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Issue of Gender Exclusivity in the Freelance Industry

Info: 3512 words (14 pages) Essay
Published: 7th Jun 2021 in Employment

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The structure of the freelance industry is gender exclusive in its very nature as its based off the principles of machismo and the heroic male figure.

Introduction:

The Communication Act [2003] changed UK television regulations, with a mandatory 25% commission of programmes by public service broadcasters from independent production companies. This increased the growth of the independent sector, a shift from broadcast giants to the individual created a more competitive television workforce. The creative industries in Britain is supported by a large network of freelancers and thus has been described as “the poster children of precarity” (Genders, 2019, p. 16). This is the fundamental difficulty with freelance work, it allows increased flexibility but at the expense of jobs security, standard payment and mistreatment due to lack of loyalty based on short-term work schedules. Moreover, if we take the freelance network as a microcosm for the creative industry as a whole, then we see an inequality of representation within the industry. The freelance community favouring the white upper-class male figure over women and BAMEs. This is fundamentally down to three things; homophily, networking, and recruitment from higher education institutions. The structure of the freelance industry is gender exclusive as it promotes machismo and the archetype of the heroic male figure. This is supported in the auteur theory; placing the director as the sole artistic voice of a production. Feminist film-making has often been placed as a counter-culture movement. This raises questions if female directors should choose to prescribe an institutional label to their work, if it is this same institution that has exclude them due to their gender.

Auteur Theory:

The auteur theory was first introduced in the 1950s by French film critic Alexandre Astruc, placing the director’s voice as priority above other collaborator’s in the production process. Through the theory of auteurism Astruc was promoting the individual over the collective, this is supported by Edward Buscombe with the quotation “cinema was an art of personal expression” (1981, p. 23). Historically, due to male dominance of mainstream cinema culture, the directorial label of ‘auteur’ has favoured men. Feminist film theorists have resisted the notion of the ‘auteur’ as a sexist term used to exclude women filmmakers from the industry. According to the Center for the study of Women in Film & Television: within the top 100 grossing films of 2018, women represented only 4% of directors (Martha , 2019, p. 5). In 2017 Greta Gerwig was only the fifth women in history to be nominated for the best Director category at the Academy Awards. After industry backlash about under-representation of gender and diverse academy award voters, there was an influx of membership. However, more still needs to be done for greater social inclusion. As of 2018, the current membership breakdown is still only a reported 31% female and 16% people of colour. These statistics support the idea that female directed cinema is excluded from mainstream popular culture and instead marked as its own genre of counter-culture. This is supported by Christina Lane in her book ‘Feminist Hollywood’, “ women directors who enter the Hollywood industry, which has traditionally functioned as a male institution, inevitably question whether or not to reclaim that supposedly male vision” (Lane, 2001, p. 11). This raises issues of the role of the director being associated with the male figure, and similarly the notion of the ‘auteur’ supporting a pantheon of elite male directors but excluding female directors from reaching this same status. Moreover, Laura Mulvey criticises film narrative’s focus on voyeurism and the ‘male gaze’ whereby female characters are objects to be looked at. In feminist film theory, women directors have found this classical Hollywood technique restrictive as it’s a male perspective of female identity. It is true that female auteurs do also exist within the film industry, who’s films often focus on the ‘female gaze’ reclaiming the monolithic tradition of female characters narrative purpose being their visual quality. There’s an interesting connection between gender, auterusim and marketing; the nature of female filmmaking is marked as counter-culture as it disrupts classical Hollywood narrative to be reproduced from a female perspective of the world. In male director’s marketing of their films they use genre and their collective body of work to promote their films. Female directors’ achievements are comparatively marginalised, they’re films locked into feminist film genre, in spite of content.

Homophily:

Homophily in the creative industry’s is an example of the continued power imbalance seen by individuals in high positions, in which industry workers tend to hire those who mirror their own image. Thus, historically as we have seen the industry dominated by white male candidates, through this continued recruitment process they rationalise sexism and racism by building a rapport with candidates of a similar appearance. The creative industry is based on acquiring references from their work on previous jobs to get hired, through word of mouth based on compatibility with the production team and a level of trust. There is a problem with diversity representation in production teams which is exclusive based on gender, race and class. As members from these groups are not being hired on projects due to race and gender-based discrimination, they’re not able to create a work portfolio and thus limits their chances of being hired. If two candidates are up for the same position it is the candidate with greater experience who will be more qualified for the job, but due to exclusion of women and BAME groups they’re unable to gain work in the first place to gain trust between colleagues and get rehired for other projects. The same typecast figure in the industry is excelling as they’re getting hired and rehired repeatedly. Unlike other industries the recruitment process within the television industry is unconventional as candidates don’t undergo a formal interview process. Therefore, there’s a lack of overall supervision to ensure equal representation on production projects, thus due to lack of regulation women and BAME groups are not protected from work based biased.

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Bridget Conor highlights the character attributes lauded in the film industry and how they’re gender skewed, “the pioneer, egotist, fighter points to masculine figures” (Scharff, 2018, p. 121). Individual creativity is credited through the longevity and heroic effort of the process, thus aligning the artist with that of a male figure. The long production hours, unreasonable timings and hardship faced during the production process is an unnecessary creative process to test the team’s endurance and work commitment. Moreover, it excludes women who have caring responsibilities and are limited by their primary role as parents. This association between creativity and masculinity may explain women occupying supportive roles, who lack the confidence and competitive machismo to fight for production roles. This is not to say that men don’t also have caring responsibilities but that the primary carer role is usually adopted by a women and thus freelance work is gender discriminatory. As creativity and masculinity are linked, it’s more likely that on the basis of homophily they’ll be more white men from a strong economic and educational background and certain class who will occupy these roles; they’re at an advantage as they look like people’s preconceptions of what a production team should look like. This is unfair workplace discrimination as they are getting the job based off masculine connotations associated with the job role, solely based on the fact that they were born a certain gender. Thus, freelance work is excluding half of the population based on the archaic perception that men are stronger and more hardworking and thus better suited to long hours and handling a heavy workload. Thus, perpetuating the cyclical nature of male employment in the freelance industry with women and BAMEs unable to perpetrate the group.

In reaction to gender-based discrimination in the freelance industry, skillset is introducing programmes to ensure equal opportunities for production workers working in the television industry in Britain. In a recent analysis of the creative industries they outlined one such measure; “Film Production Sector Survey – a biennial survey which focuses on freelance crew and employees working in film to form an accurate picture of the production sector” (UK Film Council , 2003, p. 36). This strategy by the UK Film Council and Skillset is a helpful programme in theory to evaluate the gender inequality within the freelance network. This measure will help to enforce regulations on companies to fill gender and minority quotas when hiring production teams on projects. As there has previously been little data analysing the breakdown of workers in the freelance industry, it will give reputable cause to the argument of injustice. As a consequence, it will hopefully be able to hold companies accountable for discrimination through the hiring process and promote a more inclusive environment.

Networking: 

Statistically there’s a clear disparity between men and women when it comes to pay and opportunities for promotion; “A 2018 press release by Channel 4 identified a 22.7% pay gap and a report by the BBC in the same year highlighted a 7.6% gender pay gap” (Genders, 2019, p. 16).One such explanation for difference in gender earnings is due to networking, competitiveness, career projections and childcaring responsibilities. This is particularly relevant to the freelance industry, where people are hired on the foundation of contacts and connections with industry professionals. However, the way men and women present themselves in a confident manner differs hugely, “self-promotion conflict with notions of appropriate female behaviour” (Leung Wing-Fai, 2015, p. 58). Networking events can be perceived as intimidating for women, working class individuals and ethnic minorities who find it difficult to relate to the Oxbridge professionals that reign over the creative industries. This relates to the idea aforementioned of homophily, the candidates who aren’t white privilege males are statistically less likely to link with the over-represented groups. Instead they are expelled from the creative network for their difference, discouraged from gaining valuable industry experience and thus subject to indirect discrimination based off gender, class and race. The employment of freelancers through networking, perpetuates the exclusion of certain cultural, social groups resulting in the continuation of a white, male and middle-class industry. This is supported with the quotation, “It is the combination of (gender based) homophily in networking together with the fact that men reward their network neighbours, that generates earnings and promotion gaps” (Mengel, 2015, p. 18). Thus, the cyclical nature of male dominance in freelance production work continues.

Parenting Responsibilities: 

Moreover, networking is a large time consumption, which is restrictive to parents in child-caring responsibilities who are not able to attend evening events. As there’s no formal recruitment process in the freelance industry, creative individuals rely on networking events to promote themselves and their work. This raises an interesting gender question about the association of the mother as the primary parental role. This is supported by the quotation by Natalie Wreyford. “It is difficult to talk about women and work without talking about childcare. The same is not true of men and work and this is one of the most obvious difficulties managed by working women, even those who choose not to have children” (2013, p. 1). According to the TUC, women in the UK who have children before the age of 33 are paid 15% less than their co-workers who are childless (Trade Union Congress, 2016). This is particularly relevant to parents in the creative industry, who are at an economic disadvantage due to their family life outside of work. However, the same is not true for father’s in full time employment, who earn on average 21% more than childless men (Trade Union Congress, 2016).  These statistics support the sentiment that women with children are penalised for balancing a work and family life, whist fathers are heralded for their multitasking ability. It is this social attitude that women should have children at a specific age and subsequently look after them, that perpetuates parental based gender discrimination. The assumption about a women’s parental status, or criticism against women who aren’t mothers is gender-based discrimination. This is described by Leung Wing Fai as “taken-for-grantedness” (2015, p. 59) in the Sociological Review, whereby the relationship between gender and childcare is presumed by society to be a woman’s role. This relates to freelance work as the nature of the industry is precarious, and not compatible with a child’s early development. The long hours, short job notice and inconsistent patterns of work inevitably excludes women with families, who are unable to find appropriate childcare to compensate for their absence. Thus, many women in the freelance creative industry are forced to leave their position for a more secure job with consistent hours and pay, which leaves time for their family. Women who are parents simply don’t have enough time to network, and the late hours aren’t compatible with a child’s schedule, so a continuation of the white male figure prevails in production teams. This is representative of the cultural belief that father’s in employment are committed whereas mothers in employment are seen as liabilities. In order to see greater equality and diversity at high positions in the creative industries the freelance industry infrastructure needs to change; accessible and inexpensive childcare, reduced working hours and flexible working schedules would increase work-life balance for freelance women working in the creative industry.

Recruitment from higher education: 

The cost of specialised industry training, or degree education is a deterrent for individuals who cannot afford these types of education. As there’s no formal recruitment process within the creative industry, as highlighted earlier, there’s no clear pathway to get into the sector. The lack of financial aid to support aspirational creative individuals who are unable to support themselves through these schemes, shows an exclusion of people based on their social class. In spite of the informality of the recruitment process, the sector is still dominated by graduate interns; a university degree still a standard marker of employability. However, as the cost of a university degree in the United Kingdom continues to rise, there’s a clear absence of diversity at Russell group universities. In a 2017/18 study by HESA (Higher Education Student Statistics) only 23% of all students enrolled in Russell Group universities were BAME students (Hesa.ac.uk, 2019). In Go West’s report they highlighted that 66% of industry firms in the South West region had collaborated with universities and higher education programmes (Presence, 2017, p. 52). Therefore, there’s a clear link between the disparity of BAME students who attend the top 25 universities in the United Kingdom, and their recruitment into large creative industry firms. If the students are excluded from attending these universities, they have less chance at gaining internships at leading creative firms. The Go West! Report details how educational institutions are supporting the regions cultural media ecology by creating a ‘talent pipeline’ (Presence, 2017, p. 4) . Student interns are strengthening the freelance industry in the South West.

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Interestingly, in Amy Genders Report ‘An Invisible Army’, she highlights that in spite of the recruitment by media entities from higher education schemes, many of the students are underprepared to sustain a career in the freelance network. She goes on further to state that more initiatives need to be introduced to “bridge the gap between industry and higher education institutions” (Genders, 2019, p. 23). Interviews from this study highlighted the primary gain of higher education enrolment was the network of creative individuals gained rather than industry specific technical skills. This raises two important questions for media programmes at higher education institutions; the first tackles issues of diversity at Russel Group universities, and the second raises questions about teaching industry specific technical skills. The white heroic male figure remains in freelance production teams, who continually employ the same archetype and perpetually exclude women and BAME individuals. There’s a great correlation between media internships and higher education institutions, thus as diversity is underrepresented at Russel Group universities there’s a smaller chance of them being hired. Without these internships, BAME individuals are unable to build their CV and portfolio and become less desirable candidates. Furthermore, with rising university fees, the intuitions have an obligation to properly train the students to be able to enter the creative field when they graduate. However, many interns are left underprepared for the competitive and skilled nature of the freelance industry and forced to take time out to attend industry specific training programs. This places them out of work until the programme is finished and spend more money to correctly prepare them for the creative industry network.

Conclusion: 

To conclude I believe that the nature of the freelance industry is gender, class and race exclusive as it supports the heroic white male figure. This is supported by the notion that an ‘auteur’ is synonymous with the male director, so there’s a top down system of sexism that is supported by popular mainstream culture. Moreover, due to the informality of the freelance industry, many are employed through networking and recruitment from higher education. This favours the white male from a strong economic background with BAME students in the minority at top British universities. Finally, mothers who are sole parents are excluded from late night networking socials and thus unable to gain industry contacts.

Works Cited

  • Buscombe, E., 1981. Edward Buscombe: 'Ideas of Authorship'. In: J. Caughie, ed. Theories of Authorship. London : Routledge, p. 23.
  • Genders, A., 2019. An Invisible Army: The Tole of Freelance Labour in Bristol's Film and Television Industries, Bristol: University of the West of England Bristol (UWE Bristol).
  • Hesa.ac.uk. (2019). Higher Education Student Statistics: Alternative Providers, 2017/18 - Student numbers and characteristics | HESA. [online] Available at: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/14-02-2019/sb254-higher-education-student-statistics-APs/numbers [Accessed 15 Nov. 2019].
  • Lane, C., 2001. Feminist Hollywood: from Born in Flames to Point Break. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  • Leung Wing-Fai, R. G. a. K. R., 2015. Getting in, getting on, getting out? Women as career scramblers in the UK film and television industries. The Sociological Review, 63(doi: 10.1111/1467-954X.12240.), pp. 50-65.
  • Martha , M. L., 2019. The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2018, San Diego: Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
  • Mengel, F., 2015. Gender differences in networking. Colchester , University of Essex & Maastricht University.
  • Presence, A. S. a. S., 2017. Go West! Bristol's Film and Television industries, Bristol: University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).
  • Scharff, C., 2018. Gender, Subjectivity, And Cultural Work: The Classical Music Profession. New York : Routledge.
  • Trade Union Congress, 2016. TUC: Trades Union Congress. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/fathers-working-full-time-earn-21-more-men-without-children-says-tuc
    [Accessed 15 November 2019].
  • UK Film Council , 2003. A Bigger Future: The UK Film Skills Strategy., s.l.: Skillset and the UK Film Council .
  • Wreyford, N., 2013. ‘The real cost of childcare: motherhood and project-based cre- ative labour in the UK film industry’. Studies in the Maternal, 5(2), p. 1.

 

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