Inside the Minds of TV Producers

Feministing got a request a few days ago to go on a morning show and talk about a new website that offers women a chance to find a “sugar daddy” (I don’t want to give the site any traffic, so I won’t link to it here). I called the producer back to chat over the logistics and encountered an ugly reminder of just how much most television producers buy into and continually shape sexist narratives.
The producer, a woman, informed me that the first segment would feature a self-proclaimed “gold digger.” They were hoping I would come on the second segment and talk about how bad it is that this woman is making this choice and how it is a real step backwards for women’s empowerment. Here’s the dialogue (roughly) that followed:

Me: I’d actually like to offer a systemic analysis. Women are disproportionately affected by economic downturn, and beyond that, women still make 76 cents to the man’s dollar.
Her: Really? Do you have data to back that up? I’d get laughed out of the office if I made that argument.
Me: There’s a lot of data to back this up; it’s not, like, my little theory. I could send you some very easily. Also, it might be good to bring in some analysis about objectification and the ways in which young women are taught to see their bodies as their most potent source of power. It sort of makes sense for a woman like this to resort to this website when you consider all the societal factors involved.
Her: Okay, well we were hoping for a feisty debate kind of…
Me: Oh, I can be very feisty about these issues.
Her: Okay, I’ll call you back at 2pm.

Never called. Never wrote. In my fantasy, this producer lady googled some of my claims, marched into her supervisor’s office, and quit because she realized she had been underpaid for years. In my sober life, I realize they probably did a really shitty segment blaming the “gold digger” for her ridiculous behavior.

Join the Conversation

  • Theaetetus

    It’s true. I work for a major media organization (in the Engineering department), and I constantly feed story ideas to the producers from things I learn here and elsewhere… and not one has been followed up on, no matter how much objective evidence and data I provide.

  • petpluto

    “It’s not, like, my little theory” is an excellent statement. I find it truly scary that people don’t know women make 76 cents to the dollar; I find it scarier that producers want one self-proclaimed gold digger to be the easy scapegoat for a systemic issue. But I guess that is the goal considering most shows don’t want to scratch below the surface.

  • sondjata

    I’ll assume then that by this reaction:
    “Her: Really? Do you have data to back that up? I’d get laughed out of the office if I made that argument.”
    She’s not one of those women making 76 cents to the dollar.

  • Ismone

    Or she just doesn’t know it.
    You rock. I think she wanted you to tell the audience that the golddigger was “evil, ornery scandalous and evil, most definitely” to borrow from sublime.

  • Courtney

    Thanks for the support everyone!

  • Dmar

    Courtney, I think it’s really paternalistic of you not to link to the site. It would be valid for you to say you would like to discourage readers from increasing their website traffic, but to just omit the site because YOU don’t want traffic to increase makes it seem that you know what’s best for both the readers (“you don’t want to go the site”) as well as the state of women’s issues (“for the good of women’s issues everywhere, I will not make it easy for you to see the site that I just wrote a whole post on”). I expect to be treated as a bright woman who can make a well-thought decision on whether or not to check the primary source myself.

  • Theaetetus

    Courtney, I think it’s really paternalistic of you not to link to the site.
    Incidentally, linking to the site would increase its Google PageRank, making it even more popular.

  • Courtney

    Why don’t you just google it Dmar? I’m not preventing anyone from finding it, just not making it any easier from feministing.

  • Holly

    Courtney, I’m so sorry you had to put up with that. Good for you for refusing to pander to their binary bullshit.
    “It’s not, like, my little theory.” I can’t believe you actually had to say that.

  • Dmar

    “Incidentally, linking to the site would increase its Google PageRank, making it even more popular.”
    I get that. But what if an increase in traffic leads to people being better informed and creating their own opinions on why the whole thing is so screwed up? What if an increase in traffic leads to individuals or groups chastising the organization for its sexism? I don’t think censorship is ever the answer.

  • Dmar

    I could google it. But I come to blogs like Feministing because I trust that I will get good information with primary sources cited to. You’re not preventing me but you’re picking and choosing what you think is best for me to see and only making those websites you approve of easily available. I rely on you for thoughtful information and links for further investigation not for censoring what you think I should or should not have easy access to.

  • Cate

    Umm everyone is missing the true gem line:
    “Oh, I can be very feisty about these issues.”
    Seriously, you just made my morning. Thank lordisa I didn’t have a sip of my delicious latte in my mouth when I read that, or I would have wasted its chocolatey-hazelnutty deliciousness.

  • the15th

    Courtney, thank you for refusing to buy into their framing. I’m sick of faux-feminist media attacks on “golddiggers,” “Bridezillas,” “Carrie Bradshaw wannabes” and whatever other women are being vilified this week.

  • Jessica

    Dmar, it’s Courtney’s post and can link or not link to whatever she likes. That’s not censorship, it’s editorial discretion.

  • Dmar

    Jessica, you can call it editorial discretion but I see it as paternalistic censorship. And it is her post but isn’t the point of Feministing to increase the knowledge of people interested in feminist issues? Isn’t the best way to increase that knowledge not only for the blogger to share her opinion but to give other readers easy access to what she’s talking about so that they can form their own opinions? Maybe I’m mistaken on what is all about.

  • marilove

    Is it just me, or is there always someone commenting to posts her nit-picking the author? It happens in every post. It’s getting kind of old.

  • Sebastiana

    Just wanted to briefly delurk to say that Courtney is now my official hero…
    I’d never really thought about the Gold Digger stereotype, or where it really came from… Thank you for deconstructing it so nicely!
    It’s a shame that you got that reaction from the Producer, but since when has (most) TV really been intelligent/objective/rational anyways?

  • sir no one

    Awesome job, Courtney! Mad respect for anyone with the tenacity to not only not back down from an argument but also to push forward intelligently and, might I say, wittily.
    Censorship on a post where more than enough detail on the site is provided to result in a successful Google search? (Or a Cuil search, though I don’t recommend it.) Please, you’re reaching far above the pail, Dmar. In today’s information market, what Courtney did in no way even approaches the technical definition of censorship. Please.
    Again, you rock Courtney.

  • eva

    Dmar – the article is called Inside the Minds of TV Producers. It is not about the website, but about Courtney’s experience with the tv show. You don’t need the link to understand this. And this has nothing to do with censorship.

  • Kristi

    Dammitall, it just took me 15 minutes to figure out how to get into your system so I could comment here — yes, I had to create a new account, even though I already have one but can’t remember the password and if I can’t remember a password, seriously, how am I going to remember a “forgot password phrase”? I also have a livejournal account but the code for logging in through lj isn’t working, maybe someone can get that fixed?
    Anyhow, rant over, I just wanted to say thanks for fighting the good fight and not taking part in the catfight the media would obviously much rather bow to. Keep up the good work.

  • Kristi

    Oh, and now that I’ve managed to get in I should point people to this petition regarding the Wage Discrimination Act that congress is voting on TODAY:
    Don’t suppose anyone heard about that in the mainstream media?

  • SarahMC

    I think someone may be on the hunt for a sugar dady.
    Also, please don’t use the word “censorship” unless you are familiar with the definition.
    Courtney, you rock.

  • ArmyVetJen

    Thanks for posting this awesome example and thanks for not posting the link to the crappy site.

  • Dmar

    OK. I was gonna call it quits with the last post but since some readers have taken to alluding to me wanting a “sugar dady” (sic.) and accusing me of not knowing my vocab, I’m gonna go just one more time.
    If you don’t agree with me, that’s totally ok. Tell my why you don’t agree with me (as many of you have and I appreciate that). Don’t stoop to Ad hominem arguments that fail to address the point I’m making.
    And, from Merriam-Webster online: censor
    : to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable
    I don’t think my calling the suppression or omission of the website censorship falls outside this definition.
    OK, now I’m done. Thanks ladies!

  • Femgineer

    I am saddened that you did not get to go on the morning show to give your analysis. I think it is far more interesting to find out WHY people make choices (as in this instance with society shaping women to make that choice) than to simply say that they are bad people (or whatever simple excuse one uses).
    Also, the actual website seems to be a moot point in this topic. It started discussion, or at least and idea for a morning show segment. And I certainly don’t think “sugar daddies” and “sugar babies” are inherently evil, but symptoms of the evil patriarchy. Which, I think, is the idea that Courtney was trying to get across to the producer.

  • wry

    I think someone may be on the hunt for a sugar dady. (sic)
    Seriously? While I don’t agree with Dmar, did you seriously have to sink to this? The irony of devolution from the original posting to this point is not lost on me.

  • SarahMC

    How did Courtney suppress or delete anything? She didn’t REMOVE the website from a story; she was the one who wrote the post! Deciding not to include certain irrelevant information is not the same thing as removing relevant information.

  • sir no one

    Dmar, my disagreement regarding the word censorship falls upon the “suppression” portion of the definition. This is probably silly to continue, but the post in question did nothing to suppress the website in question. Suppression is an action taken to withhold or repress from publication . Given our access to and skill with technology, the only way Courtney could be accussed of suppression and thus censorship would be if she gave no context or description of the site she was asked to discuss.
    She clearly gave context and a succinct description.
    Thus I believe the charge of censorship is false. Obviously the argument is a nuanced one, but one I think holds up rather well.

  • katliz74

    Sadly, I think the fantasy about the producer quitting at the end of the post is just that – fantasy. I deal with the media all the time and it seems that most TV producers, many of them women, are too focused on the sensational story (painting women as superficial gold-diggers, and pitting that idea against the female intellectual = catfight!) than an idealogical conversation like the one Courtney poised. Conflict sells more than actual dialogue and slanted, heated perception gets better ratings than those silly, bleak facts.
    It’s sad, and I am fantasizing about a Howard Beale moment from one of these female producers… stop superficially pitting women against each other for ratings, cause I’m mad as hell and I’m not wathcing the news anymore.

  • ElleStar

    And, from Merriam-Webster online: censor
    : to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable

    And when Courtney hacks your computer in a way that you can’t access the gold digging websites on your own, or when others at Feministing edit Courtney’s post to remove her link to the website, you will have a case.
    I’m writing my dissertation. It’s not censorship if I opt not to include a specific citation if I don’t need it to make my point. I’m not limiting anyone’s access to that citation, I’m just not going out of my way to provide it.
    In any case, I would have loved to see you talk about the real issues when it comes to women and “gold digging.” Too bad tv producers just seem interested in catfights. Blech.

  • MLEmac

    I just googled “Sugar daddy, dating” and am now really depressed as to how many different sites came up.

  • Peepers

    marilove asked, Is it just me, or is there always someone commenting to posts her nit-picking the author? It happens in every post. It’s getting kind of old.
    It looks like nitpicking and I’ll bet it feels like nitpicking to the bloggers. However, I want to acknowledge that people might be expressing these opinions because:
    1) The bloggers generally appear to care about being credible and accountable to women and
    2) The bloggers take women’s opinions seriously.
    In the current climate, I consider these commitments to be credible/accountable/mindful of opinions as a public service. We need it — and we are not getting in in other parts of the agora.
    Doubtless for some of us it is seductive to express every opinion that comes up for us. I am sure it takes some measure of self-control for the bloggers to respond to what looks and might feel like nitpicking by saying, “OK, yes, I acknowledge your gripe and I agree/disagree with you.” It’s a feedback loop that probably makes life harder for the bloggers, but serves the overall mission of women having a voice in the public square and using it.
    Thanks, Feministing bloggers.

  • Peepers

    Whoa. Too much boldface. Oopsies.

  • Mytrr

    That is such a shame that there was an opportunity to educate people and it was passed in favor of ratings. That’s really depressing. I’m using that “It’s not, like, my little theory” line in the future, thanks Courtney! :)

  • puckalish

    you put it better than i could have. and i would like to put a nod to Courtney for recognizing the monetary value of a link on a site as trafficked as feministing.
    you have to at least recognize that there was no paternalistic intention behind Courtney not disclosing the site. she wasn’t posting about that site, she was posting about a conversation with a tv producer, so she didn’t judge it as germane to the posting. further, she saw a definitely negative fallout (more traffic and a higher page rank for the offending site) to posting the web address. seems like a sound economical and academic argument for not including the citation. there would be a clear benefit for the dating site with no value added to Courtney’s column. does that at least make sense to you, even if you don’t agree with it?
    by the way, for the record, only one person made an off-color comment to you and it was almost immediately condemned by another poster. don’t think for a minute that “some” feministing folks want to attack your character, okay? besides, i think SarahMC was joking – perhaps a bit frustrated at why the conversation has been dominated by a demand for a link to a website that’s symptomatic of a problem.
    oh, and SarahMC, cut it out. that was mean (the sugar daddy comment)…
    you have a great point. the other side of the coin, though, is that there are people out there who willfully seek to derail conversations in order to (a) stifle real discourse about these issues (b) get attention (c)feel smart (d) so on… some of these “gripes” are genuine and Dmar may really feel that her ability to make “a well-thought decision” was impeded, but i think marilove was refered to the aforementioned a, b, c, dees…
    on that note, i think you’ve got a really keen point, Courtney, that young women are taught to see their bodies as their most potent source of power and there are so many questions that rise out of that… among other things, how are inter-class relations coded in terms of such terms – even for those who are trying to cross class boundaries (for true love, say) without self-consciously identifying as a “gold-digger”, the moniker is often applied as a barrier. and what kind of social conditioning issues apply to a woman who is so willing to self-identify as a “sugarbaby”?
    however, what i’m really wondering is how you could Courtney have gotten on that show? are there ways to market thoughtful discourse in a way that it can come off to tv execs as sensational and trashy? i feel like you hit on it with that, “oh, i can be very feisty” comment and i guess i’m wondering if folks have ideas on how to take that to the next level where good conversation can come up in a way that’s agreeable to media shotcallers (at least until they’re all lying in a ditch ;P ). or is there even a way to do such a thing? is the intention so strong in contemporary mass media to reduce humanity down to our most base elements that shaping conscious discussion to sensationalist formats will never work?

  • Maggie Fox

    Aw, I thought Sarah MC’s “sugar daddy” jibe at Dmar was cute and funny. It came off to me as gently witty, and not mean-spirited. I know that
    is my subjective interpretation but I just think that Sarah MC was just joshing Dmar. Of course, if Dmar didn’t take that way, we should
    certainly cut it out.

  • sara summar

    ugh, that is so disappointing! please update us on the show, if you find out they ever ran the segment…so we can send them our thoughts!

  • darby

    Great job, Courtney! As someone else mentioned, this producer wanted nothing more than a stereotypical catfight. Feminist vs. anti-feminist. She was probably shocked that you didn’t take the bait. Of course she wouldn’t call you back — what fun would it be to show women sticking up for each other? Lets hope she at least thought about what you said.

  • ZoBabe

    So, basically they wanted to put a “glamorous amoral self proclaimed goldigger” and an “earnest feminist” in a jar and watch them pull the wings off each other for our viewing pleasure? Could they throw in a little mud to wrestle in as well?
    “Oh, I can be very feisty about these issues.”

  • elsmith7

    I know I’m commenting on a post that’s a few days old, but it struck me how similar this conversation was to one I had last semester in an Asian American Culture class. We were putting on a show for our final, and my group (the spoken word poetry group) was being asked to write and perform some poems to accompany a skit another group was doing on mail order brides. The TA made the suggestion that we have two of our poets have a sort of conversation/debate on stage to echo a certain form of Filipino poem (can’t remember what it was called now), which is fine, but he wanted the debate to be the mail order bride (“This was the only way out of my situation”) vs. the modern Asian American woman (“You’re bringing down the race”). Yeah, he actually said “bringing down the race”. I was like, “…Actually, it would never in a million YEARS have occurred to me to say that to the poor woman.” Reading this just brought back how angry it made me that he would say that… someone graduating that semester with a degree in Asian American Studies (and we have a fantastic department) should have been able to make a more sophisticated analysis of the issues involved there.