Jane Espenson Revelation: noun 1: the revelation that gender-based inequality runs amok af in the television industry
Let’s talk about feminism and tv. Since Buffy the Vampire Slayer sparked my pop culture feminist flame 10 years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time reading the Wikipedia pages of tv shows. Like, a lot of time. It’s surprisingly addictive, informative, and disheartening.
When I was 13 I had a Jane Espenson revelation. Jane Espenson is a writer and producer who wrote 23 (really great) episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a young feminist and writer seeing that a woman wrote a lot of my favorite episodes was really cool and encouraging.
To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have thought about the gender of my favorite writer if one, I didn’t read the DVD booklets that came with each season of Buffy that listed the writers and directors of each episode (spoiler: mostly male writers and directors); two, I didn’t watch every hour of special features over and over again (including interviews with Jane Espenson); and three, If the DVD special features and commentary didn’t address issues of gender-based inequality.
So, what was my Jane Espenson Revelation? That what the fuck where are the female writers on television? Not only so feminist heroes are written by actual feminist heroes but so that the storylines aren’t reliant solely on the experiences of men. Probably white, upper-class men. But, I digress. The Jane Espenson Revelation also showed me that there are obviously talented and motivated female writers who want to write for tv, they just aren’t hired.
It’s quite disheartening, tbh. But sometimes there are shows that kindle my feminist fire with gender diverse writing staffs. It’s one thing to have strong female characters within a show; it’s another to have strong female writer’s creating those characters and stories. Here are a few shows that I think are awesome, partially because of their inclusion of female writers.
Be prepared for a lot of Steven Universe on this blog. For those of you who don’t know, Steven Universe is an animated show on Cartoon Network that was created by Rebecca Sugar. Rebecca Sugar is a total badass and the first female show creator on Cartoon Network.
The writing staff for Steven Universe also holds up on gender diversity. 6 of out 15 writers are women, whoo!
Orphan Black is wonderful af. The characters and the storylines are full and complex and remarkably feminine for a sci-fi show (not that sci-fi is an exclusively masculine genre, but, in terms of successful tv shows, the more masculine the better).
The main characters, overwhelming female, are all written with compassion and diversity. And, no surprise, 11 out of the 23 writers for Orphan Black are women!
CALL THE MIDWIFE
Call the Midwife is easily one of my favorite shows on tv right now. Strong women, compassionate storylines, and badass midwifery. Like Steven Universe, Call the Midwife also has a female creator and the writing staff is comprised of 6 women writers out of 11. Yeah!
Unfortunately, these shows are in the minority. I challenge you to check out the writing staff for your favorite shows. Because while tv is way ahead of film in terms of gender equality—it still has a long way to go. So, while you’re binge watching Netflix take a break and google who wrote the episodes. Who directed it? Are there any women on the senior writing or producing staff?
We need diverse stories written by diverse writers. There is definitely not a lack of diverse writers. Writers of diverse genders, races, ethnicities, sexualities, ages! Diverse stories matter. How they are told, and who they’re told by, matter.
Maybe we can’t change the world, or even the industry, but we can be aware of the problems within it and start new conversations.
(You should really check out the rest of Jane Espenson’s work as well. She’s a writer, producer, and creator! I especially like Torchwood: Miracle Day, Husbands, and Once Upon a Time!)