So you want to write a TV show? Prepare to enter a hostile work environment.
A new survey from the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) found that 64% of women said they had been harassed during their career, The Hollywood Reporter reports. The study went on to suggest that a significant amount of that harassment is happening in television writers' rooms.
Writers' rooms are notorious for being a place where writers dip into their deeply personal life stories in order to break a storyline on the show. Who could forget that the writers for Sex and the City used stories from their own dating lives to write the lives of the women? Or the Friends lawsuit, when a judge ruled that vulgar comments in the writers' room were to be an expected part of the experience of working in a creative workplace?
There is a world of difference, though, between choosing to open up to your coworkers about a bad date or telling a story about yourself and becoming the target of unwanted sexual attention, observations, or harassment. And writers' rooms don't get it, apparently.
In a recent essay for Refinery29, comedian Arden Myrin broke down how being sexualized in the workplace, especially a creative workplace, can hurt women. She detailed how she was introduced by two comics who talked about her body and described performing a sexual act on her. "When people pull things like this on women, women don’t even get to start on a level playing field," Myrin wrote. "There’s no blank slate. They have to stop and deal with the verbal assault first, and then attempt to change the energy of the room before moving on to doing their jobs."
The news was already rough for women who want to work behind the camera: In their annual Boxed In report, the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University found that for the 2016-17 season, women working as creators, directors, writers, producers, editors, and directors of photography in primetime comprised only 28% of crews. Furthermore, there has been "no meaningful progress" in increasing the number of women hired in the last decade.
That's how it is for women in writers' rooms: They're already one of only a few, or possibly the only, women in the room to start. They're othered before they even open their mouths. As the survey found, they are often sexualized by their co-workers or bosses, questioned about their personal lives, or simply the focus of unwanted harassment.
The WGAW is looking into addressing the problem with "a series of member conversations about standards for a successful writing room," the union said in a statement.
With 11% of men reporting that they also suffered sexual harassment on set, per the same report, Hollywood clearly has a writers' room problem on its hands.