I was recently asked to be a contributor on a site for women called Mogul. I posted this there in a response to Jennifer Lawrence's recent essay on gender inequality in Hollywood.
The thing is, gender inequality is everywhere. We need to speak up and stop playing nice.
Jennifer Lawrence recently joined a growing list of female actors who are speaking up about sexism. Meryl Streep also declared she is paid less than her male costars. In a symposium opening the London Film Festival, Geena Davis called not only for equality in pay, but also for more screen time, and more challenging roles for women.
In 2014, The Hollywood Reporter discussed this issue, citing "It’s a Man's (Celluloid) World,” a survey released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. It revealed “women accounted for only 15 percent of protagonists, 29 percent of major characters and 30 percent of speaking characters in the top 100 (domestic) grossing films of 2013.” Moreover, males age 40 and over accounted for 55 percent of all male characters, while their female counterparts comprised only 30 percent. The most recent census reports show that women make up 50.8 of the population in America, so it doesn’t take much effort to guess what the discrepancy is about. Gender inequality and ageism.
It is not surprising many of the women who are speaking out are “of a certain age,” when both the number and the quality of female roles plummet. Earlier this year, Meryl Streep developed a program for female screenwriters over 40, presumably to promote and expand opportunities for writers and the characters they create for the screen. Since many writers stick to the adage of writing what they know, these scripts could provide older actors with beautifully drawn and carefully delineated roles.
Clearly ageism and sexism thrives in Hollywood, but does it also rear its head in publishing? Though women buy more books than men, Bowker statistics show that most book buying is done by women under the age of 45. In The New York Times Book Review, Faye Weldon asserts that women writers age 50 and above who write about women their own age will find it very difficult to find a publisher.
The publishing industry clings to the presumption that women over 45 don’t buy enough books to change their standards, even though you can’t go anywhere without tripping into a “baby boomer” with time on her hands and some spending power. Would women over 45 buy more novels if they tackled the challenges and comedies that abound when their ovaries start to shrivel? And since many films are adapted from novels, would these books provide material for our brilliant, mature, underutilized actresses?
The beautiful OLIVE KITTERIDGE provided an award-winning vehicle for Frances McDormand and other actors, but how many such books are published these days? It is not acceptable to write off a legion of literate older women, whether they read, write, or act. Women of any age can still open undiscovered worlds with wisdom, wit, and grace.
Jennifer Lawrence wondered if women are “socially conditioned” to veer away from “offending” people, that standing up for herself would affect her “adorable” factor. It’s not so much a question, but an affirmation of the dilemma. Despite the seemingly endless reign of sexism, we opt to please. We need to stand together. We need to be heard, filmed, published, and recognized. And we need to be paid as equals to men.
Let’s stop playing nice.