For generations, it has promoted, if not promised, an aspirational lifestyle to those desperately seeking their own happy ending. This has been a double-edged sword, offering escapism at the price of ideals that have always been wholly unrealistic. To this day, Hollywood culture is divisive. Having become a mass media industry, it is no longer confined to the borders of LA, with its images beamed daily into homes across the world.
There are countless lessons to be learned from its movies and the stark reality of the lives of those who portray these characters which can, and often is, much more sinister. Even so, these figures are increasingly considered to be role models for the public, bringing Hollywood under scrutiny.
Women acting in empowered roles promote the idea that the “everyday woman” can be more than a stay-at-home mum raising children while other roles simply perpetuate the rhetoric that women are inferior to men, particularly by roles that only depict them solely as objects of beauty.
However, it is an unscripted truth that controversy has emerged in recent years. Followers of fashion have long looked to the red carpet award ceremonies for emerging trends, causing many actresses to take offence when the topic of conversation became fixated on this, and not on their performance. Questions revolving around dresses rather than the ability to act or the challenges of a role have dominated public conversation for years while there has been a distinct lack of such-like questioning directed towards their male counterparts.
In February 2014 came a notable turning point when the #AskHerMore campaign emerged from the Representation Project. It came following a social media backlash, in which viewers of award ceremonies such as the Golden Globes expressed their distaste at the dated line of questioning aimed at female actors. That year’s Emmy’s appeared to be the cumulative effect of everything which exemplified Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s summation of the situation. The CEO and founder of the Representation Project told The Hollywood Reporter that the red carpet “obviously perpetuates an unhealthy toxic culture.”
The 2014 Emmy’s consisted of mani-cams (God-forbid an actor’s nails aren’t scathingly scrutinised), as well as sexist, superficial questions directed entirely at actresses, while male actors were given the respect of being asked about their work. Of course, there was also the bizarre moment when Sofia Vergara rotated on a pedestal in a disturbingly similar manner to that of a showroom car. At this the CEO of the Television Academy joked about giving viewers “something compelling to watch.”
At times, the tasteless questioning and sexist tones went even further, as was the case with Scarlett Johansson, following her role in The Avengers, when multiple reporters asked her what she was or wasn’t wearing underneath her tight costume.
One of the most vocal actresses on this matter has been Reece Witherspoon, who promoted the #askhermore campaign prior to the 2015 Grammy awards. The actress stated: “This is a movement to say we’re more than just our dresses.” In the same year, Amy Poehler’s organization Smart Girls launched a campaign called #SmartGirlsAsk to generate more meaningful conversations on the red carpet.
The subsequent Emmy Awards did just that, using questions submitted from Twitter, while Smart Girls attended the Emmy Awards to ask some of TV’s biggest stars about their careers, their experience of being a woman in Hollywood, and what empowers them. Campaigns such as these have certainly raised public awareness to this issue and, in turn, public support has forced a noticeable change. More recently, these campaigns have enjoyed greater success as the press has begun to take notice of the change in tone.
While the line of questioning(for now at least), has become somewhat more palatable, there remain points of friction from other arising issues. The pay gap between male and female actors has been brought to public attention in recent years. Although it is difficult to feel sympathy for multi-millionaires, it is nonetheless an important exemplification of a wider issue of disconnect and societal discontent. It has successfully allowed for the revisiting of the conversation.
The New York Times reported that women earn 79 cents for every dollar men do. Although it has been over half a century since the Equal Pay Act was signed by JFK, the pay gap is still gaping. Many theories explain the factors perpetuating this gap, such as “The way men and women are segregated into different job functions.”
According to the chief economist at Glassdoor, Andrew Chamberlain, the reinvigorated conversation has stirred up new strategies that have alleviated the problem. One example is a noticeable shrink in the pay gap when employers publish their employees’ salaries. Sociologist Jake Rosenfeld of Washington University goes some way to explain this as he has found that “salary transparency raises wages, in part by lending legitimacy to employees’ arguments in wage bargaining.”
While the gender pay gap does not show differences in pay for comparable jobs, it does show a trend of inequality. Unequal pay for men and women has been illegal for 45 years in the UK, and in November 2016 the Government Equalities Office published a report detailing that the UK gender pay gap is at just over 18%, which is its lowest level to date. This would suggest that although an equilibrium has not yet been reached, the general trend is positive. Be that as it may, as British companies prepare to publish what their male and female employees earn, early reports from a few companies have revealed pay gaps as high as 36% That’s twice the national average.
The passive stance of refusing to answer g questions on the red carpet may seem petty to some, but for many, it is symbolic: a voice speaking for others. It may not be much, but it still has value, Even by offering a sense of empathy for those experiencing problems related to the gender pay gap or sexism at work. It acts as a reminder not to become complaisant, that just because an issue may be prolific and commonplace, it doesn’t mean we should accept it. Such movements recall the comfort and aspirations of the old Hollywood. While it may be expected to receive such support at a regional, local political, or community level, the sad reality is that we have to take nourishment from wherever people of influence offer us articulation. We can only gain comfort from the feeling of, and hope for, change.
The public declarations of exacerbation and discussion of these issues, either on the red carpet or during speeches and monologues at award ceremonies, may feel like shallow nods, but it is imperative that as role models these figures do what they can. Outspoken women such as Amy Schumer can effectively highlight important issues. The epitome of such arguably arose from a protracted joke from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler when speaking about the achievements of Amal Clooney.
Witticisms can act as a superb vehicle to express issues such as this. While it comes from a platform that has less to gain by change, it speaks to a sense of self-worth and respect. To many, the #askhermore campaign might have seemed petty, but the results are certainly refreshing. We can only hope that this will filter through wider society and issues such as the gender pay gap will not only diminish but close. In order for that to happen, we need a vessel to represent the issue, someone with a platform who can be heard, with a heart for real change.