Creative women and the beast called sexism

Revolution Yesterday, Wal-Mart countersued Julie Roehm and we were reminded of the precarious existence of the female CMO. 

But there was a second story that caught the eye, and it might be related.  You decide.   

The New York Times reported that Julie Taymor was recently surprised to learn that her recently completed film, Across the Universe, has been edited without her permission or knowledge.  The culprit was no other than Joe Roth, the creator of Revolution Studios, the production company for which the film was made.

Ms. Taymor issued a response that the Times calls "carefully worded."  It is more than that.  It is temperate.  For his part, Roth speaks with care as well. He praises Taymor as a "brilliant director" who has made a "brilliant movie."  He says his intervention is completely unexceptional, part of the way that movies are made today. 

And then he makes a mistake.  He offers "No one is uncomfortable in this process, other than Julie."  Really? 

Waxman of the Times pounces,

…it is rare for an executive to step in and cut the movie himself.  Ms. Taymor was still making her own final edits to the film when she learned several weeks ago that Mr. Roth had edited another, shorter version.

Having your movie editing by the studio head without your permission or knowledge, this is perhaps not at all business as usual.  But Roth persists, arguing that his re-editing is in the nature of things.  "It’s ‘show’ and it’s ‘business’." 

And then he really puts his foot in it.  He warned the press that it should not "work off her [Taymor’s] hysteria."  Hysteria!  Oh, don’t go there, girlfriend.  You did not just say "hysteria." This is a loaded word and the unmistakable relic of a sexist regime in which women were excluded from film making and marketing, among other things, on the grounds of emotional instability.  "Hysteria" has a long history in the world of psychology and medicine, a diagnostic wound inflicted by a largely male profession on its female "patients."

The question is whether women entering the creative professions, and not just marketing, are playing the game by a new set of rules.  Or, and this is the feminist suspicion, it is possible that the beast of sexism is alive and well amongst us, and women are being constrained by an old set of ideas. 

Roth may be practicing the studio game in a conventional way, but he is using language that suggests otherwise.   Or why not go for the cheap hit: Revolution Studios may not be so revolutionary after all. 


Sampey, Kathleen and Aaron Baar.  2007.  Wal-Mart Countersues Julie Roehm.  BrandWeek.  March 20, 2007. here. subscription required.

Waxman, Sharon.  2007.  Film Has Two Versions, Only one Is Julie Taynor’s.  New York Times.  March 20, 2007, pp. B1, B7.

4 thoughts on “Creative women and the beast called sexism

  1. Tom Guarriello

    [Shaking head here.] “Hysteria” (from the Greek root for “womb” as in -ectomy) has been, as you say, a gender-bomb for decades. Back in the Freudian era it was the disorder of choice for making one’s analytic “bones.” Nice women converted their frustrated sexual energies into all sorts of interesting symptoms. Very dramatic.

    Invoking it even obliquely in a 21st disagreement over creative prerogatives (where emotions run as high as any business context in our culture) is just plain foolish. Lots of luck, Joe. You’re gonna need it.

  2. paul

    with the number of movies currently in theaters (or that have played in recent months) with running times well over two hours, one wonders _why_ ms. taymor can’t be given the liberty to make more than a 90-minute movie. clint eastwood, robert de niro, alejandro gonzález iñárritu, todd field, and craig brewer seem to have had no trouble putting out films near or over the two-hour mark…

  3. TJIC

    The word “hysteria” has a crystal clear definition: “neurosis marked by emotional excitability”. It is true that the Greeks attributed this condition to the uterus, but the usage for at least several hundred years has been gender neutral – the term describes any man or woman who is easily excitable.

    The desire to remove the word from the language (or, at least, forbid it from being used to describe a woman) is a form of PC New Speak, which seeks to limit expression so as to limit thinking.

    …but I could be wrong.

  4. Kathy Smith

    I have moved into making documentaries. When I took the first one to the film festivals, getting to know the competition and what distributors were buying for their audiences is an amazing marketing learning curve. When I was in post production I experienced similar criticisms, rejections, assholes, pressure (c.r.a.p.) and still being green felt the money hose guys were right and new best.

    Once the surveys were done with the exec “edit”, I spent the next 3 months re-editing and took it to more festivals and it will be an evergreen now as I bought out the exec. producers. I do hope we get to see what the director intended some day. It’s too bad she was bypassed by a know-besty type of guy. It would have been better for her to fight. Now I see why some films look like just another payday insulting audiences with being interesting rather than interested.

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