Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain.
I’ve been writing a lot about women and entertainment lately and quite frankly it starts to get a little depressing to see our culture – and my social media feed – as a constant source of stories about gender bias. Even when I focus on stories about “powerful” women, there’s something about viewing the world through gender as limiting.
Which, of course, is the problem.
People talk a lot about unconscious bias when they talk about overcoming gender discrimination. Most of us who consider ourselves feminists assume we are immune.
Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with my own “unconscious” bias.
I was reading an interview with two TV showrunners in Variety, Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) and Alex Gansa (Homeland). I had stumbled on the article online and didn’t read the opening and didn’t know what Gansa looked like. In reading the Q & A, I assumed “Alex” was a woman. You might think this was very evolved of me, given that Homeland is a heavily plotted show about the CIA. But the reason I thought Gansa was female was that in the profile “Alex” talked a lot about how stressful the job was:
“On the third, fourth episode of the first season, I was in the middle of a major nervous breakdown. I didn’t know how I was possibly going to do all the stuff I had to do. There’s a hill I walk up behind my house every morning and I just was clearly in bad shape. Jason Katims, who lives down the street from me, happened to be walking his dog. I just grabbed him, and said, “Jason, how am I going to do this job? I honestly don’t think I can do it.”
As I read this, I thought – I can’t believe the woman showrunner is talking so much about self-doubt! I started to get angry and debated whether to blame Gansa for not pretending to be more confident, or the writer for portraying a woman showrunner in this way.
Then I saw the photo and realized Gansa was male.
I was immediately impressed with his honesty.
So I had to confront several things:
- I assume someone who expresses self-doubt is female.
- I expect women in powerful positions to go out of their way not to express self-doubt, so as not to feed into this stereotype.
- When I hear men express self-doubt, I think – wow, he must be confident to be able to express his vulnerability like that.
What a sexist hypocrite I am.
Another powerful showrunner, Jill Soloway (Transparent) got a lot of attention for comments recently about there being an “all-out attack” on the female voice. In it she admitted:
“I just want to make sure you know I’m always plagued by insecurities. The insecurities are always going to be there. Notice them when you’re there writing, when you’re trying to get your thing out there, when you’re setting up your night where you’re showing your films.”
This is really no different from Gansa’s admission. The difference is in how I (and I assume some others) hear it: Men who voice insecurities are self-deprecating and brave; women who voice it are in danger of being viewed as weak or incapable. This is likely some combo of my own sexism, my own insecurity and self-doubt, and overcompensation for how I fear (know) women are judged compared to men.
Change will come from recognizing our own unconscious biases and starting to question them.