No Alcoholics, No Rapists, No Victims: The CW’s Female Showrunners on Sexual Violence and Telling Women’s Stories

LOS ANGELES: During Tuesday’s CW session at the Television Critics Association summer tour, the network only had one show to preview: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. But followed it up that presentation with a fascinating panel of eight women executive producers. It was easily a highlight of the TCA tour so far, as the women — Aline Brosh McKenna (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Jennie Snyder Urman (Jane the Virgin), Gabrielle Stanton (The Flash), Diane Ruggiero-Wright (iZombie), Wendy Mericle (Arrow), Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals), Caroline Dries (The Vampire Diaries), and Laurie McCarthy (Reign) — spoke candidly but optimistically about their experiences and the importance of women on television.

“You definitely feel when you’re working at The CW like female voices and female stories are welcomed enthusiastically, and that’s great. I never feel like it’s being second-guessed in any way or that our experience is being hemmed in in any way by men. I just feel like it’s a very obviously female‑friendly group,” said McKenna, on how welcoming the network is to women. Later, McCarthy echoed the statement: “I feel like [The CW executives] treat us like we’re showrunners. They don’t treat us like we’re female showrunners.”

The eight women, who are inarguably helping to usher in a more female-friendly and inclusive era of television, discussed why it’s important for women to help other women, and how they’re in a unique position where they can do that. “I think hiring more female writers is something you have more of a say about,” says Ruggiero-Wright as her role as EP. “You want to hire the best writer for the job. So if the best writer for a particular job is a man, I’m going to want to hire a man. If the best [person for the] job is a woman, I’m going to want hire the woman. And if it’s between the two, honestly, I’m going to pick the woman, and that’s just the truth. That’s how it’s going to be. If they are equal to the job and I have a choice between a man or a woman, right now in this job, I’m going to support the sisterhood.” The rest of the women agreed, adding that they get the opportunity to hire more woman directors and to write better characters than just “sexy secretary” or “hot housewife.” “We get to be part of a group that brings queens and monsters and werewolves,” said Plec.

When asked about the hardest part of their job, many of the women brought up not having enough time to spend with children, family, or friends because of the intense demands of their work. But Plec elaborated on something more specific, and familiar: her habit of crying when upset. “I don’t raise my voice,” she said. “I don’t get angry. I don’t lose my shit… ultimately, when I get upset, frustrated, or disappointed — whether it’s creative disappointment, personal disappointment — I cry. I hate that. Because as a woman, you feel like tears are such a sign of weakness. You’re taught to feel that’s like what defines you as a woman. ‘Oh, she’s a crier.’ I had someone, a man I worked with, say, ‘Oh, are you going to cry again, you little baby?’ And that’s, excuse my language, fucking brutal. Because in holding in my anger, my rage, my disappointment, my frustration and not projectile vomiting it all over somebody else in a screaming fit or making them feel small, which is — I know plenty of women who are like that too, by the way, but [it’s] definitely [a] predominantly male characteristic — you end up exposing a vulnerability of yourself that makes you feel weak.”

McCarthy discussed the frustrating ways in which people refer to women: “‘Crazy’ and ‘bitch’: those are the two words I hate the most. You can say almost any other word to me and I’ll like it better than those two words when you’re talking about women.”

Toward the end of the panel, the women were asked about gratuitous violence — particularly sexual violence against women — and how it fits, or doesn’t fit, in with their work. “I used to have this rule,” said Plec. “Never make anyone an alcoholic, never make them rape, never make them molested. Because when all is said and done, their character becomes singularly about being that and you lose the ability to write them as human beings without that problem weighing over them.” Ruggiero-Wright added, “Sometimes you’re on other staffs of other shows or you’re not the showrunner and you have to do a rape storyline and you don’t want to do it. People are going to be watching it and they’re going to see your name on the episode and they’re going to think you think that’s what it means. Like, this is your interpretation of what it feels like to be a female and suffer this — and it’s not. It’s your own staff of the show, and this is what you kind of have to write, and it’s just such a horrible position to be in as a writer, and I don’t want to put any other writer in that position.”