“I’ve always been fascinated by how much more well-behaved we have to be than men,” Jennifer Lopez said when asked about her ‘diva’ label in Hollywood. She is not the only woman to complain about sexism in Hollywood – the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are still fresh in our minds. The knowledge of untrustworthy men, like Harvey Weinstein, lurking on powerful thrones in Hollywood is widespread. Alfred Hitchcock nonchalantly said: “Blondes make the best victims.” This is even more alarming when considering that Tippi Herden has accused him of sexual assault.
Despite all this, the public isn’t close to fully aware of sexism in Hollywood.
If you thought the wage gap was shocking in our everyday society, wait until you hear that actresses earn 24.8 cents for every dollar their male counterparts do. The ratio of men to women in the film industry is 2.3 to 1. That number has not changed in half a century. In the 100 highest grossing movies of 2015, men appeared and spoke for twice as long as women did.
Women are not considered a viable target market
It is a well-known fact that women have to accept the unwanted attention from older men on set. Marilyn Monroe called Hollywood an “overcrowded brothel.” The industry still welcoming and revering directors like Woody Allen goes to show how deeply engrained rape culture is.
American actress and model, Kate Bosworth, publicly confirmed that it is common practice for casting directors fill male roles before female roles, regardless of the role of the character. This is because of a disproven theory which suggests that both the male and female population watch movies to see a male protagonist. Despite 50% of film viewers being female, execs do not consider women a viable target market.
Hollywood only sees women as valuable actresses when they are young. At 37, Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she was too old to play a 55-year-old man’s love interest. Female characters are consistently younger than their male romantic counterparts. Lillian Gish joked, “Lionel Barrymore first played my grandfather, later my father, and finally, he played my husband. If he’d lived, I’m sure I would have played his mother. That’s the way it is in Hollywood.” Before Reese Witherspoon turned 40, her financial advisor told her: “You need to start saving now, because you’re going to make drastically less money in your forties. Basically, you’re not going to have much of a career.” Reese Witherspoon fired him thereafter. She also came forward about a director sexually assaulting her when she was in her teens.
No female directors
Hollywood is still lacking in terms of intersectional representation, deeply developed independent female characters and female-centric storylines. The structure of a powerful male mogul hiring a vulnerable female starlet is still very much alive in its culture. Executives immediately assume a director to be male. As is common in our society, they perceive leadership qualities to be inherently masculine. If only white, cis, male directors are hired, it is no wonder that diverse female stories are erased.
As always, sexism isn’t always as obvious as in the mentioned cases. Media applauded Shonda Rhimes’ TV show Scandal for “taking a risk” by casting a Black woman as the lead. Studies find that films depict women in sexually revealing clothing three times more often than men. Actresses featured are more likely to be thin than men.
In our hands
While this may be frustrating to hear for the women craving representation, audiences do have some control in what they want to see. We need to support the type of films we want to see, as this not only allows the involved talent to professionally flourish, but also sends a clear message to Hollywood producers.
96% of the top grossing movies’ directors in 2016 were male. Though, in a fair world, it may not have to come down to this, as consumers, we can shift the landscape by focusing on those 4% of women*. Supporting female directors and producers will create a path for more female stories in the movie industry – and this is a path we desperately need.
*Out of those 4% as a whole, only 3% were Black and 1% were Asian.