In recognition of International Women’s Day today, I am posting my article that was published on the Women’s Media Center website on 3/1/19. You may view it on their website or here. This article is my second on this subject and continues my look into gender inequality as it relates specifically to women in the film industry.
It’s no secret that movies are marketed to audiences based on gender stereotypes. This is perhaps clearest in terms of action movies, which have historically been made by and for men. At some point, studios seemed to have determined women don’t want to see action movies — and that therefore women aren’t capable of writing or directing them, either.
In reality, women are just as capable as men of making and seeing any film, including action movies. Women demonstrated this desire with their response to the 2017 Marvel action movie Wonder Woman, which was made by women and starred women. The opening weekend’s audience was 50 percent female, and the film was a blockbuster hit, grossing $822 million at the box office.
Wonder Woman, however, is still an anomaly in Hollywood. Women have long been relegated to making smaller films that deal with “women’s issues.” One of the main reasons this happens is because men still have most of the decision-making power in Hollywood studios. As one female director told The Guardian, “90 percent of the time, the people who you pitch your idea to are male, and even though they might be very sympathetic, they do look at the world from a different perspective.”
So why do these men fail to support women? According to one 2015 study, 25 percent of men in positions of power in the film industry said they didn’t hire women to direct a big film because they thought those women had a “lack of ambition.” When the same study asked women directors about their ambition, half said they had a serious interest in working on larger-budgeted films. These male producers have let gender stereotypes persuade them that women aren’t capable of directing blockbusters before they even give women a chance to demonstrate their skills and willingness to do so.
It is also impossible to talk about the oppression of women in the film industry without also talking about beautyism and ageism. In general, studies show that people who are more attractive get better jobs, but for women, beauty can also hinder their professional progress.
“Once women get into managerial positions, positions of leadership, and positions of power, beauty becomes a liability because our stereotypes around beauty are that they’re incompatible with capability,” Professor Jaclyn Wong stated in a 2017 Daily Telegraph article. “So, if you’re too beautiful, maybe you’re not that competent.”
Additionally, the roles available to women in films dramatically decrease after the age of 40. As one actress told The Guardian, when her agent sent in a woman director for a job interview, the man interviewing her told the agent, “’Never send anyone again who I wouldn’t want to f*ck.'” Men, on the other hand, never seem to reach an age that renders them too old to make films. Take 88-year-old Clint Eastwood, for example, who was nominated for an Oscar as recently as 2015 and continues to direct and star in major movies.
This sexism in the film industry matters because, like it or not, so many of our cultural norms are dictated by the media we consume. Of course, no matter the industry, it’s still clear that women have to play by an unfair set of rules dictated by gender stereotypes, which are in turn compounded by other uncontrollable factors, like their beauty and youth.
What’s increasingly clear, however, is that the key to women proving that they are just as professionally capable as their male counterparts is making sure there are enough women in positions of professional power. Studies show that when women are in charge of movies, more women are hired to be in the film and to work on it. According to one study,“On films with at least one female director, women comprised 68 percent of writers. On films with exclusively male directors, women accounted for 8 percent of writers.”
Ultimately, the impact of representation in movies benefits so many more women than just those in the film industry. When more women are represented, little girls who watch that representation can imagine themselves taking on those roles one day. Hopefully this will create a movie industry — and, ideally, world — in which women are judged on their body of work, not on the gender of their body.