Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are often cited as two women breaking the mold in Hollywood. In writing, directing, producing, and starring in the TV shows they created—Girls and Inside Amy Schumer, respectively—Dunham and Schumer have also used comedy to address gender stereotypes, beauty standards, and women’s rights.
But Dunham and Schumer, who have both developed projects with filmmaker and mentor Judd Apatow, have had to fight their way to running their own shows; they’ve dealt with blatant sexism, sometimes on the set of their own productions. In a new Hollywood Reporter cover story, Dunham said she heard a male crew member on Girls say into his microphone at one point, “I can’t wait to be on a show where there’s a man at the helm.” In the same interview, Schumer half-jokingly said her entire career has been about tricking men into listening to her because she’s a woman.
Their frustrations with the industry’s double standards are shared by some of TV’s funniest women, who sat down for the round table: Gina Rodriguez, who plays the pregnant title character in the sitcom Jane the Virgin; Kate McKinnon, the SNL cast member who spoofs everyone from Justin Bieber to Hillary Clinton; Ellie Kemper, the star of the cult survivor comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; and Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays a doctor and the family matriarch on the sitcom Black-ish.
“I once heard an exec say, ‘If you don’t ask for it, we can’t give it to you.’ We can’t go through our lives just being grateful for everything.” —Kemper
“I was raised by a woman [Diana Ross] who has high standards for what she’s worth, which has been called ‘diva behavior.’ I have witnessed flagrant, disgusting behavior, and that is not my mother. There is a way to be a woman, ask for what we deserve and be able to negotiate.” —Ross
While several in the round table emphasized the importance of negotiating their salaries, Dunham said she simply doesn’t possess that skill, an admission many women can relate to. Just 7 percent of women attempted to negotiate their initial offers, compared with 57 percent of men who did, according to Linda Babcock’s 2007 survey of graduating professional students. Babcock’s book Women Don’t Ask also shows that men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women, and when women negotiate, they ask for about 30 percent less than men do. On the flip side, studies have shown that negotiating can backfire for a woman, negatively affecting her chances of getting hired.
On Refusing to Apologize
“I noticed when I had a suggestion for Judd [Apatow] on set [of Trainwreck], I would say, ‘Um, sorry, but…’ I started all my sentences with ‘sorry.’ I’ve made an effort not to do that now.” —Schumer
Women say sorry more than men do, according to a 2010 study out of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. While the study was just a small sampling of university students, the findings suggest that women apologize more often than men because they disproportionately believe their offenses warrant an apology.
On Being Strong and Commanding Respect
“I visited the Girls and 30 Rock sets before my show. Seeing how Lena and Tina [Fey] ruled…it was unapologetic and strong. Every crew member would die for these women.” —Schumer
As we know from the popular Tumblr S–t People Say to Women Directors, which documents instances of sexism encountered by women in Hollywood, a woman with a vision is all too often perceived as bossy or difficult to work with. “No one will ever want to work with you. You’re too bossy,” one director reported being told by an actor she instructed. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” campaign was created to challenge the misconception that girls who speak up are bossy.
On Fighting Stereotypes and Not Compromising
“I remove myself instantly if something’s perpetuating a stereotype. But the only way to stop stereotypes is to say, ‘I’m going to wait for a journey that suits me.’ ” —Rodriguez
“I got into Jane the Virgin after reading your early interviews. You were obviously grateful, but rather than going, ‘I’m so lucky to have this part!’ you took back the power and said, ‘I waited for something that spoke to me as a Latina and didn’t feel like I was compromising.’ ” —Dunham to Rodriguez