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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

where are the female film critics?

We’ve been talking about the treatment of women by Hollywood, but the other side of the street — the community of people who look at Hollywood from a critical perspective — is just as bad. Not that that comes as any great shock.

A new study examined the porportion of women to men in the field of newspaper film criticism, as well as the work men and women do and how they are recognized by title, and came to some rather disheartening conclusions:

Men write the overwhelming majority of film reviews in the nation’s top newspapers. In Fall 2007, men penned 70% and women 30% of all reviews. Furthermore, of the newspapers featuring film reviews, 47% had no reviews written by women critics, writers or freelancers. In contrast, only 12% had no reviews written by men critics, writers or freelancers.

The full study appears at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (a group of which I am a member, though I had nothing to do with the study). The study’s author, Dr. Martha Lauzens, is a member of the board of the AWFJ.

The study looked only at newspapers, which are having their own troubles these days, particularly when it comes to arts criticism, and did not look at magazines, online, or other venues (TV, radio). My own nonscientific sense of things is that men far outnumber women as film critics online, too.

It’s weird: it’s not like being a film critic is a high-paying job, and critics don’t get much respect from anyone at all these days. That sounds like precisely the kind of thankless work that women always get stuck with. So where are all the gals?

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  • BJ

    So, where do I sign up?

  • Sara

    Good question, MaryAnn. My guess (yeah, speculation because I don’t know) is that women are working and pulling double duty at home (which I think is nuts–the double duty at home–why agree to that?) or either women (some) are at home with their kids and that’s where they work.
    Maybe the film industry (including being a critic) is not women-friendly enough and it turns a lot of women off (as a job.)

  • MaryAnn

    My guess (yeah, speculation because I don’t know) is that women are working

    I know women are working. The question is, Why aren’t more women working as film critics? I’m not asking about film criticism as a hobby, and that’s not what the linked study is about, either.

  • Mo

    I can’t help but wonder what those statistics would look like for music critics? I’ve seen a lot more written by female movie critics than female music critics. (And I read a lot more music criticism.) I think I’ve seen more book reviews written by women than men, though.

    Maybe it’s just medium preference? But everyone I know who has taken film studies at college has been female…

  • Mimi

    I wonder what the stats are for newspaper journalists in general, and if they’re much different. I suspect not; my own anecdotal evidence from working in a couple of newsrooms — they’re boys’ clubs. I believe there are also vastly more men than women represented on op-ed pages (can’t cite the stats, but I know the Washington Post’s ombuds(wo)man has written about it).

    Offhand, I would say one big reason for this is that our society discourages women from having or expressing strong opinions. We are taught in subtle ways that being “nice” and conciliatory is more important. I think about this stuff all the time as I struggle to raise my young daughter in this world that tries to shut her up and box her in in so many ways… I like to think things will be at least somewhat better for her than they are for me, and were for my mother and grandmothers… but it still makes me sick.

  • Sara

    Mimi,I think you’re on to something. Also, I can relate to your struggle with raising your daughters. A suggestion…if your daughters are high school age or even middle school, you might want to get a copy of the book, Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp.

    And MaryAnn, where can BJ sign up (or how does one get into the field?) She sounded interested in the film critics work as a career.

  • Sara

    Mimi,
    Link below might be of interest to you re: women and economics (Might want to check out Riane Eisler’s website too…it’s included)…

    http://www.womensradio.com/content/templates/?a=1673&z=0

  • MaryAnn

    And MaryAnn, where can BJ sign up (or how does one get into the field?) She sounded interested in the film critics work as a career.

    I thought she was being sarcastic. It’s like asking where does one “sign up” to be a doctor or a plumber or a sculptor. You go to school, or you apprentice, or you just do it. If you want to be a film critic, you go to journalism school or film school or both, or you get a job at a newspaper or magazine and work your way up, or you start a web site and start posting movie reviews. Or maybe some combination of the three. I honestly don’t understand why it’s such a great mystery to so many people.

  • Accounting Ninja

    It only takes a quick tour around this site to discover why no more female critics. How many times has Mary Ann been called “bitter”, a “lesbian”, a bitch or other variations, and needing to “lighten up” simply for speaking out against the bullshit women have to put up with in their movies, or even for just giving an unfavorable review. How many times does a man post condescendingly to her (see any Apatow board) about how her being a woman makes her “unable to appreciate” a sense of humor.

    Add to that the stigma of criticism being a “not nice” profession, and most women don’t want to bother, methinks.

  • BJ

    I was only being half sarcastic. I think its a “mystery” to many of us because there’s really no set path. You mentioned several different ways. I see movies when I can and I comment when I can, and sometimes I put thought into my blog and other times I just blurb it out. I was under the assumption that to become a film critic, you have to know people, and have some sort of secure financial position to go out there, see every movie, talk about all of them, and network. I dont live in New York City, so there goes the networking, haha.
    So I can just call up/visit/email the Baltimore Sun, and say, I want to do film critiques for you, I have some sample work? And when they say no, call up the Carroll County Times? hm…

  • It’s my dream to be a professional film critic. So this is not good news for me. I guess the only thing to do is just keep blogging away.

  • pw

    Nayana – film critics are dropping like flies, not a great career path these days. Stephen Hunter of the WPost, David Ansen of Newsweek, and David Eliot (boo) of the San Diego U/T have all been dumped recently. Too much free film criticism on the internet has probably devalued having an in house critic for medium sized newspapers. One can always do it as a hobby and try to build readership I suppose.

  • MaryAnn

    Too much free film criticism on the internet has probably devalued having an in house critic for medium sized newspapers.

    Like most things that are free, you get what you pay for. Anyone can write, but not everyone can be a good writer whose work is worth reading. It’s not “free” criticism on the Internet that is causing newspapers to fire their critics, but it is a lot of market forces at work revolving around how the Net is revolutionizing communication, combined with the fact that the arts have never been greatly valued in the United States anyway. (All art criticism is suffering these days, not just film.)

    I was under the assumption that to become a film critic, you have to know people, and have some sort of secure financial position to go out there, see every movie, talk about all of them, and network.

    I didn’t know anyone when I started. I just went to movies and wrote about them and posted it all online. I certainly did not have a “secure financial position” then, and I still don’t now.

    So I can just call up/visit/email the Baltimore Sun, and say, I want to do film critiques for you, I have some sample work? And when they say no, call up the Carroll County Times? hm…

    That’s what I did. But by the time I started approaching newspapers and offering my services, I had a substantial track record online.

  • Mimi

    Thanks for the link, Sara — I am going to check out Eisler’s “Real Wealth of Nations” — sounds fascinating.

    MaryAnn — You continue to kick ass.

  • Paul

    Yes, this is a lousy time to go into newspaper work. Executives are shedding reporters across the board (while protecting their rising salaries, of course: I think the rise of the MBA has created a top heavy management system of parasites). That’s a hard nut for women to crack into.

    On the other hand, English departments are filled with women. Women buy twice as many books as men, so it seems natural to me that there would be more men reviewing movies while I spent my college years surrounded by women professors in the humanities, and as often as not these days the editors I deal with selling my fiction are women, too.

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