The Sexist

Men Who Steal Women’s Ideas Right In Front Of Their Faces

Many thanks to Elisa Kreisinger for pointing me to this fascinating collection of anonymous testimonies detailing sexism and racism in Hollywood (also via The Hathor Legacy).

The whole project is really interesting. It's got all the intrigue of a gossip-page blind item, with the added bonus of real social import! But I wanted to single out one story in particular, from a female producer who remains nameless. This producer can't get people to listen to her great ideas . . . until they're voiced by a man.

She explains:

I remember when I produced my very first movie. I was sitting in a room with a very famous director and his development staff. I was the only female in the room, and I kept making suggestions to cut different scenes, [like] one too many funerals. And I was completely ignored. Cut to this very famous director. He would say the same exact thing that I had said, not even a minute after I said it. And everyone at the meeting would be like, ‘Oh, yes. Good idea. That’s what we should do!’ It was like I never said it. I was invisible. I don’t know if that was sexism, but it sure felt like it. My opinion didn’t matter. Why was I talking?

The strange phenomenon of men stealing our ideas right in front of our faces has been discussed on the Sexist before. It's difficult to believe, because the practice is so blatant, so bold, so offensive, but trust me—and Jennifer Kesler will back me up here—this happens all the time. A woman says something. And then a man says the exact same thing. And then that thing is hailed as the most prescient! Hilarious! Insightful! Idea! Of all time!

This is not a privilege limited to the super-famous, well-respected Hollywood directors among us. Believe me when I tell you that far less illustrious specimens have stolen my ideas. My points, punchlines, and opinions have been lifted—directly after I publicly voiced them at a reasonable volume—by college boys my own age who held no particular institutional power beyond knowing a dude who had weed.

What I want to know is this: Does the crowd going wild over this Great Man's Great Idea even realize that the idea was just stolen from a woman? Does the idea-stealer even realize it? Do they even hear her talk? Or do they willfully ignore that she ever said it in the first place?

I know that in plenty of instances, this silencing is deliberate—one of the piece's anonymous stories came from a black film writer whose entire screenplay was deliberately lifted by a white man—but this silencing is so public, so obvious, that I wonder if everyone who does it has some sort of permanent mind meld that allows them to process and appropriate the ideas of women (or whatever other group of humans they happen to devalue) without fully realizing their theft. Thoughts?

Photo by Sorn, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

  • Jim Pivonka

    We learn this in our families, where even in "egalitarian" households wives opinions must be validated by men, and girls opinions, desires and judgements are less honored than boys.

    Women collude in perpetuating this in the home. Boys are routinely permitted levels of aggression and expression of opinion that will get a girl into trouble with her mother. (re read Carol Gilligan's "The Birth of Pleasure")

    The answer is to free the girls, not to limit the boys - children are over controlled in expression & argument, under controlled in behavior, IMO, as a result of parents intellectual insecurity & uncertainty.

  • Reid

    I'm not denying that this phenomenon goes on, but frankly I think that anecdote about the producer says more about fame worship than sexism. Maybe if she had been an esteemed producer and the director first time, or if they had both had the same Q rating. But as it is, she was an unknown and he was known.

    It tells me that people use authority signals to help them decide whether an idea is good or not. If the idea comes from someone with unverified authority, people will think it's not good. And vice versa. (This theory explains a lot about modern art and architecture.)

    Does sexism contribute to who is considered authoritative and who is not? Yes. But I think that's a lot more complicated an issue than just "boys steal ideals from girls".

  • Robert

    With all due respect, what confuses me about this post is that I have witnessed women stealing ideas from other women in the same fashion. Also, men do the same thing to men. In fact women also do the same thing to men.

    This seems like a negative behavior that has more to do with the self-centeredness and dishonesty of an individual, rather than a consistent unified discriminatory practice.

    It waters down the significance of more legitimate discriminatory practices when any slight is attributed to male sexism. Is it sexist when women do this to men? When men do this to each other? When women do this to each other?

  • Amanda

    People, let's stop living in the past. A woman's voice is just as important as a man's voice. Women should be heard just like men are heard. This is not the 60s anymore. LET WOMEN SPEAK AND BE HEARD!!!

  • anonymous

    honestly, i dont believe the story. and i dont think women deal with this much anymore. maybe in the 60's (as you mentioned amanda), but certainly not so much anymore. its not about gender, its about fame. the "famous" director probably reworded what the woman said, and she took it personally. if this had happened often, if it really was an issue, someone would have been sued. some sort of legal action would take place if she wasnt getting the credit she deserved. its not racism. its not sexism. its merely selfishness. STOP making such a big deal out of it. stop crying because you feel like men are not treating you as "equals". women have so much power today compared to any other time in history (sans perhaps an ancient society run by amazonian women) its ridiculous to complain. women today can divorce their husband and take half of everything, regardless of how much she had actually earned. companies have to reach a "quota" for genders and races, turning down white men of equal intelligence merely because they are white men.

    when actual sexism turns up, complain about it then. dont whine when some rich b*tch gets some ideas for a script stolen by some famous director. you dont think hed do the same thing if she was a he? or if she was black? or asian?

    i am a male. and i have been discriminated against myself. i wasnt allowed to join my schools volleyball team because its a womans sport. yet a girl was allowed on the football team, even though its generally played by men. its okay with me that i couldnt play volleyball, i understand that it may not be fair to the other girls. but if a girl can join the football team, why cant i join the volleyball team? there is no mens equivalent. the team sucked. it makes no sense to me.

    so, next time you feel like men arent treating you as equals, stop and think. are you treating US as equals?

  • Former Staffer

    It's not a phenomenon limited to women. Congresswoman Barbara Lee did that to me on Campaign Finance Reform. I proposed an amendment lowering the maximum contributions that an individual could make during a cycle (real reform as opposed to the increase that passed called reform) from $1000 to $500. I offered the suggestion in a joint progressive caucus/black caucus meeting.

    The next day, Lee had a staffer, a woman, call and leave a voicemail saying that Lee was the one who had offered that suggestion in the meeting and that she would be offering it on the floor. They then went on to promote the amendment in Roll Call as their own.

  • Jim Pivonka

    Anonymous one, mistaking or pretending to mistake the school athletic field or playground for the work environment does nothing at all for the credibility of your observations. More progress has clearly been made in our educational system than in our work and informal social settings; now is the time to press for equality in the latter, as well.

    That women, especially those who have moved beyond instinctual deference to men, will imitate the behavior of men in the work environment, including inappropriate ones like appropriation, is inevitable. It may even more conscious and less conscienscable than when men do it, and I'd bet is done to other women as well as men.

    The suppression of the women's voice in the home, informal social, and work environments is still a problem. The fact that overt sexual harrassment in the workplace is now a basis for legal action has not, and will not, fix it.

    I believe women themselves are largely unconscious of its pervasive and poisonous character because much of the problem originates very early, in the home. And because much of it is taught and enforced, especially in the early teen years, by their mothers. Mothers are both competitive with and threatened by their daughters' developing sexuality and ability to assert themselves at this time, aned frightened for their daughters, who are suddenly in possession of new, significant, socially ambiguous power that they don't know how to control or use. In too many cases the young women are taught to be fearful of, and subvert in the use of their voices and power at this critical juncture in their development.

    The only way I see to change this is for women themselves to address the problem overtly, as Amanda Hess suggests, and to do so in a way which addresses the deep roots in family life and the treatment of girls in their early teen years so that any "participation" by women themselves in perpetuating it can be wrung out of the system.

  • DirkJohanson


    I am curious what planet you hail from where women are such wallflowers.

    Anyway, Reid's analysis nailed the quoted piece on the head.

    In addition, some people are simply more orally influential than others. Who do people listen to? The nerdy policy wonks that contemplate narrow, arcane issues every day and know them cold? Or Barack Obama, who reads the talking points the wonks give him on the plane and, with his amazing voice, ironically a by-product of his otherwise not-too-wise habit of smoking, delivers a stirring speech?

    To the extent there is discrimination on the whole against women in this area, and I don't know if there is but perhaps there should be, it may be sort of a survival instinct. At least one prominent study has found that women have superior verbal skills to guys, which means that, on the whole, women have a greater ability than guys to make a lousy idea sound good. To the extent that's the case, maybe we shouldn't be following their ideas as quickly.