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Disney Rejection Letter, 1938
April 26, 2013 2:02 PM   Subscribe


 
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posted by latkes at 2:03 PM on April 26, 2013


Wow. Just wow.
posted by alms at 2:06 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yup, gotta watch out for those young men.
posted by Melismata at 2:24 PM on April 26, 2013


I'm shocked, shocked to find that after only 75 years, people have a different outlook on women in the workplace.

I'm sure glad no one in the future will look back things we consider reasonable today and think them laughable. We have everything all figured out in the present day, unlike those cretins of the past.
posted by Argyle at 2:26 PM on April 26, 2013 [24 favorites]


Good thing Walt's head is frozen and awaits coming back with us all.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:29 PM on April 26, 2013


What a weird comment, Argyle. Would you have been so caustically dismissive if this had been, say, a photo depicting segregated restroom facilities in the Jim Crow South?
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:33 PM on April 26, 2013 [14 favorites]


Previously! Vanity Fair: Patricia Zohn on Walt Disney Animators:
Much has been written about the prodigiously talented men who brought Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, and Dumbo to the screen. But if behind every good man stands a good woman, behind Walt Disney and his “boys”—the all-male assembly line—once stood 100. Walt was the impresario of a troop of young women, most under 25—a casting director’s dream of all-American acolytes—who made the screen light up, not with feathered swan dives or the perfect tip-tap of a patent-leather heel, but by making water shimmer or a tail wag just so. It was a job complicated by his unrelenting perfectionism—Jiminy Cricket required 27 different colors—but reducible to a simple imperative of the time: ever nimble but never showy, their job was to make what the men did look good.

Before my aunt Rae Medby McSpadden died, in 2002, she had begun to tell me the exciting, even cloak-and-dagger tales of her years at the Walt Disney Studios during its golden age. Inspired by her trailblazing career during a time when there were few professional female artists, I began interviewing the co-workers who had become her dearest friends. I came to realize they were real-life models for the dedicated working girls who populated movie screens in the 30s and 40s. Neither downtrodden factory workers nor madcap flappers who jumped into fountains, they may have been caught in a sand trap of repetitive, highly precise work where eyes strained, waistlines shrank, and some even fainted, but they loved what they did and wanted to be the best.

posted by zarq at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2013 [14 favorites]


Dear Mr Disney,

The cryogenic retrieval process is only possible for young women. For this reason boys are not unfrozen.

Yours Truly,

THE FUTURE
posted by panboi at 2:35 PM on April 26, 2013 [28 favorites]


I'm sure glad no one in the future will look back things we consider reasonable today and think them laughable. We have everything all figured out in the present day, unlike those cretins of the past.

Really, that's your takeaway? That looking back at this is just pointless sneering?

I find examples like this heartbreaking. Think of the millions of women who were explicitly barred throughout their entire lives from pursuing the full spectrum of professional and creative endeavors that were open to (white) men without question. For example, when my mom was in high school in the late 1950s, she wanted to apply to UCLA film school so that she could become a director. Her drama teacher literally laughed in her face; he said that "girls" can't direct; their only role is to look pretty for the (male) director.

This sort of casual misogyny happened as a matter of course within living memory. Well into the 1960s, help wanted ads could explicitly specify gender. Sexual harassment in the workplace has been illegal for less than 30 years.

There's absolutely no virtue in ignoring the past supposedly in the service of being enlightened about our shortcomings today, though it may be a preferable stance for some people to take.
posted by scody at 2:50 PM on April 26, 2013 [84 favorites]


I'm not shocked and I, too, don't get the shock. This is how things were. Doesn't make it right, but there's nothing we can do about it now except not do what we did back then, and that's my takeaway from it.

Or if you want you can go yell at Walt Disney's grave.
posted by Malice at 2:56 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only young men doing the inking?

I wonder if that might have something to do with the salacious single frames sneaked onto various Disney films.....
posted by ocschwar at 3:02 PM on April 26, 2013


I don't think "shocked" is what anyone feels when they look at this, as in "surprised". It's just interesting to see actual documentary evidence of the twisted logic that used to run this society. Something you can use to put yourself in the shoes of this real person and really understand their experiences, as opposed to just integrating 1 more vaguely understood cultural story into your memory cells.
posted by bleep at 3:22 PM on April 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


And that's not to say that twisted logic doesn't run our society now, but the two aren't mutually exclusive, there's nothing that says they are.
posted by bleep at 3:23 PM on April 26, 2013


I find examples like this heartbreaking.

On the other hand, its exhilarating to see how far we've come.

The other day I was watching the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Willow comes out to Buffy. This was cutting edge progressive stuff ten years ago. It certainly doesn't read that way now. Buffy does not take the news well. She's stammering and clearly uncomfortable. Her awkward display of tolerance is what I would now consider to be bare minimum human decency. The bar has been raised.

In some respects society is improving, and getting better fast.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:23 PM on April 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm sure glad no one in the future will look back things we consider reasonable today and think them laughable. We have everything all figured out in the present day, unlike those cretins of the past.

I know you're getting some grief for this, but I'm with you with the sarcasm; not to say things aren't better now than they were -- pieces of evidence are a good reminder of that -- but we should also use this as a reminder that things we think are currently normal and correct today probably aren't. Hell, lots of them we know aren't right, but perhaps even now we don't realize just now not-right they are (and only future generations will look back and say WTF.)
posted by davejay at 4:03 PM on April 26, 2013 [10 favorites]


Dear Mr Disney,

Due to a failure in cryogenic process we were forced to revive you.

Unfortunately we were unable to find a suitable male body for grafting purposes....
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 4:16 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think of stuff like this as "documenting," and it's useful, because the more distant we get from it, the harder it is to believe it was ever that bad.

And we need to remember that it really really was. And we need to tech the kids after us the same thing.
posted by emjaybee at 4:18 PM on April 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Nice letterhead too -

See Miss Ford - see this letterhead in this rejection letter we're sending you?

These richly drawn characters are a product of the painting and inking department - the department you are not allowed to join, and we trust that the lovely cheerful tone of the letterhead makes you feel better about our rejection of you and your (ahem) talent.

Also - there is something about seven little painters and inkers leering across the page at a lone woman
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 4:31 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The importance of things like this is that when someone muses at you over the mysterious absence of great female animators back in the Glory Days, you have at least some documentary proof that it may have more direct causes than 'brain structure'.

Legend has it that animation titan Marc Davis got one of these when the secretary misread his name; he was of course immediately accepted when he corrected the mistake.

Of course Disney was acting in cultural norms here and it's a bit silly to blame him personally; and it's not actually true that women weren't creatives. Mary Blair was his favourite designer, and Rhetta Scott animated the dog chase sequence in Bambi.

(also Walt Disney was not cryogenicly frozen.)
posted by Erasmouse at 4:40 PM on April 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'd love to hear an interview with the woman who signed this letter.
posted by latkes at 4:43 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


There was an underground comic I read back in the 80s in which Disney somehow got unfroze and the first thing he sees in Disneyland is a theater marquee with "Ruthless People" on it, produced by Touchstone, owned by Disney. He buys a ticket, goes in to see the movie, and the comes crashing through the walls of his private chamber where scientists grab him and force him back into the cryogenic chamber.

I think what would actually happen is he would see a Disney where many of the most important decisions and premiere artists are women, gays, and Jews, and would beg to be refrozen.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:01 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Really, that's your takeaway? That looking back at this is just pointless sneering?
To Argyle's point, workplace discrimination against women hasn't been eliminated, even in the supposedly enlightened west (female film directors in the arabic-speaking world have much better representation than in Hollywood, for example). While it is devastatingly sad to think of all the brilliant prospective female directors, architects, mathematicians, and artists from a century ago whose work we have been deprived of because of past attitudes about traditional gender roles, it is important to remember that those traditional gender roles are very much still alive, affecting as insidious, if not as pervasive an effect on the careers of women today. So while the knee-jerk response to evidence of how explicitly and shamelessly gender roles were enforced decades ago tends to be "Oh my gosh, those backward people and their backward ways! Thank goodness times have changed!", this response needs to be scrutinized a bit. It's too sweeping a statement to say, man, we sure licked that whole discrimination in the workplace thing, and call it a day. Personally, I find it problematic that discussions of current day social problems tend to get swept aside by back-patting retrospectives on the disgusting social problems of the past.

FWIW, the flickr post links to this article, which more or less makes the same points.
posted by deathpanels at 5:03 PM on April 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


"Well into the 1960s"

Uh, actually, into the early '80s, as I was pretty surprised to find while browsing some newspaper archives for other unrelated stuff.
posted by klangklangston at 5:13 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Things really are different now! These days, they wouldn't just come out and say it.
posted by webmutant at 5:30 PM on April 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Think of the millions of women who were explicitly barred throughout their entire lives from pursuing the full spectrum of professional and creative endeavors that were open to (white) men without question.

Nowadays it's not gender or race that keeps millions of people from quality education and creative opportunities. It's just money.
posted by headnsouth at 5:36 PM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


deathpanels brings up a good point.

What's the proportion of women to men at Disney and comparable animation studios nowadays?
posted by Sara C. at 5:40 PM on April 26, 2013


A couple of years later they'd have changed their tune, as those young men were going off to fight and women were stepping into their roles right and left.

And of course, being made to step right back out of them a couple of years after that so the boys could have their jobs back.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:54 PM on April 26, 2013


I just think it's so awesome that his grandmother was artist and wanted to work in animation, in the '30s! I bet she was the coolest grandma. I wonder what she'd think of this new era of animation.

"Also - there is something about seven little painters and inkers leering across the page at a lone woman"

Much has been written about the roles of mothers in Disney films. I don't think there's a definitive reason for this, but yeah, I think there might be some issues there. I know many entire industries were off-limits to women, but I wonder if this was the case with animation artists across the board or if this was particular to Disney.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:56 PM on April 26, 2013


These richly drawn characters are a product of the painting and inking department - the department you are not allowed to join, and we trust that the lovely cheerful tone of the letterhead makes you feel better about our rejection of you and your (ahem) talent.

Did I read it wrong? My takeaway was that young men do "all the creative work," for which there is some kind of "training school" (like the animation itself?) and women do the rote inking and painting--a department that had more interested applicants than positions.

From TFA:
The only work open to women consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with Indian ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions.


Which means I guess some women were likely in on the in-joke salacious frames that sometimes snuck in?
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:07 PM on April 26, 2013


Think of the millions of women who were explicitly barred throughout their entire lives from pursuing the full spectrum of professional and creative endeavors that were open to (white) men without question.

Think of the millions of women who still are.
posted by caryatid at 7:17 PM on April 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Many of my friends work for Disney and I have experience working there as well, so I had a good deal written up here to explain how things are different there now and how equity is evolving within the ranks of the creatives, but since so many people enjoy shitting on the Disney legacy I'll just leave it be as it's not really enjoyable to disturb people while they're taking their respective shits. FWIW, the letter is obviously a sign of the times, and factually incorrect too since there were women in creative production positions (as noted above). Hurray for Mary Blair, a pioneer and hero to female animation artists everywhere.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:27 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Remember also, this was 1938. Depression. California was turning away Okies at the border.

In general the US mindset was that good jobs should be spread out as widely as possible, to support as many families as possible. So - (by default male) heads of households with kids to support head of the line, single young women who could always live with their parents, back of the line. In some states, it was not permitted for more than one half of a married couple to hold a government job. Same thinking, and thinking that lasted into the post-war decades because there was fear of more depression after the war spending was over.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:54 PM on April 26, 2013


Sure, but you have to admit it's kind of appalling to think that "sorry no chicks need apply" is the TACTFUL way to tell a hick from the dust bowl not to bother coming to Hollywood in search of an animation job.
posted by Sara C. at 8:08 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll just leave it be as it's not really enjoyable to disturb people while they're taking their respective shits.

Why bother with this passive-aggressive little snit, then?

If the "Disney legacy" is that important to you, why not provide a different perspective?
posted by MissySedai at 8:33 PM on April 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I have to agree with MissySedai. These Birds of a Feather, you're in a community where if you give your point of view people will actually listen. I for one would be interested in hearing your perspective.
posted by JHarris at 8:49 PM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is going to sound a little controversial, but I can understand how Disney Productions would understand this policy would be the most effective. They were essentially looking for people who had no personal lives to speak of, unmarried and unattached young men from whom extremely long hours could be demanded. These men had no wives or families to make claims on their time, and if they had girlfriends, any time spent with them was clearly intended to be a low priority.

In the early part of the 20th century, it just wasn't realistic to imagine that there were any significant numbers of young women who were willing to make this kind of sacrifice of what it was very generally understood was a woman's primary goal in life, i.e., to have a family or at the very least to have a romantic relationship. What would be the point of training a young woman (went the Disney thought process) -- even a very talented one -- if as soon as some guy started courting her, she'd start wanting to leave the studio at 8 pm for a date, even though the rest of the crew would be pulling an all-nighter, crashing for a couple of hours on the floor, and then getting back to the grind?

Again, this is not to say that there were no women out there capable of this kind of work, but rather that the people in management at Disney had the same attitudes toward women in the workplace that the rest of American society did at the time, i.e., that in general a woman considered a job a job, something to do until she got married, and not a career, something to make a priority in her life. (As late as 20 years further on, the idea of marriage as the be-all and end-all of a woman's life was only just being questioned in popular fiction like The Best of Everything.)

To be sure, there were some careers in the 1930s that were thought to be at least competitive to marriage, but these were really high-paying glamour jobs like actress or recording star or author. The idea of a woman finding a lifetime of satisfaction in a relatively low-paying job that severely limited her availability for personal relationships -- that was just incredibly alien.
posted by La Cieca at 9:40 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I work in animation and this letter is one of those things that tends to show up on people's facebook walls with some frequency. My favorite part is the unabashed tautology of the pull quote-- that women don't do any of the creative work because it is all done by men.

The other interesting thing to me is that the sexism/gender essentialism worked both ways at Disney: Although women were prohibited (with, yes, some few exeptions) from creative positions, men didn't work in the ink and paint department, as Disney believed that ink and paint required more precision and patience than men were capable of.

Re: Mary Blair-- indeed a pioneer and an awesome artist-- she was hired at Disney in 1940, so at the time this letter may well have been true (in regards to there being no women in the creative department). Retta Scott was apparently hired in 1938, not sure if it was before or after this letter was written.
posted by matcha action at 10:10 PM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Being forced to remember and confront the reality of things that used to happen and don't anymore is important.

Lots of people have pretty much forgotten - as in completely forgotten; it's passed out of living memory of all current generations in many families - the reality of measels, whooping cough, polio, and the rest, and look what's happened in that absence. So let's not be upset about getting reminded of things like this, hey?
posted by po at 1:07 AM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


>I can understand how Disney Productions would understand this policy would be the most effective. They were essentially looking for people who had no personal lives to speak of, unmarried and unattached young men from whom extremely long hours could be demanded.

Long hours were demanded of the ink-and-paint department, which was all women. The difference was in prestige and in power of contributing creatively. Animators back in the day, from what I understand, would have worked fewer hours, full-on, than ink-and-paint. But it was a very high-prestige position, even higher than an animator in a studio today, as animators had more creative control over their shots. A great animator could climb into a lucrative and rewarding lead position. Women were not hired as animators because animation is a high-rank job and they were low-rank; it wasn't done and they were thought incapable of it anyways. Few in the 1930s would have thought this remotely strange. These women's grandmothers would have been warned against studying mathematics because it damaged their wombs and their total mental inferiority to men was an uncontraversial opinion.

(my first gig was ink-and-paint! on a film directed and animated by women! it is even more difficult than you imagine to perfectly capture a pencil drawing in ink on slippery cels. It's very zen though)

>What's the proportion of women to men at Disney and comparable animation studios nowadays?

Still very low- 20%? Depends on the studio. Animation is still a high-prestige job requiring the sort of network of support in learning, both externally in terms of a community, and internally in terms of the confidence to push past failure and achieve flow, that is harder I think for women to find than men.

That said I think it is changing, but these are changes that require generations. You can't just say, 'oh women can animate now' and it's all equal. The entire ecology needs to grow. When I went to school mumblecough20yearsagocough, I was one of I think three women in a class of 50. I teach the occasional class and ten years ago the ratio had barely budged; you could feel the discomfort and unconfidence radiating off the girls. This year I taught a class half girls and they were killing it. There's a generation of young women now in comics and animation that found their network online and wow can you see the results five/ten years on.

(and not to say my generation are all slouches- I recently worked on a big VFX feature with 2 of 3 leads being women around my age or a little younger).

>It's just money

The financial bar to aspiring animators now is huge, in the States at least-- the fees the schools charge are shocking, and you need years of training on expensive equipment. Europe however has several top-flight colleges with low fees for nationals; which I think is why you see much more diverse work there.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:30 AM on April 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Anyone else think the witch right under the signature is a nice touch?
posted by J.W. at 2:40 AM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the early part of the 20th century, it just wasn't realistic to imagine that there were any significant numbers of young women who were willing to make this kind of sacrifice of what it was very generally understood was a woman's primary goal in life, i.e., to have a family or at the very least to have a romantic relationship.

I think this is completely wrong. In fact, it is and was unrealistic to doubt that there were large numbers of women who'd be willing to make that sacrifice. The justification is a completely empty rationalization of a discriminatory worldview.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:22 AM on April 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


In the early part of the 20th century, it just wasn't realistic to imagine that there were any significant numbers of young women who were willing to make this kind of sacrifice of what it was very generally understood was a woman's primary goal in life, i.e., to have a family or at the very least to have a romantic relationship.

FYI: this exact same argument is being made right now, today, about women in tech startups. And it is equally bullshit and unacceptable.
posted by olinerd at 4:30 AM on April 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


Sure, but you have to admit it's kind of appalling to think that "sorry no chicks need apply" is the TACTFUL way to tell a hick from the dust bowl not to bother coming to Hollywood in search of an animation job.

From our Modern and Lucky perspective, perhaps. But again, this was 1938. Times were bloody hard. Arkansas to LA was a serious trek of several days. Did Ms Ford have a Plan B if this one didn't work out? If not, the City of Broken Dreams will eat you alive. In all likelihood, Ms Ford's getting a straight from the shoulder truth probably saved her a fair amount of money and disappointment.

It's not simply a matter of remembering and confronting what used to be. It's important to stretch yourself to consider why people thought the way they did. And not to assume that we necessarily know what is best for everyone. Past is a foreign country and all that, try to cut them a little slack. We have no monopoly on smarts or ethics.

Indeed, my own guess is that in 2088 a lot of our 2013 take-it-for-granted attitudes will be considered at best quaint, at worst appalling if not borderline criminal. Might be more practical to think about that than to tut-tut the perceived short-fallings of the Greatest Generation.

(Pity the original letter didn't survive. I'm curious to know what the other road brought to Ms Ford.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:01 AM on April 27, 2013


And of course, being made to step right back out of them a couple of years after that so the boys could have their jobs back.

The thinking being that the country was likely to fall straight back into Depression and therefore jobs should go to likely heads of households. Same reason the GI bill was introduced - get the veterans into college so they won't flood the job market. If you haven't already, check out The Best Years of Our Lives for some contemporary perspective.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:12 AM on April 27, 2013


IndigoJones, I'm not saying they should have hired her, or should have encouraged her to relocate to California.

What I'm saying is, nowadays, when women are discouraged from joining male-dominated fields, it's reasons like those you mention that are the excuse. The time commitment is too much. We wouldn't encourage you to relocate. This is a very competitive field. In this economy.... blah blah blah...

In 1938, rather than saying something like that, it was considered more politically correct to just say "we don't hire women."
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I find kind of amazing is the number of people reading this letter and getting "but it was the Depression and times were tough and if you think about it they were letting her down easy" despite the fact that it says right there in black and white Girls Are Not Considered For The Training School.

I have seen rejection letters. I have heard "sorry you didn't get the job" speeches.

This one doesn't say anything like any of those.

This one says "we don't hire women." Right there, plain as day.

We can talk all day about how the Depression was a difficult time to uproot yourself and move across the country to pursue a dream. But this letter isn't about that (aside from the fact that it's dated 1938). This letter is about how Disney put it in writing that they would not consider female animators.
posted by Sara C. at 10:16 AM on April 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


And not to assume that we necessarily know what is best for everyone. Past is a foreign country and all that, try to cut them a little slack. We have no monopoly on smarts or ethics.

I don't think this attitude is correct. All the comments in here about the "typical" "knee-jerk" reaction to this kind of thing - acting like things are perfect now and making a scapegoat of the past - are calling out something that doesn't exist in this thread. No one has said that things are better now. This same criticism used to come up a lot in discussions about Mad Men. It's so weirdly defensive to me - "the past must not be criticized! The past was just fine! Otherwise we are seeming to prefer the present or give it a pass." I don't understand this point of view at all. Why can't we criticize the past? Just because they didn't know any better doesn't make it right. We need to identify what was wrong then in order to perceive that it's still around now and understand where it came from.
posted by bleep at 3:52 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


>It's important to stretch yourself to consider why people thought the way they did

Well, I'm pretty sure they thought women were less capable of being great animators, because they were sexist. Disney was not primarily concerned with the wider socio-economic impact of his hiring policies here. He was hand-picking a very small group of creatives. From which women were barred because they were women. The company was perfectly happy to deprive deserving heads of household from jobs in ink-and-paint.

Asking around, the story that Marc Davis was rejected as a female candidate by mistake appears to be true, at least he told the story himself. One of the greatest animators of all time, who created the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, would never have had the opportunity to develop if he hadn't been able to provide a correction. It's all a bit Shakespeare's sister.

I'm not getting this 'why get mad at the past!' thing. We get mad at plenty of stuff in the past. The systematic crushing of women's powers is a goddam tragedy, I'll get plenty mad about it thank you very much.
posted by Erasmouse at 4:02 PM on April 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's important to stretch yourself to consider why people thought the way they did

This is one of the most condescending things I have ever read on Metafilter about these sorts of topics, and that is saying something. I have a couple of degrees in history, thanks -- not that it actually requires one to "consider why people thought the way they did" in a thoughtful or nuanced way. Women were explicitly and implicitly barred from countless professions and pursuits because of an amalgam of sexist ideas about women's inherent intellectual and creative capacities, and thus about their "proper" place in society, just as African Americans were explicitly and implicitly barred from countless professions and pursuits because of an amalgam of racist ideas about their inherent intellectual and creative capacities, and thus about their "proper" place in society.

Countless people's lives were actually harmed -- yes, harmed, in terms of lost earning potential (which harms people's families as well as themselves), lost personal satisfaction, lost creative/intellectual/scientific/technological output (which potentially harms society and culture in unquantifiable ways), etc. -- as a direct result of the systemic privileging of white men of a certain class over the rest of us while seeming to appear neutral and natural. (The material harm that sexism does to women and women's families -- thus historically creating an additional financial burden that shifted to men to accommodate women's diminished earning potential -- is actually part of the socialist-feminist argument for why men should be as committed to fighting sexism as women.)

To recognize this is not to smugly "tut-tut" the past while turning a self-congratulatory blind eye to the inequities of the present, but to grasp how the inequities of the present may be rooted in the past, and -- one hopes -- to consider the methods by which those past iniquities were addressed and changed so that we may address and change the ones we face now.
posted by scody at 4:43 PM on April 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'm sorry you find it condescending. If you want a hell yes on the general issue of women’s limited options over the ages, you’ve go it. I can say without sarcasm that I’m sorry Ms Ford was unable to live her dream, lost earning potential, lost personal satisfaction, lost creative/intellectual/scientific/technological output. I’m sorry my greatest generation mother could not go to MIT. I am happy that my daughter can dream of being president (and is wise enough not to want to touch it).

But this is beside my point, which was the reality of the Great Depression, a pretty narrow slot of time when most people were unable to live their dreams, lost earning potential, lost personal satisfaction, lost creative/intellectual/scientific/technological output. A lot of people were unable to put food on their family tables. And white maleness was not a free pass. GG mother recalls white males in once good suits going door to door looking for something, anything, for God’s sake, to earn whatever they could, and having to be turned away, with luck, with a sandwich.

Given that reality, it should be easier to understand a mindset that held, if there were X numbers of jobs, you try to spread them to benefit the widest number of people possible. At the time, these were the iniquities it seemed prudent to address, and the centuries old tradition of the nuclear family seemed a practical and reasonable unit to concentrate on. Which is why governments would not allow more than one member of a family take a government job. Which is why IBM would not allow married women to work at all; it was a policy they kept up well into the fifties in part because they were afraid the Depression was just a shot away. It may not be coincidental that the women’s movement only got back some traction in the later sixties, when those fears were over.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:12 PM on April 27, 2013


Well, yeah, but when talking about that mindset, it's important to note three things:

1) That mindset wasn't that effective — spreading out jobs by denying them to women is a terrible plan to help with economic recovery.

2) That mindset cause massive, real harm to women as a civil class (as scody lays out).

3) That mindset found easy purchase because it flattered a prejudiced mindset that retrenched the economic and social status quo, based on a circular endorsement of that unjust status quo.

So while we can talk about that mindset, we can also say that it was pretty much flatly wrong, and seeing examples of that mindset — especially remembering that there are women here who have personal experience with that mindset —can expect a pretty reasonably unsympathetic hearing. Simply being descriptive too often has the implicit effect of reinforcing a normative, prescriptive rhetorical point, even if that's unintended, and I think that's why you're getting some of that resistance.
posted by klangklangston at 6:34 PM on April 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I made the sarcastic comment to make a point. The vast majority of human history includes tragic things, most much for terrible than this. It is simple to point pack to almost any day in history and display an artifact that says "People in the past did bad things."

My point is "To what end?" Why post this instead of receipts of arrest records of suffragettes, or photos of lynchings at the turn of the century, or photos of segregation?

For justice? Every person involved is dead.

To enlighten others? Is there a Metafilter reader unaware of the plight of women to have parity in the workplace? No.

IMHO, the thinking behind the post was this: Disney is beloved by many people, this is a really shitty thing they did, it is very ironic, and that means it will be great fodder for axe grinding on MeFi. And sure enough, the "I'm aghast!" comments appeared.

This kind of moral absolutism with a heavy dose of self-righteousness rubs me the wrong way. I know I'm in the minority on Mefi since I don't love to point at the past and hiss.

I don't disagree with Scody on the huge negative effects of misogyny, but let's be clear, this post wasn't about helping to learn from the past, the post is just pointless sneering at the past.
posted by Argyle at 11:57 PM on April 27, 2013


I do not think so. I did not know, and from the comments here, many others did not know that Disney had this specific policy. Now I am more informed. The post that accomplished this is not pointless sneering; it's at the very least, educational. That you do not appreciate that effort does not make it pointless. You may not "love to point at the past and hiss," but you don't seem to extend that same grace to the people on this board.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:29 AM on April 28, 2013


To what end?

There is a long history of these things being silenced -- or I guess a more charitable term would be "forgotten". This makes it much easier for anti-feminists to claim women's status in society is natural, and that inequality between the sexes is rooted in women's unsuitability for certain kinds of roles.

I mean, go over to the AskMe about how men came to dominate women in the first place, and it's full of people parrotting this bullshit about how it's because men are better at killing mammoths and women are stuck barefoot and pregnant at home.

If modern day women don't know that want-ads were once openly segregated by gender, or that women were explicitly denied certain jobs because they were women, it becomes a lot easier to just reduce it all to essentialist Man The Hunter bullshit. Why hasn't there been a female President? MEN ARE BETTER AT KILLING MAMMOTHS WITH THEIR BARE HANDS. Why are women paid less for the same work? MEN ARE BETTER AT KILLING MAMMOTHS WITH THEIR BARE HANDS. Why are there so few female engineers, or startup founders, or corporate CEOs, or surgeons, or the powerful/prestigious job of your choice? MEN ARE BETTER AT KILLING MAMMOTHS WITH THEIR BARE HANDS.

By cutting out all the parts where women were specifically BANNED from doing stuff, it makes it a lot easier to pretend that women weren't explicitly banned, they just innately aren't good enough. Which makes it easier to erase sexism and bias that still exist today.
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 AM on April 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


if there were X numbers of jobs, you try to spread them to benefit the widest number of people possible.

I'm puzzled as to why you keep gliding over the fact that a large part of the jobs we are talking about were given to women-- a good third or more. Ink and paint was a huge department of workers who trained for five years and stayed there for a lifetime-- as wives and mothers, too. As the letter says, the CREATIVE WORK-- Story and Character development-- was reserved for men. This was not some peculiar artefact of the Depression, it's the very definition of the deliberate and systematic exclusion of women from roles of high cultural capital that's a centuries and millenia-long story.

Why post this instead of receipts of arrest records of suffragettes, or photos of lynchings at the turn of the century, or photos of segregation?

Surely that sort of material has been posted on Metafilter before? If you guys want to do a post on breadlines or whatever go to town.

>let's be clear, this post wasn't about helping to learn from the past, the post is just pointless sneering at the past.

As a woman in animation, I assure you there is nothing pointless about the occasional posting of this letter or others like it, even though it seems to generate the same weird defensiveness on every forum I've seen it. I have many many MANY times had colleagues and teachers tell me to my face that women are 'naturally' less talented/capable/desirous of this sort of work than men, using as evidence the lack of female Shakespeares/Michelangelos/Milt Kahls. It's easy to forget (easier, I believe, for men to forget) how many switches on the path to mastery were routed to dead ends for women. 'Women in animation' might seem a trivial subject until you think about how much our children's imaginations are shaped by what animators make. Especially Disney!

Look, I'm not hating on Disney-- for the time the studio even progressive in a way, and earlier in the thread I gave shoutouts to the women who did manage to navigate their way to the top there! I think Walt Disney was a genius and I've pored over those films one frame at a time. As a woman who loves the creations of the past I have a lot of complicated feelings about this stuff, it's kind of par for the course.
posted by Erasmouse at 9:57 AM on April 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


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