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Are There So Few Female Film Critics Because Women Don't Want to "Tell People What to Do"?

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire July 8, 2014 at 4:48PM

Or is the gender disparity the result of a system where men make movies and women watch them?
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The statistics in Kate Everson's "Gone Girls: The Lost Art of Feminine Critique," while sobering, aren't new: According to a San Diego State study from last year, only 22 percent of Rotten Tomatoes' top critics, 28 percent of newspaper film critics and 10 percent or less of the critics at entertainment-focused magazines and trade journals are women. But Everson has quotes from several members of the Women's Film Critic Circle, as well as BuzzFeed's Alison Willmore and the Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz, that try to explain why those numbers are so, so bad.

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Rabinowitz, who's something of an odd woman out in Everson's story — she doesn't write film criticism, and is best known as a reporter and opinion writer — suggests some of the explanation may lie with women themselves. (Then again, she also thinks New York's bike-sharing program is "totalitarian," so take this with the appropriate grain of salt.)

“It’s not easy to prove that there’s a prejudice against women reviewers,” she said. “The question is why do you find so few women? An accident? Possibly. Women’s preference? Possibly. Maybe a lot of women don’t feel like they want authority to tell people what to do.”

Rabinowitz has visited university journalism classes where she said that, although 95 percent of the students were women, a majority of them weren’t interested in reporting and writing. “They wanted to be journalists on TV reading the news,” she says. “They wanted to be Katie Couric. That has to tell you something.”

But others, including the WFCC's Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi, point to the "sociological legacy" of institutional sexism: Movies are made by directors and studio executives who are overwhelmingly male, and so are the critics who write about them. "Film seems, by and large, to be something that men make and women watch," says the WFCC's Edie Nugent. It's very different in the world of TV, where, to judge by the membership of the Television Critics Association, the gender split is more or less even. 

As Willmore tells Everson, "When you have a particularly uniform group of people who are dominating the discussion in terms of what is good, what is worthy, what is quality, it inevitably tends to get skewed in one direction." 


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