Peggy Thompson: How audiences can become aware of sexism against women on screen

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      By Peggy Thompson

      In almost every mainstream feature film and television program women and girls onscreen are outnumbered by men and boys by at least three to one and that number is even higher behind the camera.

      The percentage of women working behind the camera in Canada has not changed dramatically since the 1980s. (Female directors of photography worldwide? Three percent.)

      And yet 47 percent of film school students are women and women receive 50 percent of peer-juried media arts funding (i.e. BC Arts Council and Canada Council). In Telefilm Canada’s self-commissioned Burgess Report, the agency is heavily criticized for its seriously inequitable funding for women.

      What does this tell us? This tells us that change is long overdue given the effect that screen based media has on how we think and feel about the world around us.

      When I began my writing career working in theatre for children I was told that girls will watch stories about boys but boys won’t watch stories about girls. Thirty years later, it’s time for that to finally change. And women are the highest film-watching demographic. So the system—and it is a system—is broken.

      As with all change awareness is the first step. Try and imagine No Country For Old Men with an all-female cast. Start counting the number of meaningful roles for women in front of and behind the camera in the films and television programs you watch and then wonder how that’s affecting the world that your mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters live in.

      Check out the Genie and Gemini breakdowns on our Please Adjust Your Set website. You’ll be horrified.

      Read Telefilm Canada’s The Burgess Report: Need Assessment For Gender Based Impact Analysis of the Canadian Feature Film Policy and wonder why they can’t fix themselves when it’s public money they’re working with.

      Visit the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and prepare to be amazed by the work Geena Davis is doing.

      Check out the Montreal-based Réalisatrices Équitable de Film du Québec and understand what political pressure can do to bring about change.

      Visit Women and Film and Television Vancouver and understand why volunteers work hard to advocate for women filmmakers.

      And check out Women and Hollywood for the latest news about Hollywood from a feminist perspective.

      Peggy Thompson is a UBC Creative Writing Program associate professor, filmmaker, Please Adjust Your Set publisher, and Women in Film and Television Vancouver board member and founding president.




      Nov 25, 2011 at 12:27pm

      In marketplace economics, what may appear to be discriminatory merely reflects the simple laws of supply and demand rather than any evil, masculine conspiracy. In the entertainment industry the fact that most people buy tickets to see a male movie star than a female one provides no reason to assume that the entertainment moguls discriminate against the latter. Peggy, as you state that women are the highest film-watching demographic, could it be that women would rather see men in movies and they are the ones dictating the # of roles for men and women on screen.

      Also, you state that 47 percent of film school students are women and women receive 50 percent of peer-juried media arts funding. Could it be that this group needs to step it up with the quality of their work in regards to getting more awards?

      Or is pressuring for gov't intervention for a remake of No Country For Old Men with an all-female cast the answer to equity?

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      Diana Stevan

      Nov 25, 2011 at 2:57pm

      My grandson is an aspiring filmmaker. I'm trying to educate him about the problems with the way females are depicted in film and television today. And as an actress, I still see all those breakdowns with few decent roles for women. Not sure how we can get around all that and have it more balanced, behind the camera and in front of it.

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      Nov 25, 2011 at 3:54pm

      Diana, perhaps you can also educate your grandson about the way males are depicted in film and television. It's rare to find roles with depth about 3 dimensional men or positive and progressive role models in film and tv for males. They're too often portrayed as dimwits as in the Harold and Kumar or Two and Half Men genre, or dehumanized/demonized and blamed for all that is wrong in many other genres.

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      Chris M

      Nov 25, 2011 at 7:49pm

      Good article and links Peggy. Film and television is still very much an old 'n young boys club. Would have liked to email this article but I didn't see a button for that. I know I can c&p the address but why not an email button.

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      Nov 26, 2011 at 11:41am

      I saw nothing in this article about an "evil masculine conspiracy". Just facts about who is employed and who is represented.

      We know enough about electronic media to know that what we see tends to tell who and what we are and we behave accordingly. When we are not seen on screen we tend to feel delegitimized or invisible. Also, anyone who has worked in film and tv knows that marketers and tv bureaucrats believe that the only audience demographic is male 18-30, hence the deck we a continually force fed.

      Why is it that whenever a woman points out certain facts of inequity, someone is always at the ready to lecture her on the "fact" that what she is addressing is not a "male conspiracy"? In other words, "shut up and don't mention that giant elephant in the middle of the room."

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      Nov 27, 2011 at 10:53am

      50% of media arts funding goes to women and this is "seriously inequitable"? Huh? How does that make sense?

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      Mike L.

      Nov 28, 2011 at 11:27pm

      Which is worse? The soul-deadening drivel foisted on us by the major studios? Or the fact that not enough women contribute to the creation of said soul-deadening drivel? There are more cogent issues to discuss than the texture and colour of the shite in which we're all wading....

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