By Mathilde Dratwa, Moms-in-film founder
The Wee Wagon Project
Making childcare in the film industry possible
If we really want more women making the media that defines our world, we can't ignore the giant stuffed elephant in the room: childcare.

The Stats

Imagine a room of 100 people all working in the film industry. They are writers, directors, actors, art directors, set dressers, costume designers, makeup artists, grips, electricians, cinematographers, editors…the list goes on. They are the people that make the blockbusters that entertain us, the documentaries that challenge and educate us and the independent films that move our hearts and open our minds. And in this room of 100, how many are mothers?

Two.

To be more precise, 2.3. This might not shock those familiar with another stat: men outnumber women in the film industry by a ratio of five to one. I can hear you thinking, "Maybe this isn't so much a mom-and-childcare problem as it is a women-in-the-industry problem." But you'd be wrong.

You're right that there's a women-in-the-industry problem. Women make up half the workforce in the U.S. If you had two rooms of 100 people, one filled with people working in a mix of randomly-selected jobs and the other filled with people working in film, there would be 50 women in the first and a bit under 17 in the second.

But here's where you're wrong. You'd think that the percentage of women that have children would stay constant; that there just aren't a lot of moms working in film because there aren't a lot of women working in film. In other words, you'd think that the ratio of non-moms to moms is the same as in other industries. That theory doesn't hold up.

Seventy four percent of the 50 women in the room full of people who work in random fields have children. Almost three quarters of them. That's 37 moms. Only 14 percent of the women in the film industry room have children. Not even one seventh of them.
You can't address the gender issue without addressing the parent issue.

Hope Dickson Leach, co-founder of our UK sister organization Raising Films, summarizes the appalling findings of two major pieces of new research: "The film industry's default setting is to ignore caring needs" and "parenting is a proven restriction to career progression." The industry is not currently structured to support parents; a reality that disproportionately affects women: "Women were 75 percent more likely than men to cite parental responsibilities as a career barrier in the creative industries; 79 percent of respondents reported that their career felt a negative impact from their parenting and caring responsibilities."

Although the well-documented paucity of women working in film can't be in-and-of-itself the reason why so few of them are moms, there is an inverse correlation. The fact that moms aren't working in the film industry does, without a doubt, contribute to the field's gender imbalance. Anyone who's serious about addressing the need for more women in film needs to take a long hard look at their line items, and then figure out how to budget the baby.

Why do so few women working in film have children? Because the hours are too long? Because they want job stability? Sure, that's part of it. But when we started Moms-in-Film and asked mothers in LA, New York, London, and elsewhere why there were so few moms in the industry, the answer was unanimous: childcare.

So let's give them childcare.
I have to admit, I didn't arrive at this conclusion without an internal fight. I started Moms-in-Film out of a selfish desire for community and support. I'm amazed everyday at how our over-tired yet determined tribe has grown (Become part of the Moms-in-Film community on Facebook).

I expected that moms would want grants, writing retreats, community-building, and bit of advocacy to boot. I wasn't entirely wrong. Moms in the industry do need and want these things, according to the conversations at each of our gatherings. Still, when women shared what was keeping them off of sets, or what was making work so difficult, childcare kept coming up. It is inescapable.

I regrouped with my collaborator and some trusted advisers to figure out what practical steps we could take to help. Our mission is getting more moms working in the film industry. It's right there in our name. So, we are going to do our small part to help Moms-in-Film. We're starting with the creation of a specialized trailer for on-set childcare: The Wee Wagon Project.

We aren't experts in this type of design, but we are lucky to be working with designers, architects and early childhood specialists that are. We certainly didn't have the funding to take on this big nuts and bolts project, but we didn't let that stop us. Fractured Atlas agreed to become our fiscal sponsor, and we were awarded the first grant that we applied for. We are thrilled to have SXSW as a partner; the $10,000 we received from the festival's Community Grant allowed us to take the first steps towards building a Wee Wagon.

Some movie stars have luxury trailers that stretch 1,200 square feet and include 14 TV screens (and cost $2.5 million). Ours will have a pumping/nursing station, folding cribs, and a changing table. It will be full of soft textures, vibrant colors and engaging toys; a purpose-built environment that will engage children at various developmental stages. We want to create a space that is inviting and welcoming, that ignites children's imagination and appeases parents. We're considering having a theme for each wagon — a spaceship, a submarine, a rocket ship — and have already spoken with various experts in the field, including the executive director of 826LA.
Alfe Azad Illustrations
Alfe Azad illustrations
We need to raise another $48,000 to complete the trailer. We are eager to make several; to see these flexible, mobile childcare units start popping up on film sets and at film festivals. We're hoping that one day, they'll be industry standard.

We have a long way to go: out of every 100 people working in film, we want to see at least 37 moms, like in other industries — not two. Luckily, we already know how formidable moms are when they band together to change the unchangeable and upend the insurmountable: they do it everyday. With an army of moms, we can come to the aid of those two, and claw our way to gender parity in the industry.

Speaking at one of our meet-ups, parenthood writer Elissa Strauss (Slate, Elle) and screenwriter Brooke Berman got fired up discussing the need to politicize childcare. Berman, who is also a playwright, pointed out that the theater world has begun taking steps to support parents.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl dreams "of a theater (and a country) where productivity and love are in service of each other, not at war with each other." Accepting the 2016 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award earlier this month, she goes on state explicitly, "I believe this starts with childcare." Ruhl has partnered with the Lily Awards and New Dramatists to make this happen.

Last month, "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" star Noma Dumezweni called for the creation of a West End creche to meet the same needs across the pond.

Strauss has profiled the success of Patagonia's on-site childcare center, which, according to CEO Rose Marcario, basically pays for itself. Aside from the employee retention and engagement, Marcario "also believes there are other less quantifiable benefits that bring the return on investment up to an estimated 125 percent. One of these is the fact that women make up 50 percent of their workforce and nearly around half of their management; studies show that diversity can lead to a more creative and innovative workforce."

If the film industry were to follow suit — if providing childcare became the norm, not just for the stars who can afford to demand it, but for everyone — perhaps we would finally see a spike in those abysmal numbers.

Budgets need to include childcare. Policies need to change. The industry needs to pride itself on the talented women that make film great — at all stages of their life. Intentional or not, the lack of childcare, reasonable days and general support for women (and especially moms) is quite simply sexist.

We will keep fighting. We won't sit around waiting for the industry to change. We are ready to get our hands dirty; to push, to pull our Wee Wagon up to the studio gates. And if they don't open, we'll have to crash through.
Made on
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