Community Forced to “Quota Hire” Now Happily Maintains An Gender Equal Writing Staff
It's A World of Laughter A World of Tears
Before starting on this, a caveat: Personally, Community is by far one of my favorite shows on TV right now. In fact, it might even be my absolute favorite. That said, it pains me to say that while he has some great things to say about gender equality on his writing staff, my favorite show’s showrunner, Dan Harmon, had a rather patronizing quote in a recent interview with A.V. Club about female comedy writers. Everything else was actually pretty great, including how he’s going to stick with an equally representative writer’s room, but why — oh why — is it always such a revelation when men realize women have a different perspective on things?
In an old interview on the Nerdist podcast, Stan Lee said that Marvel‘s acquisition by Disney was a good thing for Marvel because Disney didn’t interfere with them creatively. And I believe that Dan Harmon was feeling that being told who to hire was interference. The order came from the former head of NBC programming Angela Bromstad before she left: “Get more women on your staff. Make it half women.” Harmon says:
I remember going, “Are you f*cking kidding me?” to myself. “Okay, I got a sitcom, and this is as far as you go,” because I’ve just been told that half of my staff needs to be a quota hire.
That sounds awful, but considering Harmon runs a show with three excellent female characters who get just as much screen time as their male castmates, this reaction could not have been because Harmon didn’t think women were funny. This sounds like a matter of not having control over your own show. What Harmon soon discovered was that the difficulty in finding female writers to hire wasn’t in the quality, it was in the quantity:
They’re harder to find. It’s definitely not because women ain’t funny, because I’m finding the opposite. It’s because there’s fewer of them. The statistical probability of picking up a sh*tty script, it’s compounded for women. There’s the same percentage of genius happening in both genders, but there’s less women writing scripts and out there looking for the job. So you dig a little extra-hard, and you end up with a staff that took a few extra meetings and a few extra sh*tty scripts to read.
And that’s true — women stepping up to the plate in comedy is not as prevalent as it is with men for a variety of reasons that can only be assumed. But Harmon makes excellent points about how he quickly learned that having a writing staff that had an equal number of men and women just plain makes sense (emphasis ours):
Now you have a staff that is just as good as the staff you would have had, but happens to be half women. And it seems like the greatest thing in the world, because the world is half women …
I don’t have enough control groups to compare it to, but there’s just something nice about feeling like your writers’ room represents your ensemble a little more accurately, represents the way the world turns.
Yes. Thank you, Dan Harmon. Thank you for pointing out the obvious. And while it’s clear that your male writers can write your female characters just fine (because Community‘s writers are actually good), it just makes sense to have their voices written by women sometimes. And obviously, as was illustrated in his reverential discussion of writer Megan Ganz, women can just as effectively write for male characters. But then, after briefly discussing writing for different races (which is a whole other post), he veers into the slightly patronizing.
… [B]lack women have ovaries and white women have ovaries; black men have testicles and white men have testicles, so actually, race is far more an artificial construct than gender. There’s a literal, actual difference between men and women, and it’s in their blood, and it’s in their brains, and it’s in their fingertips, and it’s in our conversations. I think women are different, and I think having them in the room is crucial to a family comedy, ensemble comedy, television comedy, where half the eyeballs on your show are women.
Unless this is just guyspeak. I feel like it’s possible that Harmon is intending this kind of thing for more closed-minded men rather than the women (and men) who know this all already (and have some concerns about the assumption that men and women are fundamentally different, with biology determining all personality). To his credit, Harmon says he has plans to maintain the 50/50 quota:
… even though Bromstad’s gone, now I’m carrying this legacy, going, “Eh, guys, we really need a half-female writing staff.” I would teach it. I think we have to stop thinking of it as a quota thing and think of it as a common-sense thing.
But again — why is this such a revelation?
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