Lena Dunham sat down with Grantland's Bill Simmons recently and spoke for more than an hour of goodness about everything you'd want to hear from her: that time HBO almost fired her, her intense dream to guest star on Scandal, and so much more.
Toward the end of the hour, Simmons turned the discussion to the lack of female show runners in Hollywood, a topic Dunham has spoken out about multiple times in the past. But her comments carried even more weight this week after the Women's Media Center released its annual Status of Women in U.S. Media report.
The center, founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Gloria Steinem, seeks to make women visible and powerful in media. As such, its annual report analyzed women in all facets of media, both in front of and behind the camera. And as one might expect, there were some deeply disturbing statistics. According to a study by the Directors Guild of America, male directors outnumbered female directors 4 to 1 across the 3,100 episodes reviewed from broadcast and cable during the 2011-12 season, with men directing 86 percent of episodes.
Dunham listed off the female show runners she could think of in television: "There's Jenny and me, who run Girls together with Judd; Shonda Rhimes; two gals created Trophy Wife..; Jenji Kohan..; Mindy Kaling; Liz Meriwether; and hopefully Jill Soloway if her Amazon pilot gets picked up...and Mara Brock Akil."
The lack of female directors permeates both television and film, the latter being even more notorious for its paucity of director diversity. Dunham characterized the disparity by echoing similar points Sheryl Sandberg made in her book Lean In.
"A lot of the traits that are instilled in women from a young age like positivity, equanimity, making people feel good all the time—people think, or are afraid— that those qualities are at odds with being a director, or a show runner, or being in a position of authority," Dunham said. "There's room for all kinds. There's no one personality type that has the skill to manage the goings-on of a television show."
Research from USC Annenberg's Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative bolsters the Girls creator's case. "Dunham's comments are consistent with our recent interview-based research that when industry leaders think director, they think male," says Dr. Stacy L. Smith from USC Annenberg who is spearheading the university's initiative and a leading researcher in this space. "Cultural beliefs about the nature of leadership positions like directors and show runners may contribute to biases in hiring practices or lead to negative experiences for women leaders in entertainment. Liberating these limited stereotypes is one potent step toward change."
Dunham then spoke candidly about the role networks and studios play, arguing that if a young woman looks at the landscape of Hollywood today, "she sees almost only challenges." Dunham added, "Women come up with ideas and then networks tell them there is no room for their ideas. Networks and studios still seem to be almost pathologically incapable of understanding that women make up 52 percent of the planet and therefore programming that have women at its center is not a fad or a trend, it's a necessary expression and a necessary form of media."
Watch the entire exchange in the video above, starting at 50:00.