Friday, June 19, 2015

Sexism on the Silver Screen

Here at Ripples Foundation we fully support the fight for gender equality, and our projects in Africa are designed to empower women to work their way out of poverty and achieve their full potential. Whilst poverty-stricken African village women struggle to make ends meet, women in richer countries have a different fight on their hand.

In the UK and US, on the surface it seems that women are equal to men in most ways, both emotionally and economically, but when you dig a little deeper you can see that there are still some instances where men are favoured over women.

Take cinema for instance. Film can act as a huge driving force for change and has the ability to make people see subjects in a different way. That is why it is so important that women are represented equally on screen, so that the roles they play are seen as the social norm. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case just yet.

We are in 2015, a year which the African Union has declared the year of women’s empowerment, and still women are not earning an equal wage to men doing the same jobs. Although actresses in Hollywood could never be described as hard done by when it comes to their pay packets, it is a good scale to measure gender differences from. Last year the top 10 highest paid actors in Hollywood collectively earned $465 million, whilst the top 10 highest paid actresses in Hollywood collectively earned $181 million - still a huge amount of money but when compared to the men’s earnings it is less than half what they rake in for doing the same job! So why are they paid so much less?

The answer could be hidden in the statistics behind the big screen.

As actresses get older it seems the number of roles they are offered decreases, whilst for actors  their opportunities increase. While men apparently can age like a fine wine, it seems that the value of women is determined by their youthfulness. In 2014, the majority of female characters were in their 20s (23%) and 30s (30%), and the majority of male characters were in their 30s (27%) and 40s (28%). The concept of women featuring in films as young, attractive love interests for older men has been around since the start of the silver screen, and today still roughly a third of all female speaking characters are shown in sexually revealing attire or are partially naked. You could argue that men have also started to get a bit racier, with films like Magic Mike springing to mind where the actors haven’t hesitated to get their kit off in the name of entertainment, but it isn’t quite up to the same levels of objectification that actresses face in their everyday working lives.

In the last few years we have had a surge of fantastic films driven by strong female leads, with 2011’s Bridesmaids being the best example. Written by women and starring a hilarious female cast, the film was a massive box office success and showed the world that ‘buddy comedies’ don’t just have to revolve around a group of men. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games showed us that not all action heroes are men, and Jess Bhamra in Bend It Like Beckham introduced us to the little-known world of professional women’s football. If films such as these keep being made, maybe in around 20 years time we can finally achieve gender equality in world cinema.

Putting cinema and the Hollywood elite aside, last year the UN launched their #HeForShe campaign, encouraging men to stand up and join the fight for women’s rights. This idea is genius as it makes men a part of the cause and not simply an obstacle which women have to overcome to achieve gender equality. #HeForShe urges men to fight for the rights of their mothers, wives and daughters, giving them a voice and not alienating them from the important role they can play in the campaign. Why not take a look at their website and get involved?

Obviously the issues and inequalities that Western women face are by nowhere as extreme as the issues that we tackle here at Ripples that poor African village women face, but it is important that gender equality stays at the forefront of people’s minds as empowering women in developed nations sparks debate in other countries, and is the driving force behind empowering poor village women in places such as sub-saharan Africa.

So keep up the great work #HeForShe campaigners, female producers and directors , we are backing you all the way!

*Stats from Indiewire and The New York Film Academy

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