Media: Women write their own script: Sandra Barwick attends a high-powered evening of media networking without a man in sight

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The Independent Online
BY 6.30pm four women were already clustered around a bottle of Ballygowan mineral water. The little group seemed a touch self- conscious. 'At least there are no covert signs,' said one of them. Certainly no members' tie or funny handshake have yet been been developed by members of Women in Film and Television, last week gathered for their monthly evening's networking.

It seems an odd business, this deliberate getting together of women to make contacts. Or so some of those attending thought. 'Why only women?' said Brigitte Arnold, a German-born freelance sound editor, when the gathering had grown to a bustle of about 30. It was her first meeting, and she had been reluctant to come. 'Why fight back in the same way as men? That attitude's pathetic.' I asked if she had ever had to go up the back stairs in a St James's club because of her sex. 'Does that happen?' she asked. Male-only clubs for the well established did not, she thought, exist in Germany.

'It's not just the Garrick,' said the actress Sheila Hancock, talking to a producer of corporate documentaries and a freelance director. 'Bafta is entirely male dominated. Men are always getting together. There are pubs and clubs. There's sport. There's business lunches. Women are less inclined to do all that.' Bar conversation is the easy bit. The day when grown women will leave their offices to bond over a lunchtime hockey match is some way off.

Stray sentences floated across from the chattering groups: 'I'm doing a documentary for Channel 4 . . .' 'And he kept calling her 'my dear', and I thought, what is going on?' Helen Hunt, a radio and TV presenter in her thirties, thought the whole idea was brilliant. 'I used to be an actor, but I met a man,' she said. 'He was a diver in the oilfields, so I ended up scallop diving in Scotland. It was awful. Scallops have 36 eyes and they see you coming and try to get away. I began to feel like a murderer.' It was hard to imagine this predicament being discussed at the bar of the Garrick Club. Women's conversation, to risk a generalisation, is often different from men's: for one thing, they are more prepared to proffer failures and self- criticism to each other than parade their successes. Helen had, she said, made a big mistake in giving up her acting career. 'He didn't give up his job.'

Forty-one-year-old Katrina Wood co- founded the group in 1987. She'd begun it, she said, because she'd been a member of the New York chapter of the powerful American organisation, Women in Film, and had found it hard to make senior contacts in the industry when she had come to Britain. 'It was a boys' club,' she said. 'And if men don't realise that, it's because they've never had to join.' And at least in a women's group there is usually less worry that your motives might be misunderstood if you suggest a further meeting over drinks. 'Yes,' sighed the young researcher she was talking to. 'Guys in the pub talk to other guys about work, but they always want to tell me about their marriage problems.' New York, said Ms Wood, 'is 10 years ahead. If you call a man, he knows it's business you're after, not him.'

On the other side of the table, Cassi Zarzyka, a freelance scriptwriter from Los Angeles, was gazing at a tray of shredded lettuce. I asked why on earth, in her business, she had left Los Angeles, and she confessed it was because of her husband's job.

According to Ms Zarzyka, the Hollywood Chapter of Women in Film has become so powerful that it has now begun to shut out women itself. 'My sister does costumes,' she said, sadly, 'she couldn't get in. You have to be really famous.' It is perhaps in the nature of successful clubs to grow exclusive. Perhaps Women in Film and Television in Britain will know it has real power when men start to complain about not being allowed in.

After two hours of chat, Brigitte Arnold was preparing to go. It had, she said, turned out better than she expected. 'It's quite useful hearing what productions are being made.' The party was almost over. A woman was bopping to the music. 'It's like a party at school]' she said. Sheila Hancock wrapped her brown coat firmly around her and left.

A few blocks away, a cab drew up outside the Garrick Club. A man got out and strolled inside. He was not, of course, embarking on an evening's networking. No doubt he planned to have a quiet drink with any of his friends he happened to see. Sheila Hancock would not only be refused membership of his club, she would not even be allowed, as a guest, to enter the bar. Did it cross his mind, that the all-male atmosphere in the bar was strangely like school? Somehow, I doubt it.

Women in Film and Television, Garden Studios, 11-15 Betterton Street, London WC2 (071-379 0344).