Why are women still so under-represented in TV screenwriting?
As RadioTimes.com launches its Women's Words campaign, Jane Featherstone, the woman behind Spooks and Broadchurch, explains why TV needs to feature more female voices
RadioTimes.com has launched a new campaign – Women's Words – celebrating the best female screenwriters working in television and asking why the proportion of TV episodes created by women is still woefully low.
Here Jane Featherstone explains why TV drama is a man's world – and why that needs to change...
In the month that a woman who dared to speak in public about abuse she had suffered and was then mocked by the so-called leader of the free world, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go in truly hearing women’s voices. We’re not listening hard enough and we’re not giving women their share of the platform.
Read more: www.radiotimes.com/womenswords
Television drama helps us to make sense of the world we live in. It follows that, in order to understand as much of the world around us as we can, we must hear from writers from all walks of life, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, disability or background. But we don’t.
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For a staggering 82 per cent of the time when watching TV, only one half of the population gets to tell their stories and thereby influence the creative agenda and daily cultural conversation, according to a recent report by the Writers’ Guild. Yes, we have some great women writers at the moment: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Abi Morgan, Sally Wainwright, Nicole Taylor, Sharon Horgan, Gwyneth Hughes, Michaela Coel, Charlie Covell, Desiree Akhavan. But don’t let that fool you into thinking we’ve got the problem wrapped up.
Between 2001 and 2016, according to the Guild’s report, only 28 per cent of all TV episodes in the UK were predominantly female-written – and 18 per cent of all the UK’s television. “The likelihood of a writer of a given show being female negatively correlates with the expected advertising revenue for the episode timeslot,” it says, which to me is shocking. How can this be?
Everyone wants a hit, but to find those hits, we fall back on familiar tastes, instinct and existing relationships. It’s time to provide a platform for new voices.
Men hire more men. It’s not just me saying that (although I am), it’s also a fact, as the report notes. But women also hire more women. Now more than ever we need to strive to get more women into positions of power, hiring, commissioning, producing. It’s our collective responsibility to challenge ourselves and counter this unconscious bias.
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Thousands of years of history have taught us that male narratives have universal perceived value, whereas female narratives are seen as a soft, minority interest.
Men can write about relationships; women can write about gang warfare
Do we really privately wonder if a dark thriller is meatier coming from a man, or whether a woman is truly able to get under the skin of a big political thriller? We need to question these fundamental assumptions. Men can write about relationships; women can write about gang warfare. Women and men can write in any genre if they choose to, if it interests them.
T o try to redress this balance, we at TV production company Sister Pictures have our own Writer-in-Residence scheme, offering one new writer at an early stage in her career the salaried opportunity to write freely.
I also applaud RadioTimes.com for launching a campaign called Women’s Words [see below] to raise awareness of this subject. We are at a crossroads in history and we can only progress to true equality if the stories we tell are told by men and women, about each other, to each other and for each other. Because stories change people – and people can change history.
Jane Featherstone has executive produced a number of dramas including Spooks, Broadchurch and The Split
Women's Words is a week of content celebrating the best female screenwriters working in television – and asking what more can be done to increase the proportion of TV written by women.
Supported by Sharon Horgan, Daisy May Cooper, Lisa McGee and more, we'll be releasing daily content as part of our campaign.
Look out for more on www.radiotimes.com/womenswords and on social media using the hashtag #WomensWords