Dr Jocelyn Handy, Massey University will present this OWT research seminar.

A growing body of theoretical writing and empirical research documents the ubiquity of systemic gender inequalities which disadvantage women working within the film industry. Most research into this problem uses a broadly sociological framework which focuses on the ways in which interlocking sets of structural conditions, cultural norms and collective practices combine to create and maintain patterns of gender based advantage and disadvantage within the industry. This research tradition tends not to examine the role of the unconscious in organisational life. Consequently, there are relatively few studies investigating the subjective experiences of film production workers and even fewer studies exploring the ways in which workers’ personal anxieties may contribute to the creation and maintenance of gendered inequality regimes.

This presentation seeks to broaden our understanding of discrimination within the New Zealand film industry by drawing on the systems psycho-analytic concepts of group dynamics, anxiety and collective defence mechanisms to explore the relationship between emotion, social interaction and the reproduction of gendered inequality regimes. Qualitative data from interviews with 12 male and 13 female film production workers working in the Wellington film industry will be presented to illustrate the theoretical analysis.

The presentation will argue that the process of assembling project teams creates considerable anxiety for both senior film production workers with responsibility for choosing teams and lower status team members who need to rely on them to create high functioning teams. The industry ideal of the talented, dedicated and autonomous creative worker is implicitly gendered, conforming more closely to traditional concepts of the unfettered male worker than traditional concepts of femininity and motherhood. Consequently, female workers, deviate from the archetype of the perfect film worker. The prospect of employing female workers, and in particular mothers of dependent children, therefore creates anxiety. These anxieties are grounded in reality as the exigencies of film production necessitate that workers must be able to commit totally to projects. However they also reflect unconscious fears that women as a category are imperfect workers who may fail their team. One obvious defence against these anxieties is increased reluctance to hire women and a propensity to favour male workers. Women may attempt to overcome these prejudices by conforming meticulously to the industry ideal of the autonomous worker. While this strategy can help women gain work it often creates further anxieties in fellow workers, partly because this tactic threatens other workers’ perceived commitment and competence and partly because these women are deviating further from female archetypes. Consequently, other people may still be reluctant to work with them. Discriminatory hiring practices that diminish these personal anxieties eventually become collectively accepted as rational responses to organizational problems and embedded within the social system as collectively endorsed defences against anxiety. Given that project-based employment is temporary, this pattern of discrimination against women is regularly repeated and contributes to entrenched gender inequality within the New Zealand film industry.

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