Failing Better

Cross posted on

NY Times film critic Manohla Dargis wrote a piece this past weekend on women in Hollywood , in which she argues that women filmmakers are consistently ignored by production companies, by the Academy, and by critics (only 10% of the 600 movies reviewed by the Times this year were directed by women). She also argues that it is much more difficult for a woman to recover from a box office disappointment than a man.

In a follow-up interview with Jezebel’s Irin Carmon, Dargis says: “You can be a male filmmaker and if you’re perceived as a genius – a boy genius or a fully-formed adult genius – that you are allowed to fail in a way that a woman is not allowed to fail.”

Dargis expounds on the sexism in Hollywood, which ranges from “one guy after another smiling in a baseball cap” making deals with other guys, to terrible movies about women that women see because they’re “starved for representations of themselves.”

Perhaps the most demoralizing thing she said was, “I had a female studio chief a couple of years ago tell me point blank that she wasn’t hiring a woman to do an action movie because women are good at certain things and not others. If you have women buying that bullshit how can we expect men to be better?”

She hit on something that applies to every field: Woman have to start helping other women. This doesn’t mean that women should give other women as much as of a chance as they would give men. This means prioritizing women over men. Giving women jobs over men. Paying them more. Female affirmative action.

Dargis implores Sandra Bullock’s production company to “start giving female filmmakers a chance to do something other than dopey romances.” All of us should start giving women a chance.

We’ve been socialized to devalue women, if not just by virtue of living in a society where the president and god and the faces on currency are men. We’ve been socialized to devalue women more than we know. We have to compensate for this by putting women first, even if they screw up. When men fail, their failure is considered part of the process. When women fail, it proves what we knew all along.

As Samuel Beckett once famously wrote, “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Women can’t fail better unless they are given the chance.

Michelle Haimoff is a writer, blogger and activist. Her writing has appeared in, The Huffington Post and The Los Angeles Times. She is a founding member of NOW’s Young Feminist Task Force and blogs about First World Feminism at

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  • daveNYC

    Technically, what you’re asking for isn’t affirmative action. You’re asking for something more like set-asides or quotas. Affirmative action has enough PR issues already.

  • evanf

    I agree that women should be given more opportunities in the film industry, but to go so far as to prioritize them over men instead of aiming for equal opportunity? Is it just me or is there something a little bit hypocritical about trying to end sexism against females by being sexist against males?

  • Comrade Kevin

    We have had tokenism and that is not much of a solution. Affirmative action for racial balance is a polarizing issue and arguably does more harm than good in the end. Quotas are a simplistic answer to a complicated problem. What we are really talking about is a societal matter which draws in elitism, classism, racism, sexism, and economic disparities. I favor a much more nuanced approach, because the challenge is just that vast.
    Increasing peoples’ awareness, which starts with letting people know that much of the distinctions between men and women are artificial is a good first step. Casting doubt on the conventional wisdom by using logic is another. Attracting male allies is another. But it takes a multi-pronged approach, in my humble opinion. Just instituting quotas without really understanding the myriad of overlapping reasons why women are underrepresented in the first place is not much of a solution.

  • Alexander

    So you want women everywhere to start paying their female employees more than their male employees based solely on their gender. Hmm this notion has no place in rational conversation. It should be a given that discrimination (*note that this is what you are talking about) is wrong.

  • Bevin

    I can understand where you’re coming from, and it’s a complex issue. Personally, I’m not big on excluding anyone because of biology or socio-economic background, or anything like that, however I do think that more needs to be done to include women filmmakers in “the big leagues”, because they are often deliberately excluded. I can’t claim to have a solution for it, since Hollywood is so steeped in sexism that even with women gaining more surface power in companies, it doesn’t seem to have changed the products at all. Scholarships for women in film schools are good, but they don’t help them get jobs once they graduate, nor do the jobs they do get guarantee any respect from their peers, critics, or audiences.
    I think I’m most hopeful about the internet, of all places. It’s a new medium without many regulations in place yet, and it’s a great place for unknowns and professionals alike to gain more attention for their work. Look at Nina Paley’s film Sita Sings the Blues, or TV segments like Sarah Haskins’ Target Women (I know it airs on TV, but it’s not a terribly common channel and I wasn’t even aware of it until a friend from Venezuela sent me a link online). Look at webcomics, talk about diversity! Some of them have become popular enough to make it into print, which further increases their readership. With titles like Erika Moen’s Dar!, Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius, and the talent pool (and success) of the hosting site Girlamatic, independent comics are gaining in accessibility and popularity in ways they couldn’t before the internet. I think it has incredible potential for independent networking, and a lot of film students already use it to showcase their films.
    I’m not saying it’s the solution to the problem, because as a medium it’s only as effective as the people wielding it. I think it’s a big mistake to overlook it as a way to reach an audience, and that’s the key to changing a perspective, be it the viewer themselves or the bigwigs in Hollywood who think women only make and watch one kind of movie.

  • Gopher

    But its only to compensate for the sexism they face so that they get into positions of power. After this happens then things will be more egalitarian and women will have more solid ground to progress from in that industry. Guys do it all the time. You cant compete unless you enlist the same things they use to give ones gender a leg up in the industry.

  • Charybdis

    So long as women are sucked into internalized imperialism/colonialism, as in “male values and male views of the world are better/more accurate/true and I should just suck it up and nod and pretend I’m cool with it, ’cause I’m a house-slave type moron”, well, this is what is going to happen. The only way to shake the cage is to shake society. Been trying. Good luck with that.

  • e-pro

    We need more female filmmakers. but how do we make that happen?
    Despite what some media-types would want you to believe, films from women directors are not all examples of ridiculously out-of-touch capitalism-porn like “Confessions of a Shopaholic”. There have been several women that have rewarded people for using their brains, instead of painfully-formulaic romantic “comedies”:
    Katherine Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” – which interestingly was called the most “macho” film of the year by some British movie critics – will be nominated for several academy awards.
    Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” takes an intense look at the culture of late-1980s alpha-males, including a deep examination of the music, the restaurants, and the drug use. The business card scene is enough for her placement in the Hall of Fame.
    Penelope Spheeris’ “The Decline of Modern Civilization” profiles the punk-rock scene as it gains prominence in the US.
    Barbara Koppel’s “American Dream” reveals the challenges surrounding the strike at a Hormel plant within Austin, Minnesota.
    The smart studios will figure this out, and reap the critical and financial benefits from utilizing said talented women, while the dumber studios slouch toward Movie Gomorrah.

  • Nepenthe

    In other words, when women make films about dudes, dude critics like them. When they make films about women, they get ignored. So the solution is… have women make films about dudes?