"Excuse me," I say. "I’m looking for a camcorder. Good quality, not too expensive."
The young man looks at me blankly.
"A camcorder," I repeat. "Not too complex. With a concise, easy-to-understand manual."
"Well…." He looks around as if preparing to make an escape.
"Oh, no you don’t," I say. "Last time I was in here buying tapes, I got shuffled from salesperson to
salesperson. No one wanted to help me."
"Well, ma’am, I…"
"What’s the problem?" I ask, my voice rising. "Are you wondering why ma’am came in without
a sir? Do you think women aren’t making video? Do you think women don’t buy camcorders? Do
you think I can’t talk zoom ratios? Do you think I don’t know apertures? What do you think? I don’t know
my iris from a hole in the ground?"
"But, I don’t work here!" the young man cries, quickly backing away.
Well, okay–so maybe I started researching this article with a slight bias. As a producer, I’ve witnessed
the fact that production is unquestionably a male-dominated field. While women are definitely players, the
men, from heads of studios to directors, writers, editors and on down the line, tend to hold the power,
prestige and purse strings.
And the trend continues on the consumer level. According to statistics, men make most camcorder
purchases, a fact that has obviously not gone unnoticed by sales clerks, manufacturers and ad agencies.
Production is still "where the boys are." But why?
Usually, you’ll hear variations on these five themes:
- Physical strength. Women may need greater upper body strength to deal with production gear.
- Conditioning. Girls may be conditioned in childhood to avoid electronic gadgetry.
- Esoterics. Tech talk might keep video an esoteric area for engineers, another male-dominated field.
- Long, dull manuals. Manuals may be too boring or complex for those with no childhood foundation in
- Lack of time or interest. Women might already be stretched too thin. They may not want to start
learning the alphabet of yet another technology.
In my opinion, video does have broad appeal (if you’ll excuse the pun). So why, on the set and at video
user groups and seminars, is the population only five to 20 percent female?
For this article, I conducted an informal survey to help shed some light on these questions. Though I
think this has helped me see the way people view women and camcorders, this data can only answer the
what of the issue; the why question still remains.
The truth is, I don’t know why, and as much as I wish to write an expose, I can only expose a few truths
and fallacies in these five theories and let you draw your own conclusions.
Physical Strength: Men Open Jars, Women Are From Venus
Men typically have greater upper body strength than women, but is this a stopper for females on the
consumer or professional production level?
Ask Lisa Harper, who is one of an extremely small number of female grips working in Los Angeles and
A grip’s primary job is moving things around–placing props, building scaffolding, anchoring lights with
sand bags and much more. On smaller productions, Harper works closely with the director of photography
to help place, flag and filter light.
"When I’m 50, I may regret carrying sand bags all my life," Harper says. "But so far I have no regrets.
Being a grip is something to be proud of."
She’s been electrocuted, she’s fallen into a deep trench, but in the past 13 years, she’s worked on 15 to 20
feature films, thousands of corporate productions and commercials, and wouldn’t trade jobs with
Petite, energetic, and athletic, she doesn’t mind the hard physical labor. "Basically, we’re just machines,"
Harper laughs. "We’ve made a decision that we’re going to carry heavy things. But my mind gets a
workout, too. I’m trying to figure out the easiest way to get hard things done."
The average female consumer will never tote the kind of load Lisa Harper does, but how does camera
weight influence female shooters? In my informal survey, only 24 percent of female consumers considered
the weight of the camera to be an inhibiting factor, and 17 percent of the men responding agreed.
Lynn O. Reina, a certified legal video specialist in St. Louis, says the weight and size of the camera
doesn’t slow her down at all. She pushes her portable studio on a cart and keeps the camera on a tripod.
Karla McKitrick, who single-handedly runs the audio-visual department of a 250-bed medical facility in
Albuquerque, says the camera does get heavy when taping medical procedures in an operating room, where
there’s no room for a tripod.
Jody M. Pribyl, owner of JuMP cut productions in Sacramento, says that given the choice, she would
have gone with a larger camera. "I like the stability of the big dinosaur cameras at the cable stations where
I interned," she says. "I wanted the features Hi8 offered, not the size."
Consumer cameras get smaller each year. In fact, the closely-spaced buttons on the tiny cameras may
present a greater challenge to the larger hands of a man.
My conclusion: physical strength is not a limitation. Consumer camcorders weigh less than the average
newborn, and if you support them on a tripod, monopod, or body mount (the camera, that is, not the baby),
you can use them with ease for hours.
Conditioning: Girls Don’t Get Erectors
My survey revealed that 92 percent of the men responding had an Erector set as a child, compared to
only 36 percent of the women. On the other hand, 75 percent of the women surveyed had owned a Barbie
Are we still inadvertently genderizing certain toys, activities, classes and careers?
"From a very early age, girls aren’t encouraged to get into technical fields," says McKitrick. As a
woman who was a Communications Media major in the early 70s, she’s familiar with this subtle brand of
discrimination. "Girls who aren’t encouraged early on don’t have an early familiarity and comfort factor
with those kinds of things. Boys are encouraged. My family was different. I did really well in science, so I
was encouraged from the beginning."
"It’s totally true," Harper agrees. "I had an Erector set because I was a tomboy. That might be why I’m a
grip today. I have big Erector sets now–we call it Speedrail–but it’s just like the toy I had as a kid."
Harper feels marketing also plays a role. "The manufacturers need to show more ads with women using
cameras. I mean, you never see ads of Mom, Dad, and the kid at Disneyland with Mom shooting the video.
Dad’s always shooting the video of Mom and the kid."
With every discussion of the possibility of conditioning, you’ll get comments that it’s nature, not
nurture–girls and boys are innately different. And, yes, your daughter may choose to play with fashion
dolls instead of a build-it-herself electronics kit. The important thing is, she has options.
My survey showed that most men did not feel that their parents had encouraged an interest in gadgets,
but Harper doubts this is true. "It goes along with the remote control," she says. "If it’s black and has
buttons, it’s a dude that’s gonna grab at it."
The survey concurs. Men are about twice as likely as women to be the user of the camcorder.
It seems to be a circular problem of the "chicken-or-the-egg" variety. Are women less interested in
electronics because that interest isn’t supported by parents, peers and media, or do parents, peers and media
cater to boys because girls lack interest? My conclusion: it was the chicken. Girls receive precious little
support for their natural, human interest in electronics and gadgetry.
And as far as conditioning is concerned, your daughter will be in no condition to face the computer age
without a confidence and curiosity about electronics. If she can plug in a curling iron, she can charge a
battery on an A/C adapter. If she can program a microwave, she can change the settings on a VCR.
Encourage her, teach her, and get that girl an Erector set.
Esoterics: Teaching All the Fun Out of It
Recently, I saw a sleek red Ferrari with a license plate holder that said "Revenge of the Nerds." Here
in Silicon Valley, the pocket protector set does very well, thank you, and there’s a great deal of support for
their "nerd" style. Too many of us benefit from their high-tech brains to complain about the fact that they
speak in their own secret language peppered with T.L.A.s (three-letter acronyms).
Unfortunately, to bring electronic products to the masses, someone must translate, a process that causes
geysers of frustration to erupt on both sides.
Too much tech talk can intimidate those who don’t have the interest, background or education to
understand every detail. Many manufacturers pad instructions with so much technical detail, women-with-
Barbies may tune out unfamiliar jargon completely.
"Nerds" thrive in high-tech jobs, including male-dominated engineering and electronics careers. This
creates a double barrier for many women, who (by nature or by nurture) have traditionally developed skills
on the random learning side of the spectrum. Discrimination may be more a result of learning styles than
While not one woman surveyed felt camcorders were too complex to understand, 36 percent felt they
were discriminated against, ignored, or patronized when shopping for audio/video gear.
Pribyl, who majored in film at UC Santa Barbara and interned in England with the BBC before starting
her own business, says she’s encountered these attitudes despite her knowledge and experience. She has
better luck with local merchants, who have the time and patience to provide information, than with the
"The fact that I was spending a lot of money made me feel confident in approaching sales people," she
says. "There are specific people, one or two retailers, that I can talk to. I’ve developed a relationship with
them. Other than that, it’s difficult."
McKitrick agrees. "We have a long standing relationship with vendors. I’ve noticed that when I go to a
discount house that sells consumer gear, most of the sales people are guys. I get the feeling that they don’t
take me seriously. When I need something, I call around, find a place that has it, and go get it. I don’t
Are women welcome in the male-dominated electronics locker rooms? I can tell you from experience,
it’s tough in there. The first hurdle is getting through a door that’s had a "Men Only" sign on it for years.
The second hurdle is cutting through the jargon, information-sharing style, and various other conceits of
our valued "nerd" friend, the vast majority of whom are men. The final hurdle is earning their acceptance
and respect, which is necessary to be productive or even to have confidence in making a purchase.
Men must jump those same hurdles, but there seems to be a basic assumption that they’re familiar with
the subject and women aren’t. Few clerks in the video section of the electronics store expect me to know
about signal-to-noise ratio, analog to digital conversion or the spectral distribution of reflected light.
To be fair, I’ve struggled to learn the technical side of video and I still depend heavily on the "nerds" in
my life. But video is an electronic medium. Technical education is, at worst, a necessary evil to help me
interface with my vendors and crew, and at best, a vast, fascinating body of possibilities that help me get
my script to the screen. Some of us may have to work harder, but the door to technical knowledge will
open for anyone willing to push.
Manual Labor: Long, Dull Manuals
It’s expensive to develop video technology. It’s expensive to manufacture and market. So why don’t
manufacturers spend a little more to create well-translated, concise, interesting manuals?
Clearly, there’s a need. The huge success of the "Dummies" computer books proves that.
More than one out of three people surveyed, men and women, felt user’s manuals were needlessly long
and boring. An average of 22 percent felt that difficult to understand manuals inhibited their use of the
McKitrick says she learned primarily by doing. "I have to read them a couple of times to see what it is
they’re really trying to say. I think they’re a little too jargon-oriented."
"I’m not going to say that I didn’t have to read it three or four times," Pribyl says, "but the instruction
manual is invaluable." She recommends having the camera handy to practice performing the functions.
Reina experienced a different problem with the manual for her VHS camcorder. "I didn’t think there was
enough information. I needed to call the help lines when I was trying to get it to work with my mixer."
Poorly written and designed manuals clearly do keep women from maximizing the use of their
camcorders, but note the numbers are about the same for men.
Lack of Time or Interest: The Do-It-All Dilemma
A cigarette advertiser has been telling us for years, "You’ve come a long way, baby. You can have it
all now, baby." This is an appropriate slogan for a product, and a philosophy, that will eventually kill
Women in the ’90s are stretched thin. As consumers of video equipment, this means we must take
precious time to read manuals which may be poorly written. We must become familiar with electronic gear,
despite the fact many of us had little if any exposure to electronics as girls. We must purchase equipment
and expendables in a market place that is frequently hostile to us.
Of the men responding to the survey, 42 percent said their female partner did not know how to operate
the camcorder. "Lack of interest" and "no time" were the most commonly cited reasons.
Video as a career provides greater flexibility for Reina, the mother of a six-year old daughter. "I can do
three or four jobs a week and still have free time," she says. "I make as much doing two or three
depositions as a lot of people working 40 hours a week. And, once you’ve got your equipment, there’s not
much upkeep except for buying tapes."
She doesn’t understand why women aren’t a stronger presence in video. "The only thing I can think of,"
she says, "is that they just don’t want to. I’m not interested in football. I don’t want to learn about football. If
I wanted to, I would. The same is true for video. If someone is interested, they learn how and go do it."
McKitrick, who remembers video from its bulky black-and-white beginnings, laments the demands to
continuously learn more technology. "It’s exciting, but it’s hard to keep up. I’m not very good with
computers, but we want to ultimately go to a computer-based editing system."
Many women of the ’90s feel overwhelmed and are looking for ways to simplify their lives. If they have
no photography or electronics background, video may seem like one more complicated thing to learn. It’s
easier to say, "Honey, get a shot of…" or to shoot no video at all than to start learning something from
The irony is that manufacturers have simplified camcorders for busy consumers. Today’s camcorders
have plenty of auto functions. Many only require you to connect a power source, insert a tape, remove the
lens cover and press "record." My guess is that many shooters on the consumer level never white balance,
change exposure settings or take advantage of all the bells and whistles their camcorder offers–and that’s
fine. Their video still looks great and captures their special moments.
Video Gals Won’tcha Come Out Tonight
Video, on the professional and consumer level, allows people to tell their own stories. Women have
important things to say, and it’s vital that we remove any electronic, psychological, physical or cultural
barriers that inhibit us.
To help remove these barriers, Videomaker is conducting a separate survey of women who
use camcorders. If you’re a woman videomaker, please take the time to fill out the form in this issue and
fax or mail it to us as soon as possible.
I expected my informal survey to reveal that women had much greater insecurity about electronics,
more persecution in the marketplace and fewer Erector sets. The survey didn’t bear this out, and I find the
The only chip I have on my shoulder now is the one in my camcorder.