What We’re Watch­ing: Stacy Rukeyser

On fight­ing for fem­i­nist tv char­ac­ters

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - TRAVEL -

Stacy Rukeyser is at the helm of UN­REAL, a satir­i­cal look at the dan­gers of real­ity tele­vi­sion. She talked to Bitch about misog­yny and sex­ism in Hol­ly­wood, the re­newed pur­pose of the show, and why she cre­ates such smart and fierce women char­ac­ters.

What was the first tv show or movie that re­ally stuck with you? The first shows that re­ally stuck with me were The Bionic Woman, Won­der Woman, and Char­lie’s An­gels. I have also loved Nora Ephron’s Heart­burn since I was 16. When I first started writ­ing for tv, Sex and the City was still on, and I re­mem­ber feel­ing so com­forted by see­ing a sin­gle woman on tele­vi­sion who was all about her ca­reer, but also try­ing to find love. In the se­ries fi­nale, Car­rie gives this speech about how the most im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship that you can have is the one you have with your­self. It still makes me tear up.

What per­suaded you to pur­sue a ca­reer as a tele­vi­sion writer, pro­ducer, and now, showrun­ner? I pur­sued a ca­reer as an actress, but it was un­ful­fill­ing, so I de­cided to write a fea­ture film. Then I had an idea for a tv show. It didn’t sell, but I re­al­ized I liked writ­ing for tv. Get­ting into the Warner Bros. Tele­vi­sion Writers’ Work­shop re­ally changed my ca­reer. They in­tro­duced us to showrun­ners, and I re­al­ized they were just smart peo­ple who wrote great tv. I still deeply ad­mire other showrun­ners, in­clud­ing men, who cre­ate re­ally smart fe­male char­ac­ters.

Re­cently, you wrote a col­umn for The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter about One Tree Hill’s writers’ room be­ing a “frat house” that was a “misog­y­nis­tic quag­mire.” What is the value in women who are

be­hind the scenes speak­ing pub­licly about sex­ism and misog­yny? I hope things are go­ing to change. I know that things got much, much worse at One Tree Hill af­ter I left. That makes me feel even worse about not say­ing any­thing at the time. I didn’t re­ally change that en­vi­ron­ment be­fore I left, but I made de­ci­sions about how I would run my [fu­ture] show be­cause I cared very deeply about cre­at­ing a good work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Do you think that hav­ing women at the helm of tv shows makes a dif­fer­ence in the kinds of char­ac­ters we’re now see­ing? I re­ally do. Hav­ing a fem­i­nist suitor was im­por­tant to me. I was 37 when I met my hus­band, and un­til then, I was that ca­reer girl who was re­ally thriv­ing but was still sin­gle. When we first pitched the idea of a fem­i­nist suitor to Life­time, ev­ery­body thought Hil­lary Clin­ton was go­ing to be the next

pres­i­dent. But there was a lit­tle bit of hes­i­ta­tion from Life­time about ad­dress­ing fem­i­nism. I fought re­ally hard for that char­ac­ter be­cause these is­sues felt so per­sonal to me. That’s what you get when you have a fe­male showrun­ner.

Do you think UN­REAL serves a deep and im­por­tant pur­pose? The pur­pose of this show has al­ways been to pull back the cur­tain on real­ity tv shows. The princess fan­tasy that these shows per­pet­u­ate is re­ally dan­ger­ous. Twenty women are fight­ing with each other for one man, and they have to look good in a bikini, kiss in hot tubs, and never talk about their work. In ex­change, he’ll pick you up in the he­li­copter and take you to Bali for din­ner. It’s so se­duc­tive and so in­grained in our cul­ture that even women who are re­ally do­ing well in their work still have this fan­tasy that a guy is go­ing to come in on a white horse and save them.

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