The Least We Can Do

The only way we can stop sexism in TV and movies is to notice (and then stop giving them our money).

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Orange Is The New Black. Original show title: “Hey look, women are different! Who knew.”

Dear women (yes, all of you),

It’s not up to us alone to fix sexism. But we can do our part. The fact is: there are fewer women cast in TV and movies, and fewer starring roles for women. And that’s because we allow it. We women watch male-monopolized television and movies in droves. As 50% of the population, if we didn’t watch that stuff, they wouldn’t make enough money to continue creating them. But we keep giving them our money and we don’t say anything when women take a back seat to men. And sometimes we don’t say anything simply because we don’t notice.

Before we can do anything else to change how media portrays women, we have to notice. We have to notice when movies don’t pass the Bechdel test (two women talking to each other about something besides a man). We have to notice when there aren’t women being represented, or represented fairly, and we have to stop putting up with it. We cannot be placated by one kickass female character surrounded by a sea of males. One Scarlett Johansson does not a feminist movie make.

Geena Davis talks about this phenomenon (and by phenomenon I mean constant occurrence) of women being mysteriously absent from films, even as extras in a crowd scene. We have to stop allowing women to be outnumbered. We have to notice that HBO’s Silicon Valley has a women problem, and instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying they’re just reflecting reality, we need to remember that a fictional show can do whatever it wants, including recreating a (still realistic) start-up that employs female humans, not just regular humans.

Grey’s Anatomy could have cast almost all men and made a “reflecting reality” excuse, spouting numbers about the ratio of men to women in surgery, but instead they created a better world where women hack into bones and men care about babies. However you feel about Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t matter—the fact is, it can be done. We aren’t going to get more equality in the workforce if people can’t imagine themselves doing it. As Ms. Davis says, “You can’t snap your fingers and suddenly half of Congress is women. But there’s one category where the underrepresentation of women can be fixed tomorrow: onscreen. In the time it takes to make a movie or create a television show, we can change what the future looks like.”

Sometimes I start to feel guilty for sounding like a broken record when, after yet another movie, I point out that no woman spoke to another woman for 2 whole hours. Everyone thought the movie was good, I argue to myself, why rain on their parade? But then I remember that it’s the film’s fault for needing to be called out, not mine. If you want me to shut up about the unfair treatment of women in TV and film, I’m happy to. Just treat women fairly in TV and film.

We need to call bullshit, or nothing is going to change. If you want to do something about the way women are represented, there’s actually a lot you can do (besides becoming a writer or director, which–please do that, too). Here’s what you should be watching for, and what to do when you notice something fishy:

What to watch for:

1. What’s the ratio of male to female? Not just in the lead characters, but among the supporting roles, and even the extras. Who gets to speak around here, and what kinds of things are they talking about?

2. Watch out for people who claim something is “just reflecting reality” and don’t put up with it. You are watching a fake world, and they can add women. Even if the show is about science nerds or tech nerds or cops, that show chooses their cast.

What can you do once you notice?

1. Say it out loud. Make it ok for us to talk about how frustrating it is to have to watch men all the time. (Personally, I’m not sure I can make it through one more all-male fight scene. Who cares? Just tell me who wins so we can move on with the story.) If someone asks you if you watch {insert popular male-centric TV show here}, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t because of feminism. Because as soon as you say it, you force everyone else to notice it, and to think about it.

2. Say it with your eyeballs. Don’t watch shows that treat women like commodities. And do watch shows where women take the stage. Show the networks and the movie studios what you care about. Because in the end, they’ll do whatever makes them money. This has been looking up lately, but we can do better.

3. Say it with your keyboard. Make a stink. Post something on Twitter. Comment on Facebook. Write your local congresswoman—whatever. Let them know that it’s not ok. Or if you’d rather focus on the positive, use those channels to show them how enthused you are by Frozen and Mindy Kaling and Beyonce.

Let’s make it clear that Hollywood can’t just cast a while male lead and expect us to fall in line anymore. We don’t want to be led out of the mire by a knight on a white horse—we want to pull ourselves up out of the mire: mud in our hair, grass in our teeth, and not taking their sexist bullshit.

 

If you’d like to know what TV to support with your previously-mentioned eyeballs, here are a few of my personal favorites: The Mindy Project, Girls, Orange Is The New Black, Broad City, Inside Amy Schumer, Scandal…hmm. What else?

3 thoughts on “The Least We Can Do

  1. I’ve never watched Scandal but isn’t it about a woman cheating with the President and wouldn’t they make women look as if they are portrayed as “homewreckers” or just after a man…. like I said I have never watched the show so I could be wrong. I just never watched it because I didn’t feel it was good representation.

    • It is about a woman cheating with the President (partly, not totally), but the show does a great job giving the issue a lot more nuance, so it doesn’t feel at all like “That hussy is ruining a good man!”

      It’s from Shonda “you don’t get to call me a whore” Rymes, and that woman would never put up with a “homewrecker” attitude. Watch a few episodes and see what you think and report back! It’s like Grey’s Anatomy meets House of Cards (aka amazing).

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