Wednesday October 17, 2018
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The Never-ending Fight of Gender Inequality in Hollywood

Sexism against women in the workplace is too pervasive to change overnight.

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A woman wearing an outfit with the names of men in Hollywood she claims sexually harassed her, is seen during a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. VOA
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The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements address the sexual harassment and abuse of women by powerful men in Hollywood and elsewhere today. But systemic sexism in the film industry goes back decades, influencing how stories have been told on the silver screen.

Consider the cartoon Pepe Le Pew, about a persistent skunk in relentless pursuit of Penelope Pussycat. When the TV series first appeared, more than half a century ago, it was considered cute and romantic.

Today’s audiences find the skunk’s unwanted advances creepy, and reflect female characters as passive sexual objects, said George Mason University professor Lisa Koch.

Domestic abuse and patronizing behavior of husbands toward their wives were often glorified as passionate relationships, Koch added, such as in the narrative of the 1939 epic drama Gone with the Wind. The character of Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, is derisive and controlling toward his on-screen wife, Scarlett O Hara, played by Vivien Leigh. She is scripted as petulant, erratic and manipulative.

Hollywood glamorized and validated the hypermasculine male character who had to rein in the manipulative and childlike female characters, Koch said.

On screen, behind the scenes

Sexism and abuse on screen also reflected the pervasive sexual abuse actresses often endured behind the scenes, said Giovanna Chesler, director of film and video studies at George Mason University.

“You read about how Bertolucci and Marlon Brando had an arrangement for their actress in Last Tango in Paris. They knew that this would be a rape scene they would be filming but she (actress Maria Schneider) did not.” Chesler was referring to Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci as well as U.S. actor Brando.

 

Hollywood, sexism
Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara stars in the 1939 classic, “Gone With the Wind.”. VOA

In her 2016 autobiography, Tippi Hedren: A Memoir, the actress who was Alfred Hitchcock’s main muse and star of his films The Birds and Marnie, writes that when she turned down the filmmaker’s sexual advances, he threatened to destroy her career.

 

Chesler says this pervasive culture of sexism and blackmail produced men like Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“He was the Oscar maker and he anointed all of these actresses into Oscar-producing roles.” Chesler said. “They thought that once they really broke through, they would get out of being sexualized on screen. How ironic that in order to do so, they had to deal with this predator.”

Dozens of women have accused the disgraced Hollywood studio boss of sexual misconduct that includes harassment and assault. Earlier this year, Weinstein was indicted on sex crimes charges but remains free on bail while he fights the accusations.

Beyond Hollywood

Since the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements began, many films have offered more nuanced and textured female characters and are telling more women’s stories.

But activists say more needs to be done to increase women’s equitable treatment in Hollywood. Lisa Koch says there is definitely power in the number of women who are uniting against sexism and sexual abuse from all walks of life.

“It started with 300 women in Hollywood,” she said. “It has expanded dramatically, so 700,000 farm laborers pledged their support and that is just one example across the spectrum. Within the first 60 days, the movement raised $21 million in financial backing.”

Activist and filmmaker Shannon Lee says female producers and behind-the-scenes artists are offering women jobs, equal pay and creative expression, such as film producer Ava DuVernay, who has an artist collective that distributes films and mandates that all the directors be female.

Lee cautions, however, that sexism against women in the workplace is too pervasive to change overnight.

“When there is an imbalance of power, there is an abuse of power. USA Today did a survey that came out in 2017 saying that 94 percent of women in the film industry have had some experience of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Lee said.

Koch offers another statistic: “Ninety-five percent of Hollywood directors are men, 18 percent of those involved in film production as directors, producers, writers cinematographers, editors, are women.”

Both women say the goal in the industry is 50/50 by 2020.

“Where there is 50 percent male and 50 percent female, you don’t have the opportunity to this gross misconduct,” Lee said.

Hollywood, sexism
Harvey Weinstein exits the Manhattan Criminal Court room in New York. VOA

Sunu Chandy is the legal director of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington. She represents thousands of women who have come forward to seek legal support against sexual harassment and discrimination. She says both the #MeToo movement, where women openly addressed the abuse they suffered at the hands of men, and the #TimesUp movement, where sexual predators like Bill Cosby have been prosecuted and convicted for their crimes, are significant legal steps in establishing gender equity in Hollywood and elsewhere.

“Hiring women into roles that are traditionally male roles is absolutely something that we are pushing for,” Chandy said. “But if someone goes there and is sexually harassed and leaves, it’s continuing the problem. If the Time’s Up fund helps that case to come forward and be publicized and that company takes meaningful steps to create a better workplace, more women will be encouraged to apply there.”

Also Read: Top Hollywood Women Unveiled A Sexual Harassment Initiative

Chandy says that although progress is being made in offering women the legal help and support they deserve, much still has to be done to bring about real change in the workplace, be it a factory, a farm or a Hollywood movie set. (VOA)

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#MeToo Movement Shows The Decaying Soul of India: Mahesh Bhatt

These are larger issues. The soul of the country is decaying. We are far away from what we claim to be. And cases like this only put spotlight on that," added the director

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Nana Patekat, Metoo, Women
#MeToo movement shows India's soul is decaying: Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt

On the one hand, Indians bow down to a goddess to pray and on another some people violate women. This dichotomy in India is creating a mess of things, says filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who feels Indians are far from what we claim to be.

“The #MeToo movement cannot be resolved through the court of public opinion. There are people standing up for something. I would say more power to women who scream from the rooftop about something wrong done to them — whether it is after 10 years or 20 or 50… It doesn’t make a difference,” Bhatt told IANS in an interview when he was in the city to promote “Jalebi”.

“You cannot deny the right to individuals to say what they say. But the question is whether the quotes are in sync with the legal system, which is based on a certain understanding. Are they in sync with this so-called enlightened new view that we have? If punitive action is not taken, the cynicism that nothing happens would be reinforced,” he added.

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The dichotomy is what has made a mess of things.

 

The #MeToo movement in India started in September after Tanushree Dutta recounted an unpleasant episode with veteran actor Nana Patekar on the sets of “Horn ‘OK’ Pleassss” in 2008.

After that, a slew of controversies surrounding Vikas Bahl, Chetan Bhagat, Gursimran Khamba, Kailash Kher, Rajat Kapoor, Alok Nath and Sajid Khan have emerged.

“There is only one thing you can’t use this #MeToo movement for (and that is) settling old relationship issues. You cannot categorise that.

“There is domestic violence which is there between married people or lovers. There can be sexual misconduct which can be tackled legally. But we are talking about sexual harassment which is another case. Women need to handle that very responsibly,” Bhatt said.

The director feels it is time to ask a “deeper question”.

#MeToo, women
Bollywood actress Tanushree Datta presents a creation by designer Sanjeet Anand at the Bangalore Fashion Week in Bangalore, India. VOA

“During Durga Puja, you bow down to the deity which was created by this great story of male gods putting their best to create her so that she can kill the demon to save the world and heaven from the wrath of that demon. It is time to understand that you support the woman and let her retain her dignity or she will perish.

“The question is, ‘Do you really view women in the form of the goddess you worship in the temple’. Because in private life you violate them.”

He said “there is a kind of dichotomy”.

“The dichotomy is what has made a mess of things. We have an idea about ourselves and the reality is quite different from the idea. Look at what you are doing to women. There are issues which cannot be resolved themselves within a time frame of a week, a month or a year.

Nana Patekat, Metoo, Women
#MeToo movement is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. #MeToo spread virally in October 2017. Flickr

“These are larger issues. The soul of the country is decaying. We are far away from what we claim to be. And cases like this only put spotlight on that,” added the director, who has helmed projects like “Arth”, “Saaransh”, “Naam”, “Sadak”, “Junoon” and “Papa Kahte Hain”.

As a film producer, how does he ensure a safe workplace for women?

Also Read: India’s #MeToo Movement Makes The Most Glamorous Industry Its Subject Of Scrutiny

“Human beings are vulnerable to all this and more. But I can only say that you lead by example. You set the tone about what the morality of the house is going to be. I have enough women force. I have my own daughter (Pooja), who is a tough chick. I have my sister who is hands-on. I have my niece.”

“If there is any outrage anywhere, I think there are enough pockets to bring out what is happening,” added Bhatt , who will be back as a director with “Sadak 2”. (IANS)