’re doomed to see a revolving-door of hopelessly contrived depictions of women in entertainment.

It’s unfortunate that CBS didn’t take this opportunity to finally put a woman in a position to move us one step forward in changing the gendered dialogue of entertainment. We can only hope that in coming years, another network will be more progressive.

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