My PhD originated in response to a trend in data. In 2009 Creative Skillset, a UK based institution that monitors and supports the training needs of the creative media industry found from a census survey only 27% of monitored individuals were women, a drop from 36% in 2006. It was this drop out of women across the industry that inspired my research which has been part-funded by Creative Skillset in collaboration with the University of Bournemouth.
In the year I started my research Skillset released a report titled, ‘Women in the Creative Media Industries’ that outlined all the data and research that the organisation had collected referring to the employment patterns of women in the creative media sector. One of their main conclusions to the withdrawal of women from the industry based on the evidence that they had gathered was that:
Women have been leaving the industry because of the demands of raising a family.
Why can’t you be a mother and a filmmaker?
I started my research thinking about this claim that work in a creative sector is incompatible with the demands of motherhood. It’s a claim that when you look back at all the reports related to women employed in this sector since the 1970s has haunted women for decades. It’s become a myth endemic across the industry and one that I believe affects a woman’s career from the minute she enters whether she has any intention of raising a family or not. The fact that a woman is biologically set up to give birth defines how she is perceived, the jobs that she is encouraged into and the role models that she can identify with. This has a knock on effect, as both women and men progress in the industry as to what values are taken up to senior levels, what needs are considered, what counts as being important. All of this is subjective and as we have seen time and time again the number of women making it to those senior levels do not amount to enough to bring a critical mass of change. And so certain values become entrenched and the myth continues, passed down and internalized in a vicious cycle of gender inequality that at times seems both monotonous and incredible,
“What still? We’re still having these conversations?”
A major focus of my PhD has been to question that myth by looking at how it has been constructed. To question this idea that it is impossible for a women to combine motherhood and a creative career by looking at alternative models of both work and motherhood. To question this notion of choice by thinking through how choice is defined by your identity and the possibilities that are available to you based on who you are. This cuts across gender and other social factors such as your age, where you were born, how much money you have. These factors relate to labels that in the modern world are hard to define and subject to much debate which I’m not able to do justice to here.
My approach has been to look at how two different ‘roles’ that of the ‘mother’ and the ‘creative worker’ have been created, represented and internalized in British society. I’ve looked at how motherhood is legislated and perceived by those in power: policymakers, the media, the law and how that trickles down into popular culture. In parallel I’ve looked at the changes that have taken place in the world of creative/media ‘work’. The deregulation and casualization of the industry, the globalization of the market and the impact that this has had on the worker. Increased hours, pressure to do more for less, how access to individual gatekeepers affects career success; all these factors of work that people talk about, they know is an issue but have little knowledge as to what to do about them. In my research I’ve noticed how these two ‘roles’– the intensive mother and the ideal worker – have, particularly in the last 20 years, been constructed and emerged in juxtaposition. It would not be incorrect to assume that maintaining both these roles together, at the same time is impossible but it is in uncovering their very creation that I think provides the route to change.
A major influence on my work has been French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory. Bourdieu breaks down society not by class but by what he describes as ‘field’ whereby individuals are bound together by shared attitudes and values, shared tastes, education, a certain sense of understanding what he labels “the rules of the game”. Although Bourdieu doesn’t talk about the industry as it currently stands today I’ve found the blueprint of his theory useful to think through the unspeakable structures and cultural norms that dominate working in this industry. I’d call myself a ‘field theorist’ and it’s my intention to use this theory, as another field theorist (Rodney Benson, 1999) has said, to
bring to consciousness the invisible structures of belief and practice that lead actors to unwittingly reproduce the system even as they struggle within it. Only then can realistic action be achieved to change the situation.
Or to put it another way: “knowledge is power”.
I appreciate that what I’ve provided in this blogpost is a very generalized introduction to my research and that it invites many questions and criticism. I’m happy to address any of these individually (please, email me! I’m writing up my PhD so always happy for distraction). But I fully support the Raising Film initiative because I genuinely believe that there are small steps that can be taken that will start the process of addressing this gender imbalance from a structural point of view.
- Changing legislation and providing paternity leave for self-employed men.
- Including a line in the production budget for childcare to top up support for self-employed workers who will need to bring in extra care at certain times of the production process.
- More mentoring schemes to support women at that critical stage in their career when they are trying to jump up to a more senior level.
- Taking a punt on job shares or perhaps re-naming them ‘creative collaborations’.
- Celebrating and showcasing the amazing work of women so a new generation of women don’t feel alienated and that they have to make a choice right from the start.
And I think we need to have more honest, open conversations about the reality of work in this crazy world of film and sound. Change may be slow and many will resist but if we take these baby steps towards equality we are at least sending out a message that we are heading in the right direction.
About me: I’ve worked as a runner, 3rd AD, researcher and a (sort of) Assistant Producer in the film and television industries and then as Development Manager for the Birds Eye View Film Festival. I’ve got two children and just after I’d had my first child I saw this PhD advertised and I thought it would be a good idea to apply for it at the time…. 5 years and another baby later I’m here, writing up. I’ve had an amazing journey and been privileged to speak to so many fantastic, creative, genuine people along the way; women and men who’ve shared and trusted me with their stories. I think it’s a wonderful industry to work in – film, television, radio, animation, digital media – taking stories, ideas and thoughts and working collaboratively to make something tangible and beautiful. In many ways it’s a very similar process to raising a child.
Doctoral Researcher, CEMP, Bournemouth University