Thoughts about Feminism: Interview with Linda Ong, CEO of Truth Co.
Christina Marlene: Dear Linda, I got to know you through the „Women in Entertainment“ inaugural event at the Arclight movie theatre in Hollywood 2015 where you moderated a discussion round aimed at revealing daily issues of women in power.
What was your overall impression of this event? Do you share the optimistic view that the breaking point has been reached and numbers will start looking different for women in 2016?
Linda Ong (Truth Co.): I think events like this are important. At the same time, the industry needs to acknowledge larger cultural shifts that may affect how messages are heard by people with millennial sensibilities (even if they’re not millennials). One of the challenges I called out in the last panel was the need for more outsiders (especially men) in the conversation. Of the 800+ attendees at Arclight, the overwhelming majority were women who were already deeply entrenched or interested in this conversation. To make change now, when women are increasingly aware and deploying their empowerment, we can’t keep preaching to the choir. I think there were seven men in the audience.
CP: How do you look at wardrobe in an industry as particular as the entertainment business? Is the exterior still the main criteria for getting a job? How should a woman who doesn’t want to subject herself to such scrutiny dress – and act? Is it even possible not to subject yourself to the exterior scrutiny of your body in entertainment and in society as a whole?
LO: The interesting thing about this “fourth wave” of feminism is that it’s very conflicted.
A simple little exercise for you: Count, how many women are giving advice here in this AWESOME clip provided by the Academy, and how many are:
Geena Davis takes research data to Olympics at Arclight’s ‘Women in Entertainment’ inaugural summit
In the entertainment industry, only 7% of all Directors, 12% of all film Protagonists, 16% of all TV Episodic Directors, 22% of all rotten tomatoes critics, are women.
After a morning of discussions about a wide variety of topics ranging from role choices, to promotion strategies, to implication of diversity, to mentorship (which seemed to take an important place in the discussion about job placement in the industry), Cathy Schulman of STX Entertainment ended the first half of the event with a convincing showcase of numbers and a plan of action how to change the vast under placement of females in power positions in Hollywood in the future, thereby leading the audience with a good sense of hope, and a growling tummy into the lunch-break.
When Geena Davis – the highlight of this inaugural event – stepped up to the podium, the atmosphere changed. With a rather bleak sense of humor she found that before any of these numbers would change, she would first be offered the role as co-star in James Bonde’s final cremation episode.
The very pretty and witty Academy Award winning actress admitted possibly for the first time, that it was preferable for her to tell the public, when asked why she wasn’t being seen in any recent feature productions, that she was giving her family preference over her job life, rather than to admit that roles in her age range were simply very scarce – a direct reference to Schulman’s concept of an activation program lead by successful industry ambassadors to remove gender related fears and gender related biases.
Miss Davis’ opinion about the unlikeliness of change is backed by numbers: since 1946, the above shown ratio of male/female placement in the industry has remained the same.
Geena Davis made a series of further, very interesting observations. For instance, she noticed that it is more frequent in children’s programs to kill off the Mom. “If we are supposed to create true parity, we must kill off the fathers, too.”
She also noticed a lack of female characters in G and PG movies. This ratio is the worst of all in children’s movies, where hyper-sexualization of females between the ages of 13-39 are the norm, together with a one-dimensional, stylized, and stereotypical character portrait.
These and similar observations eventually led her to found the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, where, like she remarked sarcastically, they are about to take their numbers about gender inequality to the Olympics.
One other shocking observation of the Geena Davis Institute is the lack of females in large crowd scenes.
”Only 17% of all the people in large crowds are women. What are the Directors who organized these scenes trying to say: that all the women are at home while their heroic men are out and about to change the world?”
Geena Davis most certainly is not at a lack of sarcasm when it comes to discussing sexism in the movie industry.
With all these observations made, she concludes how movies, in particular children’s movies seem to be showing us that women are less important. “Is this really what we want to be teaching our children?” It is a rhetoric question.
To make improvements, her institute recommends to use 50% of women when creating large crowd scenes as a general rule. Also, when casting a script, she audaciously suggested to replace all male characters with females until the ratio of 50% is complete – regardless of their attributes.
“It is interesting how this strategy of simple replacement creates new and compelling characters, as their original conception was not intended to be female.”
While the overall discussion of this inaugural event was definitely revealing on a level of statistical research, on an intellectual level, it was disappointing.
Linda Ong’s (Truth Co.) justified question, why Supergirl was not accepted as a role model by certain women, was answered with the same lack of thoughtfulness, as her attempted discussion about women and wardrobe. And while Mandi Line certainly assured with a smashing power-outfit, even she, the rising star of the Hollywood costume industry, had few words to say about this topic.
This lack of deeper reflection about an obvious stereotype and the lack of opposing thoughts is rather disappointing coming from a group of women which has been selected for their power positions in society and their success in this business, and who claim that their objective is to strengthen the power of their fellow females, not weaken them.
Maybe, and the author here is merely guessing, this has something to do with the fact that wearing an almost all revealing French Maid outfit is considered tactful at an event which has as its objective the abolishment of sexism.
The choice of wardrobe seen here and the lack of intellectual backing of this feminist movement in Hollywood is just a sign about who really still dominates the world, and why.
And while the choice of speakers and podium members has been an overall inspiring showcase of female power in the industry, there will hopefully be some more backing of this movement on an intellectual level, which will not only present the problematic of lacking female power in Hollywood by means of numbers, but have some explanations about how these mechanisms between men and women came into being, and why.
All this of course by keeping the final perspective in mind, of a real, permanent change.