"I don't hire women" and other sexist comments.

by JamesNYCAugust 13. 2008 09:21
As I have stated in some of my other writings, based on my observations there is an unspoken fact about the commercial photo industry; that being the degree of sexism and racism that exits.
This despite it’s perception of being all inclusive and populated by progressive thinking artists’.

This was again brought to my attention about two weeks ago when a female assistant emailed me from the west coast.

While she didn't go into graphic details, the content and structure of the email conveyed the level of stress and anxiety she was feeling. I answered her email as best I could but suggested she call me to speak of her experiences further.

She called 2 days later. During the conversation, she recalled her experiences of the past year. She had been told "I don't hire women." Despite having the same level of experience and skill sets, was paid less than other assistant for the same job. Among other choice comments, she has even been told "..well, I pay the men more because they work harder.."
It should also be pointed out that women photographers are often just as discriminatory towards female assistants.

Many women have had similar experiences. She put up with it, until the day she was asked by a photographer to stay after the shoot to help break down the set and clean up the studio. Not an unusual request. The client and the rest of the crew leaves. She continues to work in the studio. While breaking down the set a casual conversation traverses to the topic of body piercings at which point the photographer proposes that she demonstrate her tongue piercing on him.

It's well known and understood that our industry play's it fast and loose when it comes to on-set sexual innuendoes and politically incorrect statements. For the most part this cavalier attitude has become common place and no one thinks twice about it because most photographers and their crew develop a familial relationship and for the most part are respectful of unspoken boundaries. It's also not unheard of for clients or art directors to take part in these conversations once everyone's comfort level is recognized. Let's face it, 35 shots a day of crappy "mother of the bride" dresses gets old real fast. You need to break loose and make it fun.

Unfortunately what seems to be prevalent with a great many male photographers is their belief that the photo industry is their own personal dating service. A perfect example of this was the time I was working in Milan and the photographer insisted on a casting every day. Not because he had that many jobs, but rather he would use these castings to find his next dinner date. He at the time was in his late 50's and had a penchant for 19 year old red heads.

But I digress…

Gentleman, the women working in the photo industry are not here for your personal pleasure or as an escape to your loneliness due to a lack of social skills. Nor are they concubines to be summoned at your beck and call to perform and sent away.

On the comments ".. they work harder than men…" and "..they can't lift as much…":
I've yet to work with any female assistant that did not work as hard or harder than their male counter parts on any type of shoot be it studio or location. I have however seen a number of wanna-be alpha males walking off set during a shoot for a cigarette break or to chat up models at a rental studio coffee bar. I have also seen male assistants between shots run off to the bath room to snort heroin or take a pull from a flask hidden in their backpack. And, my favorite is the "muscle head" that complains:
".. oh I can't help you lift that case, I pulled my back…"
".. yeah I was in a car accident and I can't lift heavy stuff.."
"Uuum, Dude, I'm the first assistant, I don't load or setup equipment.." (I kid you not, someone really said that.)

With all this said, I've yet to see a female assistant ever act irresponsible or not be able to pull her weight on any photo shoot, or complain even when they had a right to.

So the next time you get fed up with that male assistant standing around texting on his Blackberry or iPhone instead of watching to confirm strobes are firing, consider replacing him with a hard working, ambitious female assistant.

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