Feminism is a funny old game. It is a classic case of two steps forward and one backwards. As women move forward in our quest for full equality there seems to be an equal counterweight which balances this progress by reminding us that we still aren’t really that equal. Just in case we get ahead of ourselves like.
Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the media and entertainment. Take the movies, for example. While there seems to be a feeling abroad that things are improving for female lead roles, research recently published by the Centre for the Study of Women in Film and Television showed that, in fact less than 12% of the lead protagonists in the top grossing 100 movies in 2014 were women. Less than 12%. And women only represented 30% of all speaking characters in these movies.
But along with these dismal statistics are the facts that most of the women in film are younger and usually identified by their social roles rather than their careers. In other words they are portrayed as far less powerful than their male counterparts.
At this juncture can I just give TV3 a shout out for their superb new soap drama series ‘Red Rock’ which is liberally sprinkled with strong female characters, who operate in their own right. It’s very refreshing and they are every bit as compulsive as any of the male leads.
Anyway, back to Hollywood and the fact that we might think that Disney putting a princess into a blue dress means that things are changing. The reality is that they are not.
Of course one of the main ways to reduce a woman’s power is by subtly reminding her that no matter what her accomplishments are, she will still be judged first and foremost on her appearance. And no where will you find this illustrated more elegantly than on these ‘Red Carpet Shows’ that precede all the big awards ceremonies. In one fell swoop these shows have managed to reduce some of the most wonderful actresses and female performers in the world to beauty pageant contestants.
E! Fashion Police (yes, an actual programme which used star the late Joan Rivers) leads the charge in this regard with their vacuous presenters, Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic who line up female stars to ask “so…. who are you wearing?” E! has also championed two new technologies to help them in their task of reducing the actresses to clothes horses. The Glam Cam rotates an image of the actress round and round and up and down so we can judge her from all angles and then we have the mani-cam. Yes, you guessed it. A mini red carpet so the actress to walk her fingers towards the camera so we can view her manicure and her jewellery.
However the good news is that the fight back is on, it seems to be working and it began on the much maligned medium of social media.
The Representation Project grew from the success of a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom called ‘Miss Representation’ which examined how women were portrayed in across all media, from film to news and current affairs. The mission of the project is to highlight and challenge the limiting depictions of women in media.
In response to the inane questions that female actors are subjected to on the red carpet they began a hashtag called #askhermore. This allows users of social media, particularly Twitter to urge broadcasters to ‘ask her more’ than just what dress she is wearing.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like a nice frock and wearing too much make up to a ‘posh do’ occasionally. And yes, I watch these Red Carpet shows and love to see the style. But I would also love to hear about how the actress felt about the role, or what she was doing next.
The website Buzzfeed sent a reporter to cover the red carpet at the recent BAFTA’s in London who only spoke to male actors and gave them the ‘who are you wearing treatment’, along with requesting Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton to ‘do a twirl’. You can guess who did and who didn’t. But it was the look on the mens’ faces as they were faced with such trivial, banal questioning that was the best.
At the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January actors Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore all refused to parade their fingers for the mani cam.
But to borrow from Mr Dylan, “the times they are a-changing”. Last night, as I watched the first hour of E!’s Red Carpet Show the change in emphasis was obvious. Men and women were both asked who they were wearing – but that was it. They were then asked more. And for the time I watched anyway there wasn’t a mani-cam or glam cam in sight.
The fight goes on but at least the battle to #askhermore seems to have been won.
You might like this story on the Oscars From My Table Archives