D Is for "Difficult": Hollywood's A-Z Encyclopedia of Unconscious Bias

6:30 AM 12/8/2017

by Sharon Swart

THR surveys industry women and reveals the subtle slights and microaggressions that cause them to reconsider career choices: "It's like Donald and Hillary. A man can stand there like a buffoon and talk about his penis size, while the woman will make clear, relevant points, and the guy gets elected."

The Hollywood Encyclopedia Illustration 1 - H 2017
Illustration by Kati Lacker
  • Assenting Opinions, Only

    "When I've merely stood my ground, not yelling, not screaming, just acting 1,000 percent professional in a room filled with only men, the feedback afterward was, 'Well, she always wants to dissent,' " says a female studio exec. "Two other men in the room were saying the exact same thing as me, also dissenting," she adds. "If the woman is saying it, she is called shrill. When men dissent, it's a dialogue and good to have varying opinions. A man is not going to worry about how he is being perceived; a woman always does. You have to adjust your tone to say the exact same thing."

  • Bitchy, Perceived As

    "In a writers room, it is your job to give an opinion," says a TV writer-producer. "Female writers are judged by a stricter standard. Every single female writer I know has gotten The Talk: A showrunner takes you out of the room and tells you what you are doing wrong. You're too enthusiastic. You're too argumentative. One female writer was told that when she pitches, she sounds like she's scolding everybody. I've never heard of a man getting The Talk. It's like Donald and Hillary. A man can stand there like a buffoon and talk about his penis size, while the woman will make clear, relevant points, and the guy gets elected."

  • Companion Trap, The

    "This big studio chief puts himself forward as a professional ally, saying to a woman, 'Just call me if you ever need anything,' and agrees to a restaurant meeting. Then he'll show up and avoid any talk of work or help. The woman realizes he only wanted a dinner companion."

  • "Difficult"

    It's the dreaded "D" word. "I've had a lot of situations when I have been warned that the actress is difficult or a bitch or problematic," says a producer. "Then I've worked with them, and I'm like, 'Oh, do you mean outspoken, smart and right?' Such a reputation will prevent an actress from getting a job, and it's based on male executives feeling like, 'She needs to get in line and stop being so hysterical.' It's very insidious. Male actors who are difficult are more likely to be considered talented."

  • Ego, The (Male) Director's

    Says a network TV executive producer: "When we have a guest director do an episode, it's my job to make sure they hit the tone of the show. Male directors do not like being told what to do, even in the most respectful way. I talked to one director away from the crew and explained the intention of the scene and what needed to change. The director got so angry. Technically, I'm his boss, but he told me to fuck off. I can't imagine in what universe he'd say that to a male EP."

  • Favoring the Dudes

    Says a producer: "I had a boss [a major studio producer] who has a reputation for preferring men over women, in terms of whom he's making his 'golden boy.' The women were all killing themselves working. But he was more susceptible to the men's manipulations, which often involved steamrolling over the females who were doing the work." A former agency trainee details another version: "After expressing interest to a senior talent agent's assistant about to leave that desk, he tells me, 'You would be great, and your name has come up, but he wants to hire a guy.' "

  • Gender Roles, Inescapable

    Says one producer: "You're either going to be viewed as The Girlfriend or The Mother. If I don't talk back, I'm a girlfriend who can be run over. If I sound decisive, I sound like the nagging mother. I've opted to be a mother because of my limited choices — but a lot of guys have problems with their mothers."

  • Horror (or Other Manly Genres)

    Says Lucasfilm executive Diana Williams: "When I was an independent producer, I was at Artisan in a meeting. I am in the middle of pitching a horror film. The guy interrupts me and says: 'I just can't believe how much you know about horror films. Did your boyfriend coach you?' I'm thinking, 'Are you kidding me?' He thought he was perfectly within his rights to say that. He's ignoring that John Carpenter's longtime producer was Debra Hill, and Jim Cameron's was Gale Anne Hurd." Williams adds that at one Comic-Con, which she has been going to for 22 years, "I was talking to a comic book creator, and a male agent walked up and dismissed my entire personage while I was standing there. He said, 'I'm sure she doesn't know anything about your comic books, but I love them.' I was looking at The Gatecrashers comic book, which I co-own and my name is on the cover. So it was doubly stupid, annoying and insulting."

  • Inappropriate Clients, Male

    A former agent says: "When I was a young agent, after the introduction at the office, I'd receive calls from much older male clients inviting me to lunches or drinks under the guise of a business meeting, only to have to politely endure their comments about how impressed they were with my abilities and their desire to work closely together. They would propose movie screenings, cocktail parties — and then I realized I was more than their plus-one and in an uncomfortable position. If I said no, the company could lose the client or I risked losing my job."

  • Jokes, Alienating

    Says a junior executive: "The boss who was the head of the film production company would make a dick joke or use a curse word, and all the guys would laugh. I would be the only woman in the room, and I would laugh, too, to show that I had a sense of humor. The boss would abruptly stop laughing and apologize specifically to me. It made me feel excluded. You want to like the people you work with, and that made me feel alienated."

  • Knowledge, Presumed Superior

    "I've had men with far fewer credits try to tell me 'How It's Done,' " notes one veteran filmmaker.

  • Lateness and Leaving

    "Male agents and studio executives in particular have a tendency to request a meeting at a restaurant or somewhere very much their turf and on their own time," says a producer. "Then they show up late, saying that they already ate. 'Wait, I thought this was a dinner?' I doubt this happens as much to men. They do a 20-minute power spiel and then leave. And they asked for the meeting! Then your appetizer arrives."

  • Mom Thing, The

    "I've had male execs address me, 'Hey, mommy!' when my kids weren't even on set with me," says producer Dana Fox. "It's an easy shorthand to take away a woman's power. I'm bringing my A-game, and I'm being called 'mommy' in front of my colleagues? It's so patronizing. Would you ever in a million years hear a man say to another man at work, 'Hey, daddy'?" She adds: "I'll also hear, 'Oh my God, do you ever see your kids?' when I'm working hard. It's a subtle dig or a way to guilt me so I'll self-destruct from within. When my TV show was canceled, I was told, 'This is a blessing in disguise — now you can spend time with your baby," which was insane because my baby was on the lot with me every day. This is something a man would never have to hear. A good rule of thumb is to think about what you are about to say to a woman. If you would not say it to a man, then don't say it to me."

  • No Handshake

    An awards consultant describes a meeting during which a big male producer only made eye contact with and shook the hands of the men in the room, even though a number of women, including a high-ranking female studio executive, were present. Finally the top woman stuck out her hand for the dreaded handshake: "Great meeting!"

  • Organizational, A Woman's Job Is

    A female producer, one of three founders of a production company (the other two male partners were a struggling filmmaker and an actor for whom the company was created), came to work one day to find her desk moved from the open-space area where all three worked to right next to the front door. "I was a partner and exec producer, and he [the filmmaker partner with less experience than she] said, 'You should sit there, not with the creatives,' " adding that the actor, who was away at the time, had agreed to the move. "I later came to understand that he had no idea. This other guy treated me like I was there to make his dreams come true. He decided my job was to make his movie, but that was not my role in the company," she says. "The attitude was: A woman at a production company is going to make it run. Her only ambitions should be to make our lives and careers better."

  • Parity, The Push for

    On female filmmakers receiving equal pay to men, entertainment attorney Linda Lichter says: "A company will say, even if she's had the same success or came up with the same experience, 'There are other factors that come into account.' I will say: "What factors? Is it because my client is female? And I will get blowback for even saying that."

  • Quaffing by Gender

    "A big deal was being closed, and I was part of a very senior group of executives," says a female studio exec. "It was five guys and me. It was a celebratory moment, and someone said, 'Hey, let's have a scotch!' It got poured out for all of the guys. I wasn't offered any. I was even asked to pass a glass to someone. Now, I didn't want the scotch, but if I had been offered it, I would have sipped it. What that said was that I wasn't a part of this — it was a subtle exclusionary thing. When something like this happens, the men in the room notice that I am 'other than.' It matters. If I had said — which I almost did — 'Wait a second, no one is handing me a scotch,' I would have been told I was being overly sensitive and that I had a chip on my shoulder."

  • Representation, A Lack of

    Says a director, "Agents don't sign women in the first place because they don't make enough money."

  • Sexual Harassment Training, Avoidance of

    "I took an agent's mandatory online sexual harassment training for him," says a former agency trainee. "Assistants, often young-ish women like me, would take them. The agency was sink or swim, so you just did it. The result was that these agents didn't even know what did or did not constitute harassment. And even if they did take their training, it would have just been a joke to them."

  • Tokenism

    Liz Manne, a former studio marketing executive, says: "Being the only woman in a corporate board meeting is a microaggression. You don't see your type of human represented onscreen, in the C-suite or the boardroom. You don't see yourself, and they don't see you, so you are not heard, you are talked over or not given an opportunity to speak. Lots of people say the harms from implicit bias and microaggressions are worse than the ones from explicit bias because they are harder to detect. To me, it's like water damage versus fire damage. Or a thousand paper cuts. Women should be paid more than men for going to work every day: hazard pay."

  • Uppity

    "There was a woman who came in to pitch for a director job," says a female studio executive. "We'd worked with this woman before as a writer, and my male colleague really liked her. I wasn't in the room, but he told me that she was pitching, doing what every director does. She was very opinionated about her vision, expressing a clear, confident point of view. And my colleague said, 'I found myself thinking: Well, that sounds cocky. Wow, full of yourself much?' Then he realized she was not doing anything different from the two guys who had come in and pitched for the same movie. He corrected himself. It's hopeful."

  • Weakness, Presumed

    "A male producer at a film production company asked me whether I was OK all the time, as if I was about to cry any minute even though I was totally fine," says a development executive. "He was babying me. Eventually I told him to stop. He genuinely seemed confused. But he was acting like there was something inherently fragile about me and that I couldn't handle my job. He wouldn't ask any of the men that at the company."

  • XX Chromosome Betrayal

    "My female writer-director and I met with a major actress who was interested in our project," says a female filmmaker. "The meeting was really enjoyable, and we spent a great deal of time talking about the predicament of female-centric projects. The next day, the actress' representative calls me and says that the actress loved us but thought the project could use some 'male energy' and suggested bringing on this male producer who had never done a project remotely like this. It wasn't Brett Ratner, but someone like that. I was dumbfounded. Shortly after, the actress gave a speech about how women in the business don't support each other enough."

  • Youth, Insistence on

    A former assistant was required to listen in on calls with her producers: "They would talk about casting a movie and name an older actor in his 30s40s50s and need to find a love interest, and they were talking about actresses in their 20s. A female actress named was 26, and one of the male producers on the phone said, 'Isn't she kind of old?' All the female assistants around that age on the call would be taken aback."

  • Zany Nicknames

    A talent rep says: "A colleague used to address me as, 'Hi, Crazy!' It didn't bother me at first, but then you realize there's a nasty connotation to a woman being called 'crazy,' however affectionately intended."