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Working Girls: The History of Women Directors in 1970s Hollywood


This dissertation examines the relationship between the feminist movement and Hollywood during the 1970s, specifically as it impacted the hiring practices and creative output of women directors working in the film industry. Due to the activism of the feminist movement, in particular the feminist reform efforts of the Women's Committees of Hollywood's professional guilds--the Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Writers Guild--the number of women directors in 1970s Hollywood began to increase compared to previous decades. From the mid-1930s till the mid-1960s, only two women filmmakers had careers as directors in Hollywood: Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino. This research reveals that between 1966 and 1980 there were at least fifteen women making movies in the commercial film industry: Karen Arthur, Anne Bancroft, Joan Darling, Lee Grant, Barbara Loden, Elaine May, Barbara Peeters, Joan Rivers, Stephanie Rothman, Beverly Sebastian, Joan Micklin Silver, Joan Tewkesbury, Jane Wagner, Nancy Walker, and Claudia Weill. However, in spite of this increase, the overall numbers were bleak. Women directed only 0.19 percent of the 7,332 feature films made between 1949 and 1979. By studying the biographies and filmographies of the fifteen women directors making feature films during this era, this dissertation explores how the progress that took place during the 1970s was paradoxical: feminist reform efforts made possible a noticeable rise in the number of women directors at the same time that Hollywood's institutional sexism continued to create obstacles to closing the gender gap.

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