A view of Hollywood’s antiquated gender roles is beginning to take shape, with popular actresses and industry members calling out the lack of childcare, equal pay and diverse roles for women. While the recent ACLU request to state and federal agencies to investigate discrimination against women may very well shed more light on the subject of gender inequality in Hollywood, there is still one particular group of women that we haven’t heard much about: stuntwomen.
These are women who want nothing more than to perform the dangerous stunts that make television and films so exciting and it seems that they can’t get hired as to do stunts and as stunt coordinators because of an old-timey boy’s club system.
As Deadline reports, men vastly outnumber women in stunt coordinating. Stuntmen’s groups describe themselves as “fraternal organizations” in order to deflect criticism of gender exclusion — but in reality, they are unofficial channels for hiring friends and family. It’s apparently common for a stunt coordinator to hire his wife or girlfriend rather than seek out a qualified female stuntwoman. Or even worse, they put wigs on men, according to an anonymous source that Deadline spoke with.
Since the stuntmen groups hire almost exclusively from within, women need access to membership in order to get hired more and gain the necessary experience within their field. However, prospective members need a sponsor and to be approved as a member by the group as a whole, which doesn’t often happen. As an anonymous stuntwoman told Deadline “I had a sponsor at Stunts Unlimited, but I got turned down. They didn’t tell me why, but I heard it’s because they believed that ‘women cause too much trouble.’”
Of the five stuntmen groups that Deadline examined, only one has any significant history of allowing female members: the Black Stuntmen’s Association, a group that has had to fight for inclusion themselves. Some groups list women as “honorary members,” but those are not understood to be active, real memberships. The Stuntmen’s Association honorary member list includes Lucille Ball, who died more than two decades ago.
The president of the Stuntmen’s Association, J. Mark Donaldson, told Deadline, “We’re a fraternal organization. Do you need to have women in the stuntmen’s organizations? Personally, I don’t think you need to, anymore than you need a man in any of the female stunt organizations.”
Well, stuntwomen have created their own groups, including The Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures and the United Stuntwomen’s Association, but because women are rarely hired as coordinators it is difficult to promote themselves from within their own ranks. As Deadline’s anonymous stuntwoman said, “This is problematic for woman since most of the work comes from groups that have no women members. Those guys just don’t get it. They don’t even see what the problem is.”
Here is another unknown glass ceiling in Hollywood that needs to be shattered.