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Friday 6 August 2010

Gender, Male Privilege & The Movies

Women tend to care about issues of gender in film, and the men don't. As men, we get the privilege of doing blog posts with titles like 'The Best Breasts In Hollywood' without really thinking of what we're contributing to, or how we're objectifying women, or how we could be making the most talented smaller breasted/no breasted/three breasted upcoming actress feel completely marginalized. Worse yet, it's incredible to think that we would be talking about breasts at all. After all - when writing about Robert De Niro, I never mention his genitalia.

Having the privilege of being male, it's easy for me to ignore the fact that women don't direct many films. It's even easier for me to cleverly list hundreds of films directed by women to prove that gender inequality is a myth. The hardest thing is to listen, to care, to consider the mere fluke of being born male actually gives me an unearned privilege in this industry.

It's hard for anyone to achieve anything in the movie biz. I know hundreds of men who are struggling to get their 'foot in the door' so to speak, so why should I care that women, also, are struggling to succeed? A fact that us men rarely consider is that nobody will ever compliment us for being the 'first' male to win any kind of directing award. There will never be articles about how many men were lucky enough to be working screenwriters. There will never be a debate about whether or not men can direct action films. When you consider these things, you begin to see the wider problem. It's not that women can't do anything or aren't allowed to do anything-- luckily society has moved forward. But the structure of the film industry, the inner beliefs of most people (men and women) and the way films are marketed all make the problem worse.

I watched Juno today; and whilst many, many people love it and think it was an inspired piece of magic, not many people realize that a lot of it is down to wonderfully talented women. Diablo Cody's razor sharp dialogue and cliche-breaking scenes were proof of her an incredible talent. The characters were something we rarely get to see; a pregnant teenage girl with bundles of intelligence who decides against abortion, a step-Mother who is instantly supportive; who is on the one hand a typical homely woman who loves dogs--- yet who also is fiercely principled and strong.
Character development like this is rare with female roles. Too often, female characters are used to help the male protagonist's story along. It becomes such a default, so ingrained; that young screenwriters unconsciously and consistently write male leads; with women being love interests, or parents, or cute neighbors. That's why it was so refreshing and freeing to see Ellen Page as Juno. She was a woman, but she didn't fall into any stereotype. She was as unique and as interesting a character as you could find-- and she was beautiful and compelling without looking like a model or being made to throw her breasts into a close-up.

The film industry has silently marginalized women in a variety of ways. It has become so normalized that nobody ever seems to notice. It is also very easy for us men to say "the audience don't want loads of Sex & The City's," without seeing how that statement is wrong and prejudice and ignorant on a heap of different levels. As I've said before, there is a missing voice in film, and it's the voice of women.

A problem that occurs when these types of articles are written; is that men get very defensive. We say, 'well actually, there are lots of studio heads who are female,' and 'look, Angelina Jolie just starred in Salt,' but these facts prove the problem, nobody could ever say 'men aren't discriminated against or given less opportunities,' because it would sound ridiculous. This industry is harder for women than for men. We need to start by taking accountability for that. We need to start by being aware of it. That awareness could go a long way.

As men - we can start to look at how we are a part of the problem, and how we can begin to make positive changes. As screenwriters, are the women in our scripts as unique, complex, disturbing, as 'cool' as the male characters? As directors, will we be open to working with a female director of photography? Are we aware that the female make-up artist is an artist and not just someone who throws make-up on a face? As producers, are we aware of the variety of outstanding female directors who have unique talent and vision? As viewers, would we be more interested in seeing more complex, truthful and diverse females on a more consistent basis?


  1. What a well-thought out, valid and refreshing post! I do agree with you and it is nice to hear from a man! ^_^

  2. Yep, v cool. Wd add just one thing: How can men who are scriptwriters support women scriptwriters? (i.e./e.g. please find people to send us tickets and airfares for that festival -;)

    HAH! The word verification word is FEEDUM!!!

  3. Ellen Page blew my socks off in that role. You are right of course, but look at ANY competitive industry and it's almost always male dominated. I say "almost", because from my limited experience, I see virtually an equal proportion of successful women as to men, in the field of creative Advertising - or maybe I'm blinkered (shrug). With each generation, more women are entering and competing in the work place, I have hopes for the future - but also fear it will be a very long haul before the genders are given an equal billing in the workplace.

  4. I loved Juno for those reasons, yeah...I've gievn up

  5. Thanks for the comments all!

    Shrinky; you could be right about advertising, I don't know enough about it - although, if you look at how women are portrayed through advertising, I guess there is still a problem. I'll need to think about that one more..

    And I'm glad you all like Juno I think it's an incredible movie.

  6. I'm an actress and I definitely see what you mean just by reading the breakdowns on Actors Access every day. Most of the roles are for men, and most of the roles for women (especially young women like me) are sex object roles with stipulations like "Must look great in a bikini."

  7. Hi Erika, thanks for posting. You're right, I see that kind of thing a lot. As much as I like a woman to look good in a bikini, it's sad to think that the majority of films aren't going for something more unique.

    Keep the faith.. the more people are aware of this, the more we move forward - the more this will change.

  8. Excellent post TK. I also try to highlight this issue from time to time on my blog but as you said it above, this issue is almost completely invisible to the average movie-goer, women included.

  9. Now this? This is a kick-ass post. Well done, Kid. And I'm not just saying that because I agree with what you wrote - I think you nailed several points that even I hadn't considered and kept it mature without finger-pointing or playing the blame game. Nicely said.

  10. Great article! Couldn't agree with you more.This is why the web is such a powerful tool for women creators who want to re-shape entertainment. Check out the web series The Real Girl's Guide to Everything see what I'm talking about.

  11. I love this post. I regularly have occasion to say to men, no matter how well-intentioned and how well-meaning you are, you have absolutely no idea what it is like as a woman to live in a world where the default setting is always male. We need more men like you who understand this. And can I just in this context give a major shoutout to 'Nurse Jackie', in my view one of the best TV shows around at the mo, with a wonderful lead female protagonist and, guess what, predominantly female writers...