Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘hollywood’

imagesThe Year of the Woman? Oy vey.

It’s a phrase that’s always struck me as ridiculous. It would be one thing to declare it the Year of the Short, Redheaded, Left-Handed Woman, or the Year of the Unmarried, Urban-dwelling Thirtysomething Woman, or the Year of the Woman Who Doesn’t Want to Have It All, but, I mean, half the people there are are women. Saying its our year is so broad as to be totally meaningless. And more than a tad condescending. (And, as any good writer knows, a mere three examples is all it takes to make a trend. Which is to say, as easy as it would be to round up three examples that prove it is indeed the year of the woman, it’d be equally simplistic to find three examples that demonstrate that, no, in fact, this was not such a good year for women.)

Interestingly, I got to thinking about this idea while reading Sunday’s New York Times magazine, which, upon first glance, would seem to be proclaiming 2012 as a the year of the woman. The cover story, “Hollywood Heroines,” is accompanied by a beautiful photo spread that spans 21 pages and features the big screen’s biggest ladystars of the year. It’s exactly the sort of thing you see, and expect the accompanying text to be proclaiming the dearth of quality female characters over, the representation equaled, the hierarchy overturned! (Citing three examples, natch.) Oh, actually, the deck did say that the hierarchy had been overturned. But, turns out, the piece, written by A.O. Scott, was right on the money, and its lessons stretch far beyond the reaches of tinsel town.

Scott cites some good examples of movies from this year that feature strong female characters, and/or pass the Bechel Test (the shockingly simple, yet equally, perhaps more, shockingly impossible-to-pass test comprised of three criterion: 1. the movie must have at least two named women characters; 2. they must talk to each other; 3. about something besides a man).

But the heart of the matter, I think, is this:

The rush to celebrate movies about women has a way of feeling both belated and disproportionate. Pieces of entertainment become public causes and punditical talking points, burdened with absurdly heavy expectations and outsize significance… It is a fact beyond dispute that the roles available to women in what movie-lovers nervously call the real world have expanded significantly in the last half-century, a fact at once celebrated and lamented in backward-looking pop-cultural phenomena like “Mad Men.” But the things that women do–the people they insist on being remain endlessly controversial. It takes very little for individual tastes and decisions to become urgent matters of public debate. It takes, basically, a magazine cover article. Women are breast-feeding their babies, pushing their children to practice violin, reading ’50 Shades of Grey’ on the subway, juggling career and child care, marrying late or not at all, falling behind or taking over the world. Stop the presses!

The problem is not that these issues are not important but rather that they are presented with a sensationalism that tends to undermine their ongoing and complicated significance. The behavior of a woman who appears on the public stage can be counted on to provoke a contentious referendum on the state of women in general. Is this good for women? Is she doing it wrong? This happened, in the last 12 months, to Sandra Fluke and Paula Broadwell, to Rihanna and Ann Romney, and, closer to the matter at hand, to Lena Dunham.

You did not really think I would get through a whole essay on gender and popular culture without mentioning her, did you? But the reception of ‘Girls,’ even more than the show itself–which is, to keep things in perspective,  a clever half-hour sitcom about a bunch of recent college graduates–is an interesting sign of our confused times. Dunham was mocked for her body, sneered at for her supposed nepotism, scolded for her inadequate commitment to diversity and lectured about the inappropriate things her alter ego, Hannah Horvath, does in bed. That much of the criticism came from Dunham’s peers is both evidence of a robust feminist discourse in the cultural blogosphere and a legacy of the under- and misrepresentation I have been talking about. Dunham was not quite allowed just to explore her own ideas and experiences. She was expected to get it right, to represent, to set an example and blaze a path.

And while the great majority of us are not Lena Dunham, I’d say that pressure and that judgment–and, more to the point, that expectation that we’re gonna be judged–is something we all deal with. Because no matter how many movies about women or girl heroes or headlines about secretaries of state or tiger mothers get paraded out on (to borrow Scott’s point) magazine covers, the message we take home has far less to do with the specific example itself than it does the analysis. What we absorb is this: Whatever you do, every choice you make, says everything about you, and, by God, you’re gonna be judged for it.

When we write about women and choices and the struggles we have determining what to do with our lives, I think we can’t overstate the lesson here. In order to make choices that are right for us, individually, we have to recognize how much of our pro and con lists are occupied by these pressures. The pressure to get it right, to represent, to set an example, to blaze a path. It’s interesting to wonder, if we could somehow apply a filter that’d shut those considerations down, how much easier our choices would be.

Read Full Post »

Face it, fellas. She’s hot. You’re not. Walk away. Right?

Nope. At least, that’s what an upcoming study in Psychological Science suggests.   In a study of 200 undergrads at University of Texas, lead author Carin Perilloux found that the least attractive men were the most likely to think that the attractive women in a “speed meeting” exercise were the ones most interested in them.

The research involved 96 male 103 female undergraduates, who were put through a “speed-meeting” exercise—talking for three minutes to each of five potential opposite-sex mates. Before the conversations, the participants rated themselves on their own attractiveness and were assessed for the level of their desire for a short-term sexual encounter. After each “meeting,” they rated the partner on a number of measures, including physical attractiveness and sexual interest in the participant. The model had the advantage of testing the participants in multiple interactions.

 The results: Men looking for a quick hookup were more likely to overestimate the women’s desire for them. Men who thought they were hot also thought the women were hot for them—but men who were actually attractive, by the women’s ratings, did not make this mistake. The more attractive the woman was to the man, the more likely he was to overestimate her interest. And women tended to underestimate men’s desire.

Go figure. According to the researchers, it’s all about evolution. Or the mating opportunity, especially for all the nebushy guys who are out there trying to get laid.  Overestimate your chances, and sooner or later, you’re likely to score.  And procreate.  (In Darwinian terms, this may not necessarily be such a good thing.)

But let’s move on.  Now that the planet has hit 7 billion, one would think that the rules of attraction had evolved beyond the need to reproduce.  But the culture — and society itself — seems to tell us that a woman is only as viable as her uterus.  You can scarcely buy a loaf of bread without witnessing the parade of baby bumps blazing from the covers of the checkstand magazines.  And look no further than Hollywood, where the old, fat or bald guy (pick one) often gets the girl young enough to be his daughter, and where most women actors have a shorter shelf life than your average jar of jam.

All of which could be a buzzkill, but as counterpoint I offer my late Auntie Margie, who was deep into her 80s when she once regaled a tableful of my girlfriends with tales of her love life.  “I don’t really need the sex anymore,” she said somewhat pensively.  “But I do need a man to take me out to dinner, now and again.”  And dinner dates, she had.

Auntie Margie was always something of a mystery to me when I was growing up.  In an era when most mothers wore dresses and aprons, she wore wool suits.   She was a single mother — often “between husbands”, as she put it — who proudly worked as a bookkeeper to support herself and her daughter at a time when most women her age listed their occupation as “housewife.”  She drank Manhattans, and she told fortunes with a deck of cards, always predicting that you would meet a M-A-N within three days, three weeks or three months.

The last time I saw her, at a family party, she was sitting on a sofa when she asked me to fetch her purse.  I lugged it over to her — you know the size of those handbags — she fished out her lipstick, and without bothering with her compact, applied those red lips perfectly.  At which point I said I was amazed she could put on lipstick without a mirror.  She waved her hand at me dismissively.  “Honey, if you’d been doing this as long as I have, you wouldn’t need a mirror either.”

Even on her deathbed, well into her 90s, she was still the coquette.  She had been hospitalized for several days, the story goes, when a handsome young resident stopped by her bedside for a quick exam.  “How are you doing today?” he asked.  My aunt, who hadn’t spoken a word to her family in days, looked up at  this dashing young doc, and fluttered her lashes like a teenager.  She looked into his eyes, broke out a smile, and said, “I’m just fine. And how are you?”

She was probably my first encounter with an independent woman, though Auntie Margie never would have recognized the word “feminist,” much less ever used the term.  But she was something more.  Marge was a woman who thumbed her nose at convention.  Who didn’t cave when it came to societal expectations or, more importantly, age.

Which leads us back to that study.  Maybe, in terms of evolution, the men amongst us are looking to score.  And maybe that’s necessary.  But just maybe, we girls are into a whole lot more.

Read Full Post »

Surely you’ve heard about that million dollar lawsuit against Amazon filed by an anonymous actress who claims that Internet Movie Database (which is owned by Amazon) damaged her ability to get work because it published her age.  According to the Daily Dot, the lawsuit claimed:

“If one is perceived to be ‘over-the-hill,’ i.e., approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up-and-coming actress, such as the plaintiff, to get work as she is thought to have less of an ‘upside,’ therefore, casting directors, producers, directors, agents-manager, etc. do not give her the same opportunities, regardless of her appearance or talent…”

I know nothing about the woman, other than that she is an Asian from Texas who claims to look young for her age.  I know nothing about her resume.  I have no idea whether she has talent.  I don’t know whether it’s a legitimate lawsuit or she’s just out to make a quick buck.  I don’t even know how old she is.

But what I do know is this. Put a man of a certain age up on the big screen and he’s not only viable as an actor, but might generate some fantasies: George Clooney is 50.  Richard Gere is 62.  Pierce Brosnan: 58.  Sean Connery was named the sexiest man of the year by people magazine back in 1999 when he was, I believe, 68.  Viggo Mortensen is 58. Colin Firth and Hugh Grant: Both 50. And Jeremy Irons?  You may not find him especially sexy, but as Pope Alexander VI in the TV series The Borgias, he gets more than his share of action.  He is 62.

Now let’s turn the tables: Who are the leading ladies of the same age, with the same kind of currency, the same box office draw?  Can’t think of many, can you?  Not necessarily because they aren’t equally talented as actors, or equally sexy, but because they just don’t get the parts.

There could be any number of reasons for this, none of them especially pleasant to contemplate, but what we want to focus on today is just one of them: the gender make-up of Hollywood itself.

For years we have decried the fact that the old guy always gets the cute girl in the movies. We have for years ranted: about the schlubby guys on TV who have the slim trim wives; about the loser guys who end up with, you know, Katherine Heigl; about the sweet young things who are wooed by the guys old enough to be their grandpas.

You have to ask yourself: who writes this stuff?  And the answer, as we discovered when we researched our book, is this: predominantly men.  Back in 2009, the Hollywood Writers Report found that women and minorities had not made any significant hiring gains since 2005, with women writers making up roughly one-quarter of the field: 28 percent of TV writers and 18 percent of film writers.Their salaries also showed a discrepancy: White men $98,875, versus women $57,151—for a whopping wage gap of $41,724.40.

When we checked in with the their latest report, released a few months ago, we found that women’s share had actually declined:

 The present report shows that women writers remain stuck at 28 percent of television employment, while their share of film employment actually declined a percentage point since the last report to 17 percent. Although the minority share of television employment increased a percentage point to 10 percent (matching the shares evident in years immediately prior to the 2007 nadir), the group’s share of film employment declined to just 5 percent – the lowest figure in at least ten years.

Another study, this one by the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television found that:

In 2010, women comprised 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 1 percentage point from 1998 and is even with 2009 figures.

Women accounted for 7% of directors in 2010, the same percentage as in 2009. This figure represents a decline of two percentage points from 1998.

Likewise, a 2011 study by USC’s Annenberg Center found that when it came to creative positions in general, including directing or producing, women were again grossly outnumbered.  In a piece on the study for the Women’s Media Center, the researchers for that study, Stacy L. Smith and Marc Choueiti, wrote:

Turning to behind-the-camera employees, the gender gap is far more problematic.  For every one working female director, writer, or producer, there are 4.9 working males in the same above-the-line gate-keeping positions.  Stated in another way, only 8 percent of directors, 13.6 percent of writers, and 19.1 percent of producers were female across the 100 top-grossing films in 2008.  These numbers are unsettling, as one way to diversify images on screen may be to vary the personnel responsible for making the content.  In fact, this is exactly what our results showed.  When one or more females are involved directing, writing, or producing, the number of females on screen increases substantially (see Figure 1).  In the case of screenwriters, the presence of at least one female on the writing team was associated with a 14.3 percent increase in the percentage of female characters on screen.

All of this has an impact — three words for you:  The Playboy Club, which fortunately just met its timely demise — as the reseachers noted, not the least of which is the fact that when there’s no diversity behind the camera, the women we see in front of it are not only showing a lot of skin, but often unrealistically young.  (Backstage reports that women over 40 account for a mere 8 percent of characters in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 TV seasons to date).

That impact goes far beyond the silver screen, as Jennifer Seibel Newsom, producer of Miss Representation points out:

And really what our culture is communicating to us is vis-a-vis the media, which is this pedagogical force of communication in our culture, is that a woman’s value lies in her youth, her beauty, and her sexuality and not in her capacity to lead…

Back in 2010 when Meryl Streep — the exception who proves the rule? — made news by starring as a sexual being in “It’s Complicated”, she was the subject of a cover story in Vanity Fair, which dug into the stereotypical way in which the media treat women of a certain age:

Any inhibitions notwithstanding, a vibrant sexuality has remained a crucial aspect of Streep’s appeal, despite her advancing years and the limitations that others might try to impose in response. When Clint Eastwood cast her to star opposite him in The Bridges of Madison County, which won Streep an Oscar nomination for best actress, in 1996, his reason was simple: “She’s the greatest actress in the world,” he said with a shrug.

That said, Streep reports, “There was a big fight over how I was too old to play the part, even though Clint was nearly 20 years older than me. The part was for a 45-year-old woman, and Clint said, ‘This is a 45-year-old woman.’”

Old news, perhaps.  But have things changed in the past 15 years?  Probably not, which brings us back to that Amazon lawsuit.  Frivolous or not, it makes you wonder about the biggest question of all: Does Hollywood reflect our reality — or determine it?

Read Full Post »

So says Carina Chocano, anyway, in Sunday’s New York Times: enough with the “strong female characters,” she writes, give ‘em to us weak.

Strangely, I think she has a point.

And while I take issue with her choice of words, I think there’s a lesson in here for those of us in real life, too. Where Hollywood offers us “strong female characters” who, as Chocano suggests, are “tough, cold, terse, taciturn and prone to scowling and not saying goodbye when they hang up the phone”–showing us that “in order for a female character to be worth identifying with, she should really try to rein in all that gross girly stuff”–real life offers women a similar unspoken message.

When women first entered the workplace, our strategy was pretty simple: if you want to be accepted, abide by one single, golden rule–blend in! We aimed not only to play like the boys, but to look like them, too (one word: shoulderpads). To this day, countless career guides instruct women never to cry at the office, and to keep those pictures of the kids out of sight, lest you be seen as less than serious. Emotional. Womanly.

Notice I didn’t use the word “weak.”

Speaking of that, here’s a little more from Chocano:

‘Strength,’ in the parlance, is the 21st-century equivalent of ‘virtue.’ And what we think of as ‘virtuous,’ or culturally sanctioned, socially acceptable behavior now, in women as in men, is the ability to play down qualities that have been traditionally considered feminine, and play up the qualities that have traditionally been considered masculine. ‘Strong female characters,’ in other words, are often just female characters with the gendered behavior taken out. This makes me think that the problem is not that there aren’t enough ‘strong’ female characters in the movies–it’s that there aren’t enough realistically weak ones.

But what if those qualities that have been traditionally considered feminine weren’t weak at all? What if they were just a different kind of strength–a form of strength that the culture has conditioned us to see as weakness, when it hasn’t managed to condition it right out of us?

Sounds outrageous, huh? Little wonder, said author/speaker/Omega Institute cofounder Elizabeth Lesser, when we spoke with her while researching our book: over the course of human history, the feminine aspect, in a Jungian sense, “has been left out of what we consider to be the most important way of exerting power in the world, [and] it’s not thriving in many women, and it’s not thriving in men.”

Then she brought up something really interesting: In a meeting, when someone cries, it’s perceived as a sign of weakness. But when someone yells or bullies or gets angry… well, not so much. But really, the responses represent two sides of the same coin: the feminine and masculine reactions to feeling diminished, or attacked, or frustrated… and neither is especially productive. One just happens to be The Way Things Are Done Around Here. Unsurprising, when you consider who’s been building and populating those boardrooms for the bulk of their history. And given that de facto culture, it’s really no wonder that so many women feel forced to squash parts of themselves.

Granted, it can feel like we’re still a long ways off–like the women who play like the boys, the “strong female characters” are the ones who are getting ahead. We talked about it during our conversation, and Lesser offered a pleasantly positive spin. “They’re more viable, at this stage of evolution, toward a more feminine structure of leadership and power… Social evolution happens in stages, and it’s always a lot slower than the people on the edge would like it to be, so I think that these are the least scary women within the paradigm of patriarchal leadership. The women [who] are truly in touch with their feminine–the women who are courageously speaking from an authentic voice, as opposed to trying to be like one of the boys–that’s going to take a little longer, but I still think it’s a really good step.”

And, you know, any big journey begins with a single step.

Read Full Post »

If it sounds like the above could be the title of a horror flick, well, you’re not far off. I came across the following bit of clever repartee between Mick LaSalle, our often irreverent film critic, and a loyal reader in our local paper this Sunday and was suddenly loaded for bear.

I feel obliged to point out that the column was brought to my attention by my husband, who enjoys a good rant as much as any of us. Stay tuned, but first check this:

Dear Mick LaSalle: I just saw “Aberdeen” (2000), featuring an actress new to me: Lena Headey. I looked up what else she has done, only to find that since “Aberdeen” she has made, for the most part, a series of second-rate horror flicks. What happens in a case like this? Poor management? A really bad agent? Blacklisting? Frank Flynn, Eureka

Dear Frank Flynn: No, it’s worse: two X chromosomes. Welcome to my world, Frank. Every year, I see actresses do great work in films and then disappear. In another generation, a studio would have nurtured them, and in other countries, filmmakers would build films around their talents. Not in the English-speaking world. Even established stars, such as Naomi Watts, Halle Berry and Ashley Judd, can go five years without getting a role worthy of their talents. In another country, they’d have two or three strong roles a year. What’s Catherine McCormack doing these days? Or Claire Forlani, Chad Morgan, Natasha McElhone, N’Bushe Wright, Bai Ling, Natasha Gregson Wagner or Alison Elliott? All of them have shown exceptional ability or charm or both onscreen, working in major films. All are still working, but much of that work is under the radar. Headey is doing better than most, in that she starred in a major action movie (“300″). Basically, women in Hollywood need to look convincing swinging a mace – and attractive with bloody fangs. Then they’ll never starve.

Okay. I have never seen Aberdeen, and I confess I don’t know Lena Headey. (Wait. Did I just make La Salle’s point?) But Naomi Watts, Halle Berry and Ashley Judd? Ready to put out to pasture as either deranged ex-wives or district attorneys? (Note what’s happened to former sexpot Sharon Stone on CSI: Special Victims Unit.)

For years we have decried the fact that the fat guy always gets the cute girl in the movies. We have for years ranted: about the schlubby guys on TV who have the slim trim wives; about the loser guys who end up with, you know, Katherine Heigl; about the sweet young things who are wooed by the guys old enough to be their grandpas. (That movie with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the love interests? Stop me before I poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick.)

What we want to know first is why do we pay money to watch this junk. Unless I’m living in an alternate universe, it’s not believable. Or very entertaining, either. Last I checked, most sane women are not pining after some pudgy dude with a receding hairline and a bad choice of pants. Right?

But the real question is why this stuff gets made, and why women — at least as far as American media are concerned — are considered washed up by the time they get the first intimations of crow’s feet. Yeah, yeah, we know: Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are still star quality and hooray for them. In every possible way. But are they the exceptions that prove the rule?

I think the answer may have something to do with gender parity, and here’s what we journalist types would call the nutgraf — somewhat buried, in this case — or the big picture stuff. In 2009, the Hollywood Writers Report by the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW), found that women and minorities had not made any significant hiring gains since 2005, with women writers making up roughly one quarter of the field. Repeat: one quarter. The report states:

“Women, who account for slightly more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, remain underrepresented in television employment by 2 to 1 and in film employment by nearly 3 to 1. Their salaries, too, show a discrepancy: white men, $98,875 versus women, $57,151 for a whopping wage gap of $41,724.

Are you kidding me? Read it again. Is it any wonder that we’re made to believe that the old guy gets the girl? Of course, that’s just the movies. Hollywood fantasies. But look at the damage those ridiculous media images have done to women’s self-image. Our conception of ourselves. Ugh, right?

But now, let’s use movies as metaphor: What happens when women are relegated to one quarter of other segments of our society — like government, boardrooms, the offices down the hall where policy is made? Think about it.

As in movies, so in life. And ain’t that the curse of the double-X.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 231 other followers