In one of my Film & Digital Media seminars this spring, a classmate had us do an exercise: She showed us a series of photos of well-known female directors, such as Lynne Ramsay and Sally Potter—women whose movies a group of film nerds would likely have seen and admired, some of whose work I count among my favorites. With the exceptions of Jane Campion and Kathryn Bigelow, most of us weren’t able to identify a single one by sight. And if we couldn’t, who could? It was a really powerful object lesson about the invisibility of women in the film industry, even the most successful—where to start with the fact that almost all of these directors were also white. That class was at the front of my mind as I listened to this All Things Considered segment about women in Hollywood.
The lack of women working in the industry, except onscreen, most certainly translates to a lack of female-led pictures, and stories centered around women that aren’t about relationships with men, or about them being sexy, kick-ass heroines designed to appeal to men. Sure the success of Bridesmaids, The Hunger Games, The Heat, and other movies shows that things are slowly changing, but not fast enough, especially since we’ve already lost ground in terms of women both in the director’s chair and in high-profile roles since the early 2000s. There’s no one better to interview about this than Geena Davis, who starred in some prominent exceptions to the rule,Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own, and is also a genius and general badass who translated her experience into the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Among the Institute’s more disturbing findings?
“LYDEN: I wonder what the impact is of all of this lack of female representation.
DAVIS: We just heard a fascinating and disturbing study, where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups. And they found that if there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50. And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.
DAVIS: What we’re, in effect, doing is training children to see that women and girls are less important than men and boys. We’re training them to perceive that women take up only 17 percent of the space in the world. And if you add on top of that, that so many female characters are sexualized – even in things that are aimed at little kids – that’s having an enormous impact as well.”
Sigh. I’m so glad that I know lots of women working to change this, and I know that true change is gradual, but really?