By Margaret Johnson
The Oscars, the American Music Awards, the Grammy Awards and, most recently, the Golden Globes have long harbored a focus on the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle—specifically marketing the discussion of expensive designer gowns and jewelry on the red carpet as the primary focus of the evening.
Famous actresses, singers and models are panned by the camera head-to-toe, allowing viewers to scrutinize the women’s appearances. Viewers are familiar with red carpet questions such as “Who are you wearing?” or “How do you stay in shape?” when female entertainers are interviewed.
Questions of the female entertainers’ performances and abilities are not often the media’s priorities. The media has transformed these award competitions that were once aimed to showcase talent and award the creative efforts of Hollywood’s finest women into an event that places a special importance on attractiveness and materialism. The competition is no longer just about winning the title of “Best Actress” but rather being awarded the honor of “Best Dressed.”
The #AskHerMore Twitter campaign, begun by the Representation Project, focuses on turning the conversation around to ask questions regarding the women’s careers and accomplishments rather than inquire about superficial things such as appearances. The movement first emerged on Twitter during the Golden Globes. Users tweeted questions for certain female entertainers like, “How did you research and prepare for your role?” and “What females inspire you?”
Scarlett Johansson recently drew attention to the difference in questions that men and women in the entertainment industry are asked. During a press conference before the release of “The Avengers” a few years ago, her co-star Robert Downey, Jr. was asked to explain the learning experience of playing his role. Johansson, on the other hand, was asked to give details on how she got into shape and dieted to play the role of the Black Widow. Johansson quiped to Downey, “How come you get the really interesting existential question, and I get the like, rabbit food question?”
At the 2015 Golden Globes, Cate Blanchett addressed the issue of female objectification on the red carpet when, having been panned head-to-toe by the camera, she directly asked the cameraman, “Do you do that to the guys?”
Blanchett’s remark epitomizes the issue of the treatment of women in the entertainment industry and, to even a broader degree, of career women as a whole. In the case of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, women are often remembered and valued to an equal or greater extent for what they wore than what they achieved professionally.
The issue of gender inequality in the workplace is no secret to any working woman in the United States. However, it may be surprising that, even in the most affluent and glamorous of professions, this inequality is still prominent and rather explicit. Because of the highly publicized nature of the entertainment industry, Hollywood’s leading women are exactly the right people to take on the responsibility of rebuking the media’s exploitation of women for their fashion sense and body image.
The media’s unhealthy focus on body image and fashion creates the potential for female celebrities to use their status to address the issue of female objectification. Rather than allowing for the superficial inquires and senseless talk of clothing and dieting, the women put in these highly powerful positions need to work to transform popular culture and society as a whole. By generating a conversation about the objectification of females in the entertainment industry, discussions of the same nature will be sparked across all professional industries.
The Women’s Media Center issued a report last year addressing inequalities between the sexes in the entertainment industry. Among other statistics, the report claimed that, of the 100 top-grossing movies, only 6% of those movies were casted equally in regard to gender. Further, in regard to the top-grossing movies in the country, women represented less than 30% of speaking roles. And lastly, of 250 top-grossing movies, only 16% of directors, producers, writers and editors were female.
The treatment of women on the red carpet points toward a larger problem of gender inequality within the industry. By acknowledging only the outer beauty of female entertainers, the accomplishments of women are undermined—if not almost completely ignored.
As Hadley Freeman from The Guardian puts it, “This is a strange pocket of the western world where it is still deemed utterly acceptable to take smart, successful women and reduce them to beauty pageant contestants.”
The media ignores facts such as Natalie Portman’s Harvard education, instead belittling and demeaning women of such intelligence with small talk of accessories and shoes. The media should be taking advantage of the opportunity to ask educated women questions of importance, rather than limiting women by valuing them based on the size and style of their dresses.