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Posts Tagged ‘Alyssa Rosenberg’

Jane Espenson on Getting More Women in the Writers’ Room

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Alyssa RosenbergJane Espenson, in a provocative and I think important essay for the Huffington Post, argues that the key to getting more women in the writers’ rooms of television shows is actually to walk away from the idea that women have something particular to add to the conversation:

Good writers can write across the gender line. We just can. And even those who can’t have undoubtedly convinced themselves that they can. So a male showrunner, confident in his abilities and those of his male writers, is probably not wringing his hands over how he’s going to get his female characters onto the page. By advertising ourselves as female character generators, we’re trying to provide a service that no one is clamoring for. Showrunner-dude is happy creating his own female characters. Making the case that there is a deficiency he’s unaware of is probably not going to resonate with him.

Even if you get such a showrunner to hire a woman, if you suggest that female writers have a specific (and limited) purpose, you are inviting those showrunners to feel they don’t need to hire additional women writers once they have one woman in the room; they have their female character generator, their lens onto the female point of view.

And beyond that, the argument leaves us with no basis to promote the value of women on a show with few or no female characters. In fact, it provides a frighteningly sound argument for not hiring us on such a show.

I actually think, if asked, that most male showrunners would say that they’re in agreement with Jane’s initial argument, that gender is not a legitimate factor in deciding not to ask someone to join their writing staff. But I do think there’s a gap between that theoretical agreement and actually seeking out women to work on a show. Dan Harmon’s said that it took an order from NBC programming head Angela Bromstead to get him to hire more women, an experience that ultimately convinced him that he wants to work with more women in the future. And I know he’s not alone in enjoying working with women.

I believe that Jane is correct that the best, most thoughtful male and female writers can create marvelous male and female characters interchangeably, that argument can as easily bolster the status quo as it can govern a more progressive future. But no one person, male or female, has the full range of experience with their own gender, or with people of the other gender—the more kinds of experience you have in a writer’s room, the more access you’ll have to the range of human life. And I think there are a lot of men who write female characters who are best flat and at worst are ugly distortions—and that there are more men who have the opportunity to write these sorts of depictions of women than there are women who have the chance to write stereotypes of men. Those men shouldn’t get a pass, and they shouldn’t get feedback that suggests that they’re doing just fine on their own. Because they’re not.

And if there’s absolutely no reason why white males need insights from women and people of color, why should they ever bother to hire them, especially if it means giving up job slots that otherwise would go to people who look like them? I wish I trusted more male showrunners to reach out from curiosity and a commitment to pure meritocracy, but the evidence just don’t particularly support that. Every major survey of women writers in television suggests that gains in that space are not durable: a single-year spike in the number of women in writers’ rooms tends to disappear, or even go backwards, in the next.

It might not pay to offend male show-runners sense of their capacity, but abandoning the argument that women and people of color have a definitive value add due to their experiences and perspective also means giving up a positive, substantive case for getting women and people of color—not to mention people of different class backgrounds—on writing staffs. I’d love it if we could peacefully talk our way into substantive gains in employment for women in television writing. But I don’t see the path to doing that without some difficult conversations.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for ThinkProgress.org. She is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in Esquire.com, The Daily, The American ProspectThe New RepublicNational Journal, and The Daily Beast.

The NFL Bounty Scandal Is a Labor Issue As Well As a Safety Issue

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Alyssa RosenbergIt’s awful to hear the news that the during their recent great years, the Saints were involved in a system that offered players bounties if they injured the players on opposing teams. The scandal is a setback for the NFL’s efforts to make football a safer, more sustainable game, showing that team and player cultures are fiercely resistant to that league-wide imperative. But it’s also a failure of the NFL collective bargaining agreement by the players who ought to be protected by it, and an illustration of the difficult web of financial incentives players negotiate.

The explanation of how the bounty system worked is a fascinating look at the financial stratification within NFL teams. The bounty system was organized by the Saints’ former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, and he kept running the system even after he was specifically ordered by the team to shut it down. But the bounties themselves were offered—and paid—not by the team but by Saints players to Saints players. And they worked as incentives because special teams players who are in a position to inflict those injuries make less than the teammates who offered them the bounties. And that doesn’t even always work out. As Deadspin pointed out, the fines Bobby McCray was assessed for a hit to Brett Favre probably cost him more than he made based on the report’s assessment of what he would have made in bounties.

But however complicated the financial interests are here—and even scarier than the fact the bounties were being offered in the locker room is the news that folks outside the team appeared to be ponying up money—it’s a worrisome illustration of how the league’s compensation patterns could make bounties seem worth reaching for, and could lead to them violating their own collective bargaining agreement. It’s hard to believe that the Saints or any other team would offer bounties in the expectation that they were the only team doing it. And if everyone’s ignoring the collective bargaining agreement’s ban on bounties, then everyone’s ramping up their own risk of being injured by participating in the system. I don’t envy the NFL and the players’ union the task of tweaking those incentives and enforcement to try to make the ban on bounties operative.

Especially since players are coming into the NFL after years of a training that incentivizes hard hits, even if there pride rather than money at stake. I do think that there is a difference between a reward for making a good play and a reward specifically for injuring someone. But I don’t know how meaningful that difference is. I love football, and I struggle with that love and my questions about whether the game as played can be made safer while still remaining exciting.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 5, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for ThinkProgress.org. She is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in Esquire.com, The Daily, The American ProspectThe New RepublicNational Journal, and The Daily Beast.

Apple’s Overseas Jobs, The Tech Industry, And The American Economy

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Alyssa RosenbergOne of the big dynamics in the debate over SOPA and PIPA is who’s getting money from whom. The entertainment industry’s currently spending a great deal more on lobbying than the tech community is; MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd has threatened to turn off Hollywood campaign contributions to Democrats if SOPA or a form of it doesn’t pass; and both Democrats and Republicans are attempting to position themselves for the future. What a big, and usefully clear, New York Times story about Apple’s decision to move much of its work overseas makes clear, though, is while the tech industry may eventually have more to offer in terms of lobbying cash and campaign contributions, it may not have much to offer Democrats in terms of creating critically important American manufacturing jobs. In a conversation between Steve Jobs and President Obama before the former’s death, the Times reported that this exchange took place about the Apple jobs that have moved overseas:

Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.

Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.

The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.

It’s absolutely true that there would have to be radical changes in the American economy to retrain workers, to move huge parts of the supply chain back to the United States, and perhaps most difficult, to get American workers to expect a vastly different standard of living or to get Apple executives to accept slower development times and more expensive production costs. I’d argue that American workers have already made substantial compromises on the former proposition. But I don’t foresee a future where companies are going to move toward the latter out of the goodness of their own hearts. There’s no question that companies have a right to maximize profits, and that if they don’t care how they’re perceived or about creating a sense of moral obligation to buy their products, they have every right to produce their products wherever and under whatever conditions they can get away with. But if they’re going to take that approach, I sort of wish they’d be as blunt about it as possible, so we don’t risk mistaking shiny toys for some sort of greater good.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on January 23, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for ThinkProgress.org. She is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in Esquire.com, The Daily, The American ProspectThe New RepublicNational Journal, and The Daily Beast.

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