Thursday, January 08, 2009

Disney Rejection Letter Revisited

Two and a half years ago, TAG blog posted a form letter that Walt Disney Productions sent out in the 1930s to women job applicants.

... Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school ...

The same letter is pictured above, with one difference. It's a year earlier than the first one, and instead of the corporate logo it's got a fancy color letterhead touting the studio's blockbuster Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

So try this mind exercise: You're a young, female artist in June 1938, opening a letter from Walt Disney Productions that you think will be some kind of encouraging response to your letter to the King of Animation, inquiring after a job.

But what you read instead is a form-letter kiss off, decorated with artwork from the Number One Film in the country, showing a woman protaganist and a woman villain.

And you're being told that women need not apply.

Happily, we're a long way from the days when those kinds of letters went out. Less happily, much of animation is still too much of an old boys' network. You'll have to look long and hard to find a lot of women in high creative positions at many of the large animation studios.

(It was only a couple of years back I heard story artist and feature director Brenda Chapman jokingly refer to herself as "the token woman" at Pixar.)

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yup, life in America was different back then, and Disney wasnt the only company like this.

Now, Disney is one of the most diverse places to work on the planet. Why bring it up?

Steve Hulett said...

To show how far we've come ... and how far we haven't.

Why do you ask?

Anonymous said...

What do you mean "how far we havent?"

I'm pretty sure all animation studios these days hire qualified women just as quickly (if not more quickly) as qualified men.

(oh, and because if it was posted two years ago, it seems like a rehash)

Steve Hulett said...

I'm pretty sure all animation studios these days hire qualified women just as quickly (if not more quickly) as qualified men.

Your certainty comes from where?
Direct observation? Industry stats? What?

A second reason I posted the letter: I had never seen the Snow White letterhead before, and thought it worth putting up.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure all animation studios these days hire qualified women just as quickly (if not more quickly) as qualified men. (oh, and because if it was posted two years ago, it seems like a rehash)

Why are you so angry and defensive?

Anonymous said...

Have you ever felt that glass ceiling over your head? I am sure if you are a woman and you work in the industry you feel it every day as I do.
Thanks Steve for posting the letter.

Jeff Massie said...

In June 2006, this very subject led to some of the longest comment threads we've ever had on this board.

Back then, I posted some hard numbers of employment in certain TAG-covered creative categories.

Have we made progress since then? Judge for yourself:

Art Directors: 14.3% (3 out of 21)

Directors* (not including theatrical features): 15.0% (19 out of 127)
June 2006: 12.6%

Layout: 17.8% (33 out of 185)

Model Designers: 15.4% (23 out of 149)

Producers*: 0% (0 out of 13)

Storyboard/Story Sketch: 13.3% (54 out of 406)
June 2006: 13.0%

VisDev: 9.4% (8 out of 85)
June 2006: 12.3%

Writers*: 11.4% (18 out of 158)
June 2006: 18.5%

* not everyone working in these categories at TAG shops is covered under our CBA, and we have no data on non-TAG employment

Anonymous said...

My question would be: how many women apply for those male-dominated jobs, especially as compared to men?

Steve Hulett said...


My question would be: how many women apply for those male-dominated jobs, especially as compared to men?


That info would come from the studios. TAG only has employment data.

Anecdotally, I've complaints about gender bias, but have to way to quantify the extent of it.

Steve Hulett said...

Uh, second paragraph should read:

"Andecdotally, I've RECEIVED complaints about gender bias, but have no way to quantify the extent of it."

Anonymous said...

My experience comes as a feature animator who reviews reels on a weekly basis. We look at reels with absolutely zero gender bias. If it's good, it gets passed to the next level. That's it. Incidentally, I would say our men to women applicant ratio is probably 5 to 1. Maybe the bias is in the schools? The home? Maybe women dont want to be animators? Maybe there is no bias and women find computers or animation less interesting than men.

But the reason I get defensive about it is because it's frustrating to constantly hear griping when there's very little facts supporting it. Its like making an issue out of a non-issue. At the several feature studios Ive worked at, theres always been a significant female presence in the animation department, as well as many other departments (senior level among others)

Anonymous said...

Jeff Massie-
I don't entirely understand your 'hard numbers.' According to your data for 2006, there were 0 female producers.

Yet, two years ago is when "Meet the Robinsons" was being worked on at Disney, a union studio. And the producer for Robinsons was Dorothy McKim, who by all appearances seems female.

Since there are also a number of female producers at Pixar (admittedly not a union studio), and at a number of other studios I'm aware of, I don't know that there is any apparent bias against women in producing roles.

rufus said...

Interesting.

A while ago I was talking to a person who works at one of these animation schools, often metioned here on this subject. The number of female applicants is far lower than the males. He wishes more women applied.

And it's unrealistic to expect that studios had a 1:1 female to male ratio, based on this fact.

It just seems to me females don't really consider animation as a good career. That's my impression.

This happens on the science industry as well. There was an article on this subject on Scientific American about a year ago. Very few female scientists compared to male ones.

Rufus.

Jeff Massie said...

"I don't entirely understand your 'hard numbers.' According to your data for 2006, there were 0 female producers."

Producers, as such, are not covered under our CBA, and the great majority of animation producers are not in the union.

Most of those who are listed with us as producers are "hyphenates" such as producer-writers, or others who do some "hands-on" work in addition to their producer duties.

Steve Hulett said...

... the reason I get defensive about it is because it's frustrating to constantly hear griping when there's very little facts supporting it.

Say what?

We (I) put up a (historical) letter from an animation studio saying, "women, don't bother applying."

You know, a fact. Nobody disputes the reality of the letter.

The response is: "Yeah, well, other studios were doing it," an assertion unsupported by any evidence.

Then, when employment numbers are put up without any griping attached, the response is "it's frustrating to constantly hear griping when there's very little facts supporting it ..."

Okay, let's look at the facts shown in this post and comment thread: 1) Disney's form letter. 2) Brenda Chapman's (jocular) statement that she was the "token female" in the Pixar animation department upper echelons. (Heard by me two years ago.) 3) The employment stats.

And then there's the counterarguments -- which may or may not be true -- that women don't train for animation as much, don't apply for animation positions as much, and generally have less interest in animation.

Now. All of the above might be true. But there's little evidence or documentation presented to show that it's true.

All I'm saying. And putting up a copy of a letter and showing employment stats doesn't constitute "constant griping."

Anonymous said...

The problem I had was with the commentary "how far we havent come," not with the letter itself. I dont think "how far we havent come" is factual at all.

I guess Ive just seen this letter (from the friggin 30's) circulated around the animation community a lot in the last 5 years or so (and on this website 2 years ago), and it just seems outdated.

Isnt Bear and the Bow going to be directed by a woman?

Anonymous said...

Then, when employment numbers are put up without any griping attached, the response is..."

Those numbers dont prove bias at all. They just prove that more men work in animation than women, which could have many reasons, and in all likelihood, have nothing whatsoever to do with bias

Like I implied earlier, we dont live in the 30's where bias is the norm, so why bring it up? Maybe we should talk about slavery too. Thats just as relevant.

Anonymous said...

It just seems to me females don't really consider animation as a good career. That's my impression.

Maybe they are the smarter ones after all.

Anonymous said...

"But the reason I get defensive about it is because it's frustrating to constantly hear griping when there's very little facts supporting it. Its like making an issue out of a non-issue. At the several feature studios Ive worked at, theres always been a significant female presence in the animation department, as well as many other departments (senior level among others)"

I can understand frustration suggesting there's a hiring bias. I believe that when you look at reels you don't give a damn what gender the artist is.

BUT whatever the reasons-and they're probably many and varied-that there are many more men than women in the animation workplace, the fact is that that imbalance for those women who do want an animation career and who are in that career already is going to have an impact, also in many and varied ways.

If you think that's ridiculous imagine flopping those numbers. Now an entire studio has only 11 or 14% male artists. One guy for every 10 or 15 women. I wonder what the workplace would be like on a daily basis for the guys. Different?

Of course the guys would still be there and still doing their life's dream job day and and out just as the women are.

Whining? Complaining? Not at all. Just facts. It is an added factor that all the women who are in the business are in a sea of guys.

And that, by the way, is a big part of the reason that Disney in the 1930s actively discouraged females from applying(the latter wasn't strictly true then, either, but they wanted applying women to forget any idea of a "creative" position). It's why the ink and paint department was "off limits" to the men in the rest of the studio. Think about it.

Times have changed a LOT. People have too but not quite as much as the times have. That's nobody's fault, only human nature at work.

Anyway, if anyone of any sex doesn't like it, the reality is that they usually lump it, or focus on just doing their best and being positive. Have some patience with at least broaching the topic once every few years, though.
Just something to think about. Most girls will never bring it up for fear of possibly pissing off the guys at work. it's obviously a touchy topic.

Anonymous said...

As a woman in this crazy animation business for over 15 years, here's my take:

Men don't seem to have a problem working with women artists, as long as those women are DAMN good. I mean, over-the-top, no-doubt they can kick-your-ass good. In other words, better than the men.

If the said woman artist is merely on par with the rest of the talent on the production, she'll do OK if she's pretty, diplomatic, and/or both.

But she can't be too pretty, or else that's gonna make the guys feel weird. So she has to watch how she dresses, how she interacts with the guys, and draw like a mofo.

If said woman artist isn't on par with the guys, she'll be gone...probably sooner than a male counterpart.

If said woman artist is a director, she's gotta be strong, or strongly supported by the producer. I've directed, and have gotten the, "Why the hell are YOU telling ME what to do?" vibe. Is it solely because I'm female? Doubt it, I bet young first-time male directors get it, too. But I do think that it's more intimidating for a woman to be in a leadership position on an animation production.

I don't see women artists backstabbing each other in the business, and I don't see them supporting each other just because they're women. Generally, they're very down-to-earth and know how to get the job done.

I don't want more women in the industry just for the sake of "evening out" the ratio of men and women. I want to work with people who LIKE cartoons and animation. Who are FUN to work with. Who want to do the best job they can given the usually crappy circumstances they're working under. Gender shouldn't matter in that scenario.

At all.

Steve Hulett said...

The problem I had was with the commentary "how far we havent come," not with the letter itself. I dont think "how far we havent come" is factual at all.

You're right. "How far we haven't come" isn't factual.

It's also not part of the post. It's my response to anon's question: "Why bring it up"?

Isnt Bear and the Bow going to be directed by a woman?

Yes. Brenda Chapman, who was also the co-director of "Prince of Egypt," story director on "Beauty and the Beast". And the female presence in the higher creative elevations of Pixar.

Anonymous said...

Another female here in the biz. I've never felt any sort of discrimination based on my sex. If it's there I'm not tuned into it. Men have hired me and men have promoted me. You earn your status in life.
Also I agree with those who suggest that there simply are more male artists in the business. I agree as this is what I have observed...but there are alot of females in management...so I don't know where that 0% came from for female producers. There's lots of them.
I actually think women are very influential in animation today. Not only are there loads in animation management but also as clients who give their two cents about content and curriculum. Women co-own animation studios. They create shows and write the content.
And all the storylines today that are so over the top female empowering..the guys are bumbling idiots and the girls are the super smart super heroes. Very female oriented.
There are alot more ways to get involved in animation that just being an artist..you can produce, write and create content as well..and judge it before it gets on the air.
Animation in my opinion is a very female driven business. The days of letters such as the one on Snow White letterhead are O-V-E-R.
Glass ceilings are a mental trap. Don't act like a victim in life and you won't be one.

Anonymous said...

I think the amazing thing here is that Disney actually sent out rejection letters at one time. I dropped off a resume at SIGGRAPH last year and was quite literally begged by a recruiter to follow up by email, which I did, but I never heard anything back. Now I work for one of their main rivals...

Anonymous said...

That (applicant numbers)info would come from the studios. TAG only has employment data.

Anecdotally, I've complaints about gender bias, but have to way to quantify the extent of it."



So the question stands: why bring it up?

You have zero evidence that there is a bias in our industry, but you are imagining a scandal you can comment on. Its kind of sad. Alleging a bias is a big deal - its a huge finger to point at people who, for the most part, are quite proud of what they do. They are proud of their coworkers and here you are alleging that what we work and fight for is biased? With absolutely no evidence and a wheelbarrow full of conjecture about a sliver of data?

Give it a rest. You aren't being progressive, you are being shallow.

Anonymous said...

So the question stands: why bring it up?

Asked and answered. Please get over your bitterness to actually read what's been written.

you are imagining a scandal

No, you are imagining that this has been framed as a scandal. It never was. 'Scandal' is your word, and your concept. Try reading these posts without bringing so much of your own baggage into it. You're engaging in creating a "straw man" that you can then tear apart.

Anonymous said...

Its abundantly clear that you don't know what a straw man argument is.

Anonymous said...

Saying that doesn't make it true, fool.

The 'straw man' you created is that Steve posted this letter to advertise a 'scandal,' and that Steve alleges that there is sexist hiring bias, that he's pointing accusatory fingers, and that Steve thinks we need to do something about it.

But none of that is in either Steve's original post or in any of his responses. What you've done is the classic fallacy of misrepresenting your opponent's position so that you can tear it apart. It's a straightforward case. Go here if you still don't get it:

Straw Man

Anonymous said...

"Less happily, much of animation is still too much of an old boys' network. You'll have to look long and hard to find a lot of women in high creative positions at many of the large animation studios."


What is posted there is the implication that there is something wrong with the gender breakdown of studios right now. The status quo is unacceptable because women do not have equal numbers to men. But thats not the issue - the issue is why. And... if the "why" has nothing to do with bias, and more to do with other reasonable causes, then there is no reason for change. Then there is nothing wrong.

With no evidence of a bias, then there should be no call for change. Again, the difference between being progressive and shallow.

My replies were grounded firmly in the suggestions made in the original post. Your straw man allegation is ludicrous.

Steve Hulett said...

With no evidence of a bias, then there should be no call for change. Again, the difference between being progressive and shallow.

I submit there's some evidence of bias, some or most of which could be explained.

I don't have enough evidence to make a complete judgment. But from the stats, lots of discussions with artists and my first-hand observations of life in different studios over the years, I think a case for a tilted playing field can be made.

Obviously you beg to differ, and that's fine. But I've put up hiring stats from TAG records and my conclusions based on the above; you don't find them compelling and convincing, and that's also fine. This isn't a court of law.

But it's hard to argue with anonymous posters who don't provide data or specific examples for their position.

Anonymous said...

Well here's an ironic one. My father wanted to do ink and paint for Disney in the 1950s and they rejected him because only women they said, had the patience enough to do the job so they would never considering hiring a man for it.

Steve Hulett said...

Hardly fair.

But then, a famous Disney animator received the letter above because the studio thought he was female.

Didn't matter that he had a crackerjack portfolio and -- when the confusion was cleared up -- got hired.

Initially he was rejected because he was thought to be a woman.

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