I know that I am late to the game on this piece but I just read it over the weekend and there are some interesting things to discuss.
First, I don’t think I can remember a woman as visible (in the entertainment business) as Fey talking about these kinds of issues before. If you haven’t read her recent New Yorker piece Confessions of a Juggler try and find a friend with a copy because it is a worthy piece to read. It’s not too long, it’s biting, and it touches on a variety of topics our culture struggles with but doesn’t articulate as funny or as pointedly as Fey.
The piece talks about her struggle to decide whether to have a second child as she approaches 40, and the obnoxious questions that people feel they have the right to ask women, especially working women.
But Tina is not an average working woman on TV. She’s the creator, writer, star and driving force of her series 30 Rock— which she laughingly admits she thought would be canceled years ago. (I guess that one good thing about NBC’s recent struggles.) Fey also occasionally dabbles in the movies though her film roles are no where near as good as her male TV counterparts film roles. Steve Carrell is a great example. They starred together in Date Night which was Fey’s best film part. Carrell has no problems getting movies parts, he’s gotten so many offers that he is leaving his TV show – The Office – after this season to go make movies full time. I don’t see Tina doing this because she is the life blood of her show and also because as she says “science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty.” There is no one as popular as Tina Fey (I heard a rumor that she was even asked to host the Oscars) but she doesn’t have people beating down the door to put her in the movies.
Fey unveils the reality we all know of the parts available to women as they hit forty:
Magazine Lady: The story of an overworked woman looking for love, whose less attractive friend’s mean boss is played by me…when Bebe Neuwirth turns the part down.
The Wedding Creeper: An overworked woman looking for love sneaks into weddings and wishes strangers well on their wedding video, only to fall in love with a handsome videographer…
and Baby Versus Work: A hardworking baby looking for love (Kate Hudson) falls for a handsome pile of papers (Hugh Grant). I would play the ghost of a Victorian Poetess who anachronistically tell Kate to go for it.
She’s so right. The opportunities for women especially in comedy are few and far between.
She makes another great point about how women of a certain age are easily dismissed with the catch all phrase “crazy.” It seems that there are so many crazy women in Hollywood that it’s hard to find a sane one. Maybe it’s not the women who are crazy, but it’s the situations they are put in on a constant basis that make them act crazy on ocasion. Maybe they are sick and tired of being treated like shit each and every day that they are fighting back and get marked as crazy. Crazy is a euphemism for a woman who has an opinion in Hollywood.
You know how it goes: Men are perfectionists. Women are crazy. Men are creative. Women are crazy. It’s just so much easier to call a woman crazy than it is to actually take her seriously.
I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women though, they’re all crazy. I have a suspicion- and hear me out, because this is a rough one – that the definition of crazy in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.
Tina Fey is putting it out there in a way that will hopefully make people think slightly differently. She can say these things because she does it with a smile on her face and she satirizes the culture for working women better than anyone on TV today. The woman is truly a ground breaker. Without Tina’s Liz Lemon we wouldn’t have the awesome Amy Poehler as Leslie Knoppe on Parks and Recreation.
The thing is that nothing Tina says in the essay is crazy. It’s real and true. This is a woman with a lot of responsibilities that she takes seriously including the livelihoods of all the people employed on her show. She has created a conversation about having kids that is never discussed regarding the entertainment business. Men never have to even think about this whether they are actors or creators. Women usually disappear behind potted plants or take a long trip when their pregnancies are not written into the show. I’m sure that if she wound up getting pregnant they could create some way to build it into the show. That’s how good the show is. We clearly have come a long way since the Murphy Brown culture wars, but it feels like we are getting ready for another round.
It’s got to be a bit lonely out there for Tina Fey. Yes, of course there are working moms running shows, Shonda Rhimes is the one that comes to mind and she runs a frickin’ empire! And yes Tina is privileged to be a TV star and writer. She makes a lot of money. Sure. But she does bring up important issues and she gives a good answer for how to make the business a better place for women:
It seems to me the fastest remedy for this women are crazy situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why I feel obligated to stay in the business and try hard to get to a place where I can create opportunities for others…
Amen. We need a lot more women and men thinking this way not only in TV but in the movies too.