Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Our stories, Ourselves
I try to write about women’s issues a lot on this blog – not just because I’m a woman, but because it matters how 51 percent of the population is treated in this world. I would hope that even if I wasn’t a woman I’d still care a lot about women’s issues. Women’s rights, women’s representation, women’s equality – they aren’t just about how women are treated, but what we value as a society. Even though this is mostly just a silly site that merrily muses about effervescent pop culture and pretty, pretty ladies, I try to do my small part to advocate for more, better and total inclusion of women in all forms of entertainment. This year I made an informal resolution to myself to stop watching TV shows that don’t pass the Bechdel Rule. So that killed “Hawaii Five-O” (Grace Park in a bikini is great, but it’d be even greater if she had another regular female castmate to talk with each week.) In TV – where we follow characters for years, not just 90 minutes – it’s even less excusable to not pass the simple test of having two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.
But what we see on screen is one thing, what happens behind the screen is another. The simple fact, the undeniable truth is that we women simply are not in command of our own stories. You see, who tells a story matters. Yet according to a new study by the Women’s Media Center, only 8 percent of all film writers are women. That means 92 percent are men, telling all of the stories we see on the screen. In 2009, women directed 7 percent of the top films that year. That’s the same percentage as in 1987, more than two decades ago. Last year, everyone crowed about the great stride for womankind with Kathryn Bigelow’s win as the first woman in 82 years to win an Academy Award for directing. She was only the fourth woman ever to receive the nomination. This year no women were nominated, despite two female-directed films landing best pictures nods. One step forward, yet we’re still looking up from the bottom rung.
These kinds of stark imbalances are sadly not sequestered to the world of entertainment. Women represent less than 25 percent of all op-ed pieces written, 13 percent of Sunday morning news show guests and 3 percent of the decision makers in the media. And we haven’t even reached the halls of real power. Out of 435 members of the House of Representatives, only 79 are women. Out of 100 senators, only 17 are women. We’ve only ever had one female Speaker of the House, who has now been relegated to minority leader. We are still waiting for our first-ever female vice president or president. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Just yesterday it was revealed in The New York Times that just 13 percent of Wikipedia contributors are women. And Wikipedia is a self-selecting group that can create, edit, contribute at will. So we’re self-selecting ourselves out of 87 percent of the information shared on one of the world’s largest information databases. Fantastic.
These numbers should make us furious. We should be livid. We should demand and accept nothing less than an equal place at the tables of power. Yet, here we are, chugging along. We coexist calmly in the face of inherent inequality. And, sure we frequently bemoan our fate and raise a righteous fuss, but otherwise we kind of just accept it. Maybe it’s that we've been conditioned to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. So we’ve been fooled into not caring. But it matters who tells our stories, who makes our news, who controls our power.
I guess this is my long and rambling way of saying, I’m mad. I think we all should be mad. That informal Bechdel resolution is now a permanent one. Same goes for movies. Same goes for whatever I put out there every day in my small of slices of that media pie. I’m going to try harder, be madder, get louder. Our stories deserve to be told, and we deserve to tell them.