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Pay No Attention to the Women Behind the Curtain

By Aleah Matthews-Runner in Opinion & Politics

Pay no attention to the women behind the curtain: Exposing the inequality behind the film industry

The Academy Awards began 85 years ago, in 1929. 81 years later, in 2010, the award for the Best Director went to a woman director for the first time, and, so far, the only time ever. The ratio of men to women who have won the Oscar for Best Director is 84 to 1.

The 21st century has brought a lot of progress in the fight for gender equality.

Matt Leal, a freshman at Fairview, said “over time [media] has become less and less sexist unless it’s portraying a time when sexism was a thing”

Sexism in film and TV has decreased in some ways, but in other ways, it has simply changed into different expressions of sexism. For example, at the beginning of the 20th century, women were required and taught to wear clothes that completely covered their bodies. Now women are taught to reveal as much skin as possible.

Sydney Chinowsky, a junior at Fairview, said, “Sexism generally portrays women as stereotypes. They’re either not powerful enough or they’re seen just as objects of pleasure. So generally, when TV shows aren’t showing enough intelligent or independent women or even women who can make their own choices, I think that’s when it becomes sexist.”

Films and shows tend to make women into supporting characters; they are either the love interest, or an assistant, or a supporting role. They are made to support and depend on another, usually male, character.

Alexis Ashe, a junior at Fairview, said “I think that in movies the woman's role is very cut and dry, and that’s not necessarily patronizing, it’s just stereotypical. And women are used as objects in a lot of movies and a lot of media [...] I dislike it [...] it just bothers me how typical it is and that people would go crazy if it was changed.”

The majority of films and TV shows do not show a woman as a complex human being. While women do gossip and talk about love interests in real life, that is not all they do. A woman is not necessarily obsessed with clothes or fashion, but that doesn’t mean she is completely opposed to it. It is a difficult line to draw, but when t.v. shows and films choose to only use women as sex objects or exclude women who are equal to the men in power and smarts, the line has been crossed.

Audrey Randall, a senior at Fairview, said “If a character is there for the purpose of being a character, not being a love interest or being hot, a female character, that is, then that movie isn’t sexist.”

We have become so numb to the sexism in our lives.

Mr. Boyer, the Film teacher at Fairview said “All my film classes are like, two/three to one males to females ratio. And so it’s difficult for the girls to get a word in, edgewise just from the class standpoint [...] I’m constantly trying to help them get a leg up above the competition, cause the guys are imbeciles essentially. They’re chauvinistic. They do not recognize that their upbringing and their societal norms that have been weighed upon them dominate what it is that they know and believe. And the girls are ever so aware of it, because they face it on a daily basis.”

However, even women have become numb. While it is difficult to judge what is societal pressure and what is a conscious decision, there is a huge number of girls who wear revealing clothes. In Knight of Stars, the majority of songs sung by girls were about romantic relationships, and the majority of costumes for these songs were barely-there-clothes.

In contrast, the songs sung by boys were generally not about romantic relationships, and even with the few songs that were, the boys weren’t trying to seduce the audience. Above all, the boys were fully covered with the exception of “Nothing Like a Dame” where the male characters were dressed for the heat of the South Pacific Islands.

While the romantic songs were beautiful, and the girls looked wonderful, why couldn’t the songs be about something else? There are great songs sung by girls, that aren’t about romantic relationships. And are these costume choices a result of omnipresent societal standards, or do these girls actually want to wear tight, short dresses and revealing outfits?

Perhaps one of the most dangerous aspects of society and media is the idea that sexism is no longer an issue. It is important to not tolerate sexism in the media and, first and foremost, to recognize that it exists.

The Bechdel Test is a test of feminism for films and shows. To pass this test, a film or show must (1) show two named women characters, (2) who converse with each other (3) and not just about men. While passing or failing this test does not ensure that a form of media is free of sexism, it does establish a baseline for women in the media.

“There is no such thing as an action movie that passes the Bechdel Test,” Audrey Randall said.

Although the Bechdel Test is a good way to assess media, passing this test shouldn’t be our ultimate goal. Our goal should be equality. There are obviously going to be TV shows and movies that don’t pass the test. What is important is how we react to these shows and films. If you don’t like how somebody is being portrayed, write the director or television network or even boycott the show.

We are the future. If we, as a society and as individuals, encourage and support females to take up directing, screenwriting, or any number of leadership positions in film and TV, we could change the image of women. According to the Celluloid Ceiling report from 2012, women only make up 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors who work on the top 250 grossing films in the United States.

By getting women into these positions, we could make the film and TV industry less sexist and more equal. Frozen is a great example of what can be done when women are in these positions. One of the directors of Frozen is a woman, Jennifer Lee. Not only does Frozen have two female protagonists who are shown as dynamic human beings, but the ‘true love’ event occurs between the two sisters.

It is important to remember to focus on a solution, not on finding a guilty party.

“If we really want to stop sexism in TV, then we don’t need to start villainizing [blaming] men,” said Sydney Chinowsky, a junior at Fairview, “we just need to show them as equals, and really portray their power as equal, and show them as complementary, not one dominant over the other”.

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