28 March, 2006

Writing for Women

Further to the report from the Women and Work commission suggesting more female role models in drama, John August's blog has this following quote from his 10 Things I Hate About Me :

"
4) WHAT’S THE ONE TIME YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD HAVE SPOKEN UP BUT YOU DIDN’T?

I did a rewrite of a movie for a pretty big producer. In the original script, the sister of the protagonist was a flight attendant. I changed her into a pilot, just because I thought it was more interesting. The producer insisted that I change it back, because, “That’s absurd. I’ve never seen a female pilot. I just don’t believe it.”

I know a female commercial airline pilot; I had recently been on a flight with a female pilot; four seconds of Googling could give me the exact statistics that I needed to prove that female pilots are not the Yetis of aviation. But I said fuck it, it’s not worth fighting about and changed it back. I regret not making my point, though it wouldn’t have really amounted to anything meaningful.

"

To my thinking there's two reasons for having the character be a pilot. 1) The role model reason - to show girls who don't know any female pilots that it's a career possibility open to them 2) But much more importantly, if we're being ruthless about serving the story first, there is the 'because it's more interesting' reason. The audience expectation is that women will be flight attendants and the pilots would be men. If as a writer you are thinking about and trying to avoid gender stereotypes and cliches then you are more likely to be trying to avoid cliches elsewhere in your script and making it more interesting. That applies not just to job roles but whether women or men are passive or aggressive; are leaders or followers.

Of course when trying to be different, it still has to be believable in that if both pilots were women and all the flight attendants were men then I would be thrown out of the story - unless that was an important element of the story itself.

Every character we write should be interesting because it improves our stories. We should be avoiding ciphers and stereotypes not for political correctness reasons but because scripts that rely on ciphers and stereotypes are more likely to be rejected as they're boring and script readers have read the same things and seen the same things too many times before. Sure, have the flight attendant be female - there's nothing wrong with that at all - but is she also a well rounded, fully developed character?

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