At the “Power of Story” panel at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, writer and actress Mindy Kaling brazenly admitted, “I have a personality defect where I sort of refuse to see myself as an underdog … (My parents) raised me with the entitlement of a tall, blond, white man.” Likewise, a month later, her American Express advertisement aired, documenting her rise in a notoriously biased industry and centering on the theme of unlikely leading ladies.
Kaling is one of many women of color who have defied Hollywood’s conventions, ultimately defining their careers on their own terms. Despite the success of these women, however, Hollywood is still innately sexist.
About six percent of directors and 10 percent of writers are women, but nowhere is this sexism more obvious than on the red carpet of awards shows and movie premieres.
A double standard prevails in the industry, where actresses’ physical appearances are scrutinized and the question “Who are you wearing?” applies largely to women only, where a well-fitting dress can make career. The fact that there exists a “Mani Cam,” “Clutch Cam” and—wait for it — a “360 Degree Glam Cam” only adds to this borderline-obsessive mania.
For example, in a now-famous interview to promote The Avengers, Scarlett Johansson was asked about her diet whereas Robert Downey Jr. was asked thought-provoking questions about character and motivation. She promptly retorted, “How come you get the really interesting existential question and I get the rabbit food question?”
Interestingly, like with Johansson, actresses have been more vocal with their frustration regarding this sexism. Perhaps they too have had enough, feeling the same way that the entire world feels about Justin Bieber.
Progress was made at the 2015 Oscars, where Reese Witherspoon used her appearance to bring more light to the #AskHerMore campaign. She urged reporters to look beyond the fashion choices of female celebrities, explaining to ABC interviewer Robin Roberts, “This is a movement to say that we’re more than just our dresses.”
Others publicly announced their support for #AskHerMore, including the Shonda Rhimes, Lena Dunham and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. Reporters adjusted accordingly; Access Hollywood red carpet interviewers removed the question from their lists.
As a result, this year’s Academy Awards was deemed as a step forward for actresses. The fight is nowhere near complete, but strides have been made to foster meaningful conversation. However, some reacted to the hashtag with a sense of confusion, wondering, “What’s the big deal?”
To address their question, the big deal is the “more” at the end of the hashtag. It’s perfectly valid to ask actresses about their dresses, but following questions should dig deeper, allowing women to have the same chance to discuss their craft as their male counterparts. The point of #AskHerMore, therefore, is to bring to light a third way of media coverage that appreciates style in accordance with talent.
However, it’s important to note that #AskHerMore can be applied off the red carpet whether in sports, science or beyond. Generally speaking, the media needs to adjust its portrayal of women and to stop belittling their achievements in terms of their anatomy. This is an issue that is far more applicable than just in Hollywood, but for the world to be able to realize its scope, there needs to be an opportunity for conversation.
In retrospect, everyone could benefit from obtaining the sense of the entitlement of a tall, blonde white man.
Brittany Pham is a first-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.