#askhermore

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  

WOMEN & THEIR STORIES IN THE MOVIES

Aren’t The Oscars just gas all the same?  I watched the ‘Live on the Red Carpet’ last night until my head was literally melting from the vacuous conversation which went round and round and round.  The presenters all sing their questions, in voices that all go up at the end of the sentence.  “How are YOU?”  And most of the questions began with ‘so’.  A drawn out so.  “Soooo, who are you WEARING?”  Gas but grand for very late at night.  I had dreams of floating about in a sea of nicety and designer gowns and sparkling jewels… and pizza?  They ate pizza?  In the theatre?  What?
Anyway each year at this time we hear, once again about how there are so few meaty roles for women.  Cate Blanchette, winner of Best Female Actress in a Lead Role referenced it in her acceptance speech.  She stated that films where women are the centre are not niche.  They are movies people want to see and they make money.
Now I am not much of a movie buff.  And probably one of the reasons that I seldom go to see films is that so few interest me.  What interests me, in life, in books and in movies are the stories of people’s lives; ordinary people who may lead extraordinary lives or do extraordinary things or just ordinary people’s ordinary lives.  And in particular I love to hear the stories of other women’s lives – real or imagined.  It is this fascination with women’s lives that drives my radio show, The Hen House on Dublin South FM. 
So Cate’s comments got me thinking about my favourite movies ever and guess what?  Yep, they were all movies about women’s lives.  So – for your delectation may I present my list of some of the very best movies…. ever!

Steel Magnolias (1989). 

A bit shmaltzy but wonderful cast led by Shirley McLaine and Julia Roberts.

Fried Green Tomatoes (at the Whistle Stop Cafe) 1991

Based on the wonderful book by Fannie Flagg… a tale of intergenerational women’s friendship.  A treat.

Thelma and Louise 1991. 

Ultimate girl power, Brad Pitt as a young fella and the best ending ever.

The Help (2011)

Powerful and moving tale from the 60s in the American deep south.

Beaches (1988)

Bette Midler and Barbara Hersey combine to bring this wonderful tale of female friendship through the decades.  I cried for weeks when I first saw this movie.

Juno (2007)

Wonderful comedy about an unplanned teenage pregnancy, poignant and clever.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

I didn’t watch this when it was first released – you may be surprised to know.. But this is a charming movie.  Maggie Smith plays a revolutionary teacher in an all girls school.  It’s like Mallory Towers for grownups.   Worth a watch. If you don’t know what Mallory Towers is – ask your Ma.

Shirley Valentine (1989)

I will never tire of watching Pauline Collins play every woman I have ever known… and who doesn’t dream of how life could be way more fulfilling if you lived in the sun, near a beach.

Chocolat (2000)

Sublime, magical and with added Johnny Depp playing an Irish gypsy.  Is this my favourite…. maybe.
So gather your girlfriends and grab some wine and fall into one of these beautiful movies. 
INTERNATIONAL WOMAN’S DAY IS THIS SATURDAY, MARCH 8TH

I will be taking part in theNational Women’s Council Soap Box Event… come along if you are in Dublin City.