Columns & Blogs

Actresses fed up with sexism

Women who make their living in the Hollywood film industry are getting fed up with the rampant sexism. Many of them have gotten so tired, they’ve spoken up about it, which has led to some eye-opening (and jaw-dropping) revelations about how they are usually treated.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, 37, said in an interview with The Wrap in May that she had been told she was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. “It was astonishing to me,” she said. “It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.” When Dame Helen Mirren was asked about Gyllenhaal’s comments, she was quite candid: “It’s [expletive] outrageous. ... We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying.”

For some actresses, even if you’re a suitable age, you still have to look enticing. Actress/filmmaker Rose McGowan made headlines when she tweeted the note casting directors gave her when she was auditioning. It stated that the actress had to wear a “black (or dark) form-fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push-up bras encouraged). And form-fitting leggings or jeans.” In the tweet, she also said the role was for a movie starring an actor whose name rhymed with “Madam Panhandler.” (She later confirmed in an interview that it was, in fact, Adam Sandler.) Apparently, this bit of behind-the-curtain exposing cost McGowan her agent.

Urging equal pay

Actresses have also cried out for equal pay. While winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar earlier in the year for her work in “Boyhood,” Patricia Arquette said in her acceptance speech: “It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.” (This inspired Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez to whoop it up in approval in the audience.) More recently, Amanda Seyfried told the Sunday Times that, while working on a big-budget film, she was “being paid 10 percent of what my male co-star was getting, and we were pretty even in status.”

It isn’t just actresses who are being disrespected left and right. A Tumblr blog, titled “(Expletive) People Say to Women Directors (& Other Women In Film),” allows women who have worked behind the camera to anonymously relay the condescending, asinine and just plain wrong things that have been said to them on film sets.

Considering how women are usually portrayed and/or represented on the big screen, is it even shocking to hear how women are treated when the cameras stop rolling? “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Jurassic World” are just a couple of recent blockbusters that have been singled out for having sexist undertones, with female protagonists often engaging in inferior (or, dare I say, girlie) behavior. But at least those films have female protagonists. According to a 2014 study at the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, women accounted for 12 percent of protagonists in the year’s top 100 grossing films, down from 16 percent in 2002.

Great female leads

It’s rather perplexing that more films featuring female protagonists aren’t made, especially when it’s been proven time and time again that most movies starring women – especially big-budget action films – can bring both men and women to the multiplexes. “The Hunger Games” series, starring everybody’s favorite movie star Jennifer Lawrence, is one of the most successful box-office franchises to date. Even those “Hunger Games”-biting “Divergent” movies, starring Jennifer Lawrence-in-training Shailene Woodley, are big moneymakers.

But action movies are still seen as a man’s game. However, there have been hit summer films, like the universally acclaimed “Mad Max: Fury Road” and the just-released “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” that have been subverting the genre by having male leads fight side-by-side with female heroines who are just as strong and fearless, sometimes even more so.

Sometimes I wish more studios would take a cue from these movies – or even from Hollywood’s Golden Age, when screen sirens were usually given appealing, daring, fascinating roles. Of course, back in the day, studios and filmmakers made movies that attracted men and women equally. If the movie industry just remembered how valuable female audiences are, perhaps they’ll begin to respect women more, on and off the screen.