This collection of essays is one of two special journal issues originating from the “Doing Women's Film and Television Histories III” international conference, which took place at the Phoenix Cinema in Leicester, England, in May 2016.1 This third conference of the Women's Film and Television History Network: UK/Ireland was organized by members of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)–funded project “A History of Women in the British Film and Television Industries, 1933–1989,” in collaboration with members of the Cinema and Television History Centre (CATH) at De Montfort University. The central theme of this third conference, “structures of feeling,” derived from the work of Raymond Williams on social change, and commemorated the fortieth anniversary of the 1975 publication Patterns of Discrimination against Women in the Film and Television Industries by the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians (ACTT) union's Committee of Equality.2 This watershed report was the first in the UK to quantify and evaluate the gendered hierarchies of grades and pay that effectively relegate women to “sexual ghettos” within the British film and television industries. The report became an indispensable support for union members in pursuit of collective bargaining rights for women. Forty years on, this report is now an important historical document, affording feminist researchers insight into the elusive “structures of feeling”—values and experiences within which a community of women worked and campaigned for change—that are only fully accessible to those living in that time and place.
For contemporary feminist researchers, such reports are invaluable because they identify the ways in which women's work has been undervalued, particularly in “below-the-line” roles, as well as highlighting the policies, practices, and assumptions of the media industries that keep gendered hierarchies in play. In so doing they historicize ingrained patterns of discrimination that continue to structure contemporary creative industries but also the work of women's groups within unions, guilds, and interest groups who campaign for change.
While the research focus of the organizing AHRC project was the status and positioning of women in British production cultures, the third Doing Women's Film and Television History conference, like its predecessors, was international in scope. The conference organizers sought to invite proposals that illuminated the gendered “patterns of discrimination” and “structures of feeling” of women working in film and television production in any historical period. Several of the articles in this collection derive from research presented at the conference, while others were commissioned, and engage with patterns of discrimination in various creative industries. This has allowed the collection to be inclusive of research on the positioning of women in advertising as well as film and television.
The articles that make up this collection have their roots in the interrelated fields of feminist film, media studies, cultural studies, and production studies. In her recent genealogy of production studies for Feminist Media Histories, Miranda J. Banks usefully articulates the discipline's “deep affinities with feminist scholarship: a tradition of research by and about women, as well as core themes that resist top-down hierarchies, that highlight production at the margins, and make visible hidden labor.”3 Indeed, many of the seminal production studies texts that Banks cites as evidencing feminist credentials form part of the feminist film, media, and cultural studies canon—Hortense Powdermaker's Hollywood, the Dream Factory (1950), Julie D'Acci's Defining Women (1994), Jane Shattuc's The Talking Cure (1997), and Arlene Dávila's Latinos, Inc. (2001).4 These texts, as discussed in Banks's genealogy, evidence the ways in which studies of production have formed a steady stream of research throughout the lifespan of feminist film, media, and cultural studies. That said, feminist film, media, and cultural studies have followed broader trends in media and cultural studies historically by privileging studies of textual representation and consumption over those of production. Given that women's contributions to media production have historically been less visible than those of their male counterparts, the study of fictions about and addressed to women have provided feminist media academics with a place to address conceptions of power, cultural value, and female agency.
This collection forms part of the recent swell of feminist historical research that attempts to recover the work of women and the attendant gender politics that have structured their experience within the media industries. Given the relative lack of available archival sources surrounding women's work in the media industries (particularly in earlier periods), the articles in this collection draw on oral history interviews and personal testimonies to illuminate the experience of work within their given contexts. Yet they also, where possible, draw on quantitative data to illustrate inequalities in specific industries. As Natalie Wreyford and Shelley Cobb have astutely argued, “Through quantitative methods the missing women, while still not heard, can at least be made visible by their astonishing absence.”5 By highlighting the connections between the micro contexts and macro forces at play, such studies inform us about the “larger lessons about workers, their practices, and the role of their labors in relation to politics, economics, and culture.”6
Where appropriate, these essays also examine women's work within unions, guilds, and interest groups that have, and indeed continue to, address these inequalities. As the articles by Alison Payne, Miranda J. Banks, Frances C. Galt, Jeannine Baker, and Carolyn Bronstein and Jacqueline Lambiase suggest, it is women's groups within unions, guilds, and institutions that have taken up the fight for gender equality. This ought to be surprising, given that unions and guilds are there to protect the rights of all workers. As Galt's case study of the ACTT suggests, however, unions have followed the broader trade union agenda characterized by the dominance of white, male, skilled, full-time workers. In the ACTT, male union organizers were a brotherhood who acted collectively to protect organizing practices and structures that operated in their interests. In effect, men's interests within the ACTT were considered to be synonymous with class interests and therefore trade unionism, while gender discrimination was seen as a women's issue and therefore outside the union's remit. The oral history interviews carried out by BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union, formerly ACTT) have been celebrated for making visible the experiences of media workers in largely below-the-line roles.7 But as Emma Sandon's article details, male union interviewees attempted to prevent female engineer Bimbi Harris from discussing the sex discrimination she had experienced at the hands of her male coworkers during the 1940s at the BBC. That the interview took place some forty years after the discrimination took place suggests that the same gendered politics were still at play in the late 1980s.
This collection foregrounds the gendered patterns of discrimination in the cultural industries, but interwoven across these narratives are the ways in which gender intersects with questions of race, class, and nationality. Nonetheless, the case studies presented here are drawn from Western creative industries (the UK, United States, Europe, and Australasia), and the focus (with the exception of Banks's article) remains on the experience of white and Western women (in both above- and below-the-line roles).
Clearly, uncovering the hidden histories of women working in the industries is relatively easier in some cases due to the fortuitous preservation of films and records. It is harder to gather similar evidence in countries and contexts where archives and records do not survive in the same numbers—or hardly at all, in the case of India, for instance. Feminist scholarship into patterns of discrimination has therefore moved at different paces in different countries, as Dalila Missero's article on women film editors in postwar Italian cinema attests.
The first four articles in this collection engage with the macro and micro gender politics that have informed women's experiences of production cultures within the pre–second wave feminist period of the 1930s up to 1970. Given the lack of quantitative data surrounding the position of women during this period, the authors find innovative means and alternative “material remnants” through which to map the experiences and positions of women in production cultures.8 Emma Sandon's article draws on figures from publications and BBC paper archives as well as oral history testimonies drawn from the BBC Alexander Palace Television Society (APTS) to provide a rare glimpse into the gendered structures of the BBC and the discrimination experienced by women engineers performing what were perceived to be men's jobs in the 1940s and 1950s.
Building on recent revisionist scholarship of British-sponsored nonfiction film production, Melanie Bell provides a case study of women's contributions to this sector of production between 1945 and 1970. Bell draws on oral history interviews, extant films, critical reviews, and evidence from a newly available data set of BECTU trade union records for the British film and television industries to map women's work in the sector. She goes on to develop two case studies, one focused on the typical below-the-line role of editor (Monica Mead, Kitty Wood, and Kitty Marshall) and one on the atypical above-the-line career pathway of director (Sarah Erulkar). Exploring how the structures and cultures of nonfiction film were gendered, Bell argues that the relatively low status of the shorts and documentary sector offered women greater opportunities for career advancement and creative control than feature films did.
Dalila Missero details the work of female editors who worked mainly for Italian “exploitation” and popular genre features in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when this kind of low-budget production represented the core of the Italian film business in terms of both investment and box office income. Drawing on sparse archival sources and interviews, Missero uses the figure of Ornella Micheli as a case study to explore gender, class, and familial bonds in the working lives of female editors of Italian cinema production in this period.
Alison Payne draws on publications produced by political think tanks and oral history interviews in the archives of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising to evidence the declining numbers of women in the creative departments of London advertising agencies between the 1930s and the 1960s. Although women's shifting position in the advertising agencies formed part of a broader decline in the numbers of graduate women attaining professional and executive positions in this period in the UK, Payne explores how shifts in ideologies of gender, coupled with the emergence of television advertising in the mid-1950s, also contributed to this decline.
The three subsequent essays explore the patterns and structures of discrimination in the film, broadcasting, and advertising industries from the 1970s, in particular how women working during the emergence of equality legislation and the second wave feminist movement attempted to challenge such structures. Miranda J. Banks explores the work of the Writers Guild of America's Women's Committee, whose 1974 report evidenced the underrepresentation of women writers working in American television. Frances C. Galt explores the fight by female members of the ACTT union to investigate discrimination in the British film and television industries that led to the production of the 1975 Patterns of Discrimination against Women in the Film and Television Industries report. Jeannine Baker explores the Australian Women's Broadcasting Co-operative's attempt to tackle discrimination within the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Brought together in this way, there is remarkable similarity in the patterns of discrimination that women have faced across these three national industries between the 1930s and the 1980s. Also evident is the persistence of discrimination in these industries despite the initiatives and recommendations of the women involved in unions, guilds, and campaign groups. This point is not to undermine the work of women involved in these initiatives but rather to highlight the systemic nature of the problem.
As these articles suggest, the underlying issues—from the barring of women from technical roles in broadcasting in the 1940s to the ignorance that pervaded television writers' rooms in the 1970s—is the need to tackle sexism in the creative industries. In this sense we appear to have come full circle in film, media studies, and cultural studies. It was discussions about sexism in the media that characterized the early wave of feminist scholarship in the 1970s and 1980s. Now, after having fallen out of critical favor in the late 1980s, the concept is being reclaimed by contemporary feminists and activists to explain the gendered inequalities that structure contemporary social life. Rosalind Gill, for instance, has explored the new forms that sexism takes in a postfeminist and neoliberal context in which “equality is assumed, yet in which men are privileged—where we take as our indices pay, access to jobs, social networks, or any number of other factors.” Gill uses the term “unmanageable inequalities” to characterize the discrimination detailed in the contributions in this collection. While ubiquitous, these “unmanageable inequalities” are more subtle and more difficult to tackle because they “operate outside of the interventions and management strategies invoked to challenge such injustices—e.g., Equal Opportunities programmes, diversity policies, and anti-discrimination law.”9 Drawing on her research into workers in the creative and cultural industries, Gill observes that a key way to interrupt such practices is to find a critical vocabulary to discuss the “unmanageable inequalities” that women experience in the workplace.10 The recent transnational movements such as #MeToo and Time's Up have provided a very public forum in which contemporary women in the creative industries have exposed and sought to challenge the discrimination and sexual violence that structure the workplace.
Carolyn Bronstein and Jacqueline Lambiase's essay, which concludes this collection, describes the culture of discrimination present in contemporary advertising agencies, focusing on the high-profile incidents of sexual harassment that led to the formation of Time's Up/Advertising. As their contribution highlights, Time's Up/Advertising faces complicated challenges in its efforts to rid the advertising industry of sexism and discrimination, the foundational challenge being simply to get the “defenders of the advertising industry status quo to lay down their arguments and listen.” This challenge mirrors the challenge in all creative industries, and in wider society as well, as it is rooted in pervasive gendered ideologies fundamental to education and socialization. The year 2018 marks one hundred years since the Representation of the People Act, giving some women the right to vote for the first time in the UK. This reminds us of women's long fight for equality and the work of the first wave feminists who helped effect change. While campaigns such as #MeToo and Time's Up signal another empowering moment in the fight for gender equality, to draw on the words of Sylvia Pankhurst, “Great is the work which remains to be accomplished!”11