photo credit Daisy Carlos
Hurray, for the women of Outlander! Anne Kenny, Anna Foerster, Toni Graphia, and Caitriona Balfe were recently notified that they had won Women’s Image Network WIN award nominations for film and television. The nonprofit organization celebrates, “media and deserving individuals who promote gender parity to advance the value of women and girls.” I believe that this award is something these women, the fans, and the show should be very proud of.
The Hollywood film industry has been around since roughly 1910. In the plus 100 years since, we have seen many changes in the productions produced by the studios located there. Technology advances alone have enabled show runners to make films that can truly suspend our disbelief and boggle the mind. They have helped us cope with and make sense of the changing world around us. Which makes the issue Hollywood has with women that more puzzling. Few advancements have been made for women in over 60 years. In fact, their record is so dismal that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is reportedly investigating their hiring practices. How can what is perceived as a progressive or liberal industry be so behind the times when it comes to treating women as equals? The disparity is staggering. Women are paid less then men in all areas of film production and aren’t being hired for positions as “content creators” in its inner sanctum of writing, directing, and producing.
There are many who believe that this disparity is part of a much larger issue about women and Hollywood. It isn’t just employment opportunities and parity in pay, but how films are marketed to women and the portrayal of women in film. In short, male-dominated Hollywood, those who run the studios, finance, and cast films don’t value women. One female star, Geena Davis, has been voicing her concerns about Hollywood for quite awhile and has gone beyond just talking about gender bias and created a foundation that studies gender bias in film and advocates for change. She recognized the power Hollywood has and became concerned that its influence on future generations of women was significant.
Here are some facts gleaned from her institutes’ website
“Founded by Academy Award®-winning actor and advocate Geena Davis, the Institute is the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need to dramatically improve, gender balance, reduce stereotyping and create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children 11 and under.”
- Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.
- Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
- Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.
- From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.
All facts are supported by research conducted by Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
I’m happy to say that since Patricia Arquette’s Academy Awards speech in 2015, other highly visible women in Hollywood are speaking out and calling-out gender bias; Jennifer Lawerence, Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock, and others. Bullock, in a recent article in VARIETY, expressed her frustration and hopes.
“I always make a joke: ‘Watch, we’re going to walk down the red carpet, I’m going to be asked about my dress and my hair while the man standing next to me will be asked about his performance and political issues,'” she said. “Once we start shifting how we perceive women and stop thinking about them as ‘less than,’ the pay disparity will take care of itself. There’s a much bigger issue at hand. I’m glad Hollywood got caught.” Sandra Bullock in VARIETY
So, why should we care about this situation. For the same reason Geena Davis started her institute, because our children are watching.
“We are in effect enculturating kids from the very beginning to see women and girls as not taking up half of the space.” Geena Davis
Many reviews of Outlander have included praise for the way women are portrayed and much has been made of the “strong female protagonist” Claire. Like this. http://variety.com/2014/tv/news/starz-outlander-woos-women-with-strong-female-protagonist-1201277091/ The show has been called ground-breaking for its realistic portrayal of sex and relationships. Given the current climate of self-introspection (hopefully) in Hollywood, I believe this WIN award may give the show some attention that we can be proud of and hopefully, result in more shows with the types of women’s roles found in Outlander. These women deserve the attention they are getting and more. Another person who should be getting some credit is Ron Moore. He recognized that Diana Gabaldon’s story of a strong, smart, resourceful, and kind woman needed to be told and fought for it. He also deserves credit for hiring these women writers and directors. He is evidently more sensitive to gender equity than most of his peers.
If you were around back when the series was first filmed and then reviewed, you might remember the frustration fans experienced reading write-ups on the series by critics and entertainment journalists. It was truly a lesson on what the industry thought of a show they knew was being marketed to women. It was insulting to say the least. They questioned the show’s worth if men couldn’t be convinced to watch it (by the way they are, but that is beside the point). They stubbornly hung on to the idea that Outlander was a Harlequinesque bodiceripper that would only appeal to middle-age bored love-starved housewives. We fought back the little that we could, but were frustrated in our efforts when Starz/Sony began a marketing campaign that seemed to reinforce the “Bodiceripping Romance” idea (the kilt drops…really?) We finally sort of gave up and hoped the story and the production would speak for themselves. I felt kind of smug when the reviewers seemed surprised by how good it was cuz…we tried to tell them. Outlander is a quality program that presents women as something more than sex objects or stereotypes.
Congrats to Outlander and its talented women.