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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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Sexism
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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Do More to Create Equality: Women Leaders In Tech During Web Summit

Google's head of philanthropy, Jacquelline Fuller, said she joined the walkout last week, admitting more needs to be done.

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Google, Web summit
The center stage at Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech conference, in Lisbon, Portugal. VOA

Women leaders in technology called at one of the sector’s largest global conferences, Web Summit for more to be done to drive equality in the male-dominated industry now hit by the #MeToo debate.

The ninth Web Summit comes amid growing concerns about sexism in the tech world, with thousands of Google employees walking out last week to protest the company’s response to sexual misconduct and workplace inequality.

In a poll of 1,000 women leaders in tech by the Web Summit, given exclusively to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, 47 percent said the gender ratio in leadership had not improved in the past year. Only 17 percent said it was better.

Stephen Hawking, web summit
FILE- Cosmologist Stephen Hawking delivers a video message during the inauguration of Web Summit, Europe’s biggest tech conference, in Lisbon, Portugal, Nov. 6, 2017. (VOA)

 

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, said it was crucial to have more women in the sector.

“We can’t accomplish what we need if women [aren’t involved] in tech,” Jackson, who was part of President Barack Obama’s administration, told the Web Summit in Lisbon.

About 70,000 people from 170 nations were at the conference, where the number of women attendees has risen to about 45 percent from 25 percent in 2013, helped by discounting tickets, according to organizers. They did not have earlier figures.

Talking about expertise

“This year a lot of the talks on our stages are touching on the [number of women in the sector],” Anna O’Hare, head of content at Web Summit, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “But rather than women just talking about this, they are talking about the areas in which they are experts in tech.”

The tech sector has long come under scrutiny for inequality and its “bro-gamer” type of culture, referring to men who play video games.

Global organizations, including the United Nations and the European Commission, have spoken out about under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Facebook, Web Summit
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media on Capitol Hill. VOA

A 2016 report by the global consultancy McKinsey found women made up 37 percent of entry-level roles in technology but only 25 percent reached senior management roles and 15 percent made executive level.

The poll of women at the Web Summit found eight of every 10 women felt confident and respected in their roles, but they were divided when asked if they were treated the same as men, with 60 percent saying they were under more pressure to prove themselves.

Thirty-seven percent worried that women were offered leadership roles only to fill quotas.

While half of the women polled said their companies were doing enough to ensure equality, nearly 60 percent said governments were not active enough to address the imbalance.

Several tech company representatives have told the Web Summit of attempts to boost equality, with moves such as training staff in unconscious bias, deleting gender from CVs, ensuring that all short lists have women and improving maternity rights.

Google, Web summit
Google employees fill Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building during a walkout, Nov. 1, 2018, in San Francisco. Hundreds of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

Better results

Gillian Tans, chief executive at the online travel agent Booking.com, said it had been proven that companies with “more women in management positions actually perform better.”

Also Read: Silicon Valley, Google Walk Off To Protest Against Mishandling Of Sexual Harassment Cases

This comes after organizers of the Google protest and other staff said the company’s executives, like leaders at dozens of companies affected by the #MeToo movement, were slow to address structural issues such as unchecked power of male bosses.

Google’s head of philanthropy, Jacquelline Fuller, said she joined the walkout last week, admitting more needs to be done.

“We need to do a better job at creating a safe and inclusive workplace,” she said. “We need more women in tech.” (VOA)