3 Things To Consider About Sexism in Hollywood and the #Askhermore Movement
I’m not usually an awards show kind of person, but I did tune into the Oscars last weekend if only to watch Chris Rock hate on Hollywood. Even if you didn’t watch his opening monologue (or anything else) you know that Rock came down hard on Hollywood for being racist and really drove the #OscarsSoWhite stake into the coffin. He also addressed, albeit briefly, another -ism in Hollywood: Sexism.
For several years now, Hollywood has been shamed for asking women different questions on the red carpet (namely, what are you wearing?) than men (who get questions such as, ‘what did you enjoy most about your role?’) Actresses such as Reese Witherspoon have taken a stand and asked journalists to ask them more than superficial things like how long it took them to get ready for the red carpet. Not surprisingly, there’s a catchy little hashtag that goes along with this effort that is appropriately titled- #askhermore.
Cate Blanchett calls out the E! camera crew in this famous GIF
While I agree with the fact that Hollywood is far from the point of gender equality, there are 3 important things to consider when approaching this topic:
1. It hasn’t always been this way.
In 2015, Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Ryan Seacrest tried eliminating the “Who are you wearing” question in 2010, and was criticized heavily for it. “Hey Ryan, Talk to the Dress” read a New York Times style column headline that detailed the backlash from fashion bloggers. ‘It was almost like he wasn’t that interested in the designers,’ designer Nicole Miller said. ‘He seemed more interested in the celebrities and their careers.'” The article goes on to say, “Joan Rivers once said that when she first asked “who are you wearing,” the New York Times criticized her for “improper grammar” and said nobody cared about what designers people wore. In 1999, the mother-daughter team were bumped off the carpet 30 minutes early and was replaced by Geena Davis. “And she gave all of these interviews beforehand and a press conference and guaranteed everyone that she would not ask actresses who they are wearing. ‘It is about the actors,’ ” Melissa Rivers told VF. “And then, literally, 10 seconds into her first interview with Helen Hunt, which I still remember, and [Geena] was clearly out of questions, she asked, ‘And … who are you wearing?’ ” (Read the whole article here.) To be clear, I’m not saying that because it’s been tried before with low rates of success we should abandon the #askhermore movement. Rather, we should try to figure out what is really happening here and dig a little deeper.
2. It’s not just “Hollywood”
‘Hollywood’ is an easy term to throw around (and under a bus) because it is an abstract idea that combines several different industries and lots of different people. Hollywood isn’t just famous people, but it’s the machines that give their fame a stage. It’s the movie industry (and the millions involved), the theatre industry, the music industry, etc. It’s also the people that help make the famous who they are. They are the stylists, the makeup artists, the public relations wizards. And then there’s the media. All of these people play into what we refer to as ‘Hollywood’ (and I didn’t even mention award show judges). It’s easy to place blame on something far away and abstract. Why do you think so many people blame the government for anything and everything? In order for racism, sexism, or any other -ism to disappear, each industry and individual needs to start thinking differently. They need to ask questions like, “why can’t an Asian play this role?”, “why can’t we ask everyone deeper questions on the runway?”, “why not write/nominate a film told from a woman’s point of view?” But here’s the thing. This isn’t just ‘Hollywood’s’ fault; it’s also our own. Why do you think the whole red carpet extravaganza exists anyhow? It’s not for the actresses and actors being honored. Hell, they’d probably rather have a private cocktail party with each other then peacock around answering questions. But, that’s not what we want. We, the general public, want to see the stars in all their glory. We want to hear snippets of their lives (even if it’s just what they are wearing). We are the force driving the ratings that decide the event. If no one tuned into the red carpet part of any awards show, do you think it would still exist? I guarantee it would get nixed as quickly as Joan and Melissa Rivers in 1999.
3. This is a great opportunity
Women (and men) should see this as an opportunity to stand out. The actors and actresses that go to award shows are both beautiful and talented. If they weren’t somewhat attractive, they wouldn’t be on the screen (sorry if you weren’t aware of this American reality/tragedy) and if they weren’t talented, they wouldn’t be at the award shows. What differs you from your fellow actress/actor isn’t necessarily how beautiful/talented you are, but rather, who you are. And what better time is there than on national television to show the world who you are. You might say that the stars can’t show their true selves because they aren’t asked the right questions. That’s like saying you did poorly at a job interview because they didn’t ask the right questions. In a job interview, you know what you want to get across to the audience, and you find a way to do it. Maybe you change the questions in your favor, maybe you take control of the conversation and lead it to where you want it to go. If you want the audience (the employee) to know what you’re all about, you find a way to do it. Likewise, if you really want to tell the world what you’re all about, find a way to do it. Obviously not many people are doing this, but the ones that do (Cate Blanchett, Reese Witherspoon) are really setting themselves apart (in a good way). We have a lot of control over what our appearance tells people. Actresses and actors have full control over what they wear. Why not turn it into a statement? “I decided to wear Diane Von Furstenburg tonight because I admire her activism when it comes to women’s rights.” “No one should have to die for a piece of jewelry and that is why I am only wearing Brilliant Earth diamonds tonight.” “The only thing important about my skincare regime is my sunscreen. One great thing about xyz movie [I was nominated for] was that I had the opportunity to talk to people in [insert area of film] about the importance of skin cancer screening and prevention. Every hour, one person dies of melanoma, and that is one person too many.” Why isn’t anyone answering those superficial questions like this? Regardless of what the nature of the question is and whether it will ever change- we will always have the power to answer in any way we please. The women that answer the questions in a way that is different and true to themselves will be set apart.
We can cry, shout, and complain as much as want about sexism in Hollywood, but nothing will change without action on all fronts. If you want things to change, understand that you may be part of the problem, take action to make a difference, and support the celebrities that take a chance by being vulnerable and integrating their passion into their presence.
What do you think about sexism in Hollywood and/or the #askhermore campaign? I’d love to hear your comments.