I have been a movie fan since I was a child. So the annual Oscars ceremony is a no-miss event for me. I love the spectacle, the celebration of this amazing art form, the drama, the performances and of course the fashion.
This year, in between my tears during the performance of Glory, my excitement at Lady Gaga’s tribute to the Sound of Music (one of the first movies I remember seeing), and my glee at the sheer fun of watching Neil Patrick Harris excel as host, I was struck by the multiple messages regarding women in the entertainment industry and beyond. They seemed interestingly, if not deliberately, aligned with this year’s theme: Imagine What’s Possible.
On the red carpet Reese Witherspoon introduced the hashtag #AskHerMore – a plea on the part of the nominated women to be asked about more than their outfits when being interviewed. These women are the top professionals in their fields and the only question they are usually asked is “Who are you wearing”. Ms. Witherspoon and others said they don’t mind giving credit to the talented artists who design their dresses; they just want attention for their accomplishments as well. The Representation Project suggested other questions the media might pose to the female nominees. Some media representatives, particularly Robin Roberts, jumped on board. Regardless of their profession, women are still more often recognized, positively and negatively, for how they look. This narrow focus devalues women’s contributions. As long as we are objectified our talents are not fully appreciated and therefore will not be fully compensated.
Obviously, this attitude is linked to the wage inequality issue raised by Patricia Arquette who essentially issued a demand for equal rights and wage equality not only for women in Hollywood but for all American women. The sad and disgusting truth in Hollywood is that no matter their popularity with movie audiences, the gross receipts of their movies, or the depth and breadth of their talent, female cast and crew are paid less than their male counterparts. And the same can be said for every industry and almost every country on earth.
And finally, I noted that in the photo shown of the winners of the technology awards – the Science part of the Academy of Arts and Sciences – there were less than a handful of women.
This demonstrates how significantly women are missing out on the many opportunities in the technology industry. Young girls are very interested in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and math. But by middle and high school the great majority has lost interest.[i] Discouragement from educators, parents and other influencers, lack of mentors and role models, stereotypical male environments in STEM classrooms, and lack of appropriate toys when they are young all contribute to the disparity.[ii] This is a huge mistake.
I think another reason I have always loved movies is the willingness on the part of so many in the industry to take on tough issues and in most circumstances to challenge us to do better. Clearly when it comes to valuing women equally, monetarily and otherwise, we can do much better. Maybe the actions and comments Sunday night can help drive effective dialogue among the nearly one billion people worldwide who were watching with me. And rather than just imaging what’s possible women can live what’s possible.
Joanne Bintliff-Ritchie is a retired Human Resources Executive and the Chair of the BCWAC Communications Committee.