Insert can of worms being opened… and a big can of worms it is, so get ready for a good, long, meaty read…(yes all sexual innuendo intended).
I am an actress. Recently I’ve been really disturbed by the huge number of roles needing to be cast for “strippers, women who look like strippers, ridiculously hot women willing to act in simulated sex scenes, and women who will be fully nude but…there is no pay.”
For example these breakdowns for roles have included phrases like:
Now… I should probably enter a disclaimer here so:
*DISCLAIMER* I know that in writing this I will most likely come off as being hypocritical, but this only adds to my point. (Also, this was originally published in Helenna’s Blog – Nov 25th, 2011)
I am writing this blog post in order to create a dialogue. In no way do I think I am above the issues, in fact I fully embrace that I am smack dab in the middle of the issues swimming around, sometimes drowning, and other times rockin’ the backstroke and winning the race.
Also, I have no objection to anyone who decides to be a stripper or work in the porn industry as their career. It is your path and I pass no judgement. The descriptions above happen to be what sparked a debate in my mind.
So to continue along…
In all fairness, the majority of these roles are being cast in low to no budget projects, and there have been A LOT lately that have come through the many online casting sites that are accessible to actors who either do not have representation, or are proactive and also submit themselves for projects. These types of roles have always existed, but seeing so many lately, made me start thinking about the state of women in the media.
When I was in college I took a phenomenal women’s studies class. We talked a lot about how women are portrayed in the media. I even wrote a 20 page essay on pornography as a battleground for women’s sexuality. I’d like to think that Women’s Studies 101 fully educated me on the women’s rights movement and gender equality, but there have been a lot of things lately that have brought up questions for me.
A documentary called Miss Representation was aired on OWN and it is fantastic. It raises many important points about the media being both “the message and the messenger,” and as Ariella a high school students says, “It’s all about the body and not about the brain.”
Also, while my mom was visiting we had a heated discussion about the fact that my generation is doing a pretty darn good job negating what her generation did for the feminist movement, and this was a conversation sparked by a discussion about high heels. We talked about the fact that 3 inch heels in many ways are nothing more than a modern form of Chinese foot binding.
My argument was while I definitely see her point, I love high heels. I love putting them on with skinny jeans or a cute black dress, and that they make me feel sexy and powerful.
Sexy and powerful.
So why? Why do 3 inch heels that are hell to walk in or even stand in for that matter, make me feel sexy and powerful?
Well, we still live in a male dominated culture. No matter how much I’d like to think that we’ve come a million miles since women were burning their bras, I realize that we are far from it. That in some ways, we’re so far from it, that we’ve come back around at it and are now somehow choosing a new form of feminism that does nothing but perpetuate the old form of sexism.
Case in point: The Christina Aguilera “dirrty” wave of “feminism” aka) the “we can now own our sexuality, use it, flaunt it, it belongs to us and not men -no holds barred kind of feminism.”
Now I know that many will say that this isn’t feminism at all. But I would argue that it is in fact an attempt to turn old school feminism inside out and upside down. This wave of “feminism” seems to allow women to fully be in charge of their sexuality. But the irony of this, is that the sexuality we see now, is all about what is sexy in a male dominated culture. The things that make a woman “sexy” like high heels and red lipstick, at the most animal and base cave person type level, have everything to do with turning on a man so that he will help us propel the species forward. And shamelessly, above that base level, it can help move along a woman’s career.
So, how much does it have to do with a woman feeling empowered on her own, just as a woman? Would we choose to wear high heels, makeup, and wear low cut dresses etc… if living in a male dominated culture wasn’t an issue?
In talking this out with my husband and explaining my theory about this possible new form of “upside down feminism,” he noted that “what could be seen as the new feminism looks a lot like the old Penthouse.” Meaning, “it doesn’t look like feminism at all. Not to judge either one, but the problem seems to be that there is stigma attached to both. People showing their naked bodies and exploring their sexuality has issues attached to it, and women being given equal rights does too. Trying to make either one of those things look like they are representing the other is the problem. One is a moral issue, the other is an issue of civil rights. Looking hot, dirty, and sexy does not help advance the civil rights of women. Is it hot? You bet. But how does it help?”
Yup, my husband is a smart man.
So what if I take the buzz word of “feminism” out of this whole discussion? My question then is: when is it a woman being exploited vs. a woman embracing her sexuality, or just enjoying her sexuality and being proud of her body? And moreover I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with nudity or sexual situations that aren’t gratuitous. (Yes, I know, but what is gratuitous…)
For example, if I was in my Women’s Studies 101 class today, I would instead be writing about Hollywood as a battleground for women’s sexuality.
Ah-ha…here comes that juicy can of worms…
I work in an industry where it is well known that “sex sells.” It is everywhere in the entertainment business, and it is just that, a business. In order to make money, to increase views, to sell products, the easiest way to do it is to play to humanity’s most basic desires: hunger and sex, and heck let’s just combine them and say a hunger for sex.
What’s more, is that in this day and age women are expected to be Superwomen while wearing those high heels. It’s no longer just enough to be the housewife and mother who also has a full time job…we also need to be sexy, smart, and funny. And it’d be ideal that if we are also geeky and/or nerdy, while being smoking hot without cellulite or wrinkles, with big boobs, tiny waists, and long legs. Women now need to be everything to everyone. We’re expected to be a swiss army knife of feminine amazing-ness. It’s exhausting.
There is still so much exploitation of women in advertising, in films, in music videos etc…and as seen by the breakdowns at the top of this post, it’s pretty much unavoidable. Mena Suvari and Dania Ramirez even poke fun of it in a video that they made while filming American Reunion. The video is no longer available, but was called “Ass & Titties.” Yup, turning stereotypes upside down, inside out, and back around again so that you think it’s serious and not a spoof. Pretty genius.
So what do we do? How do we change all of this so that we as women are seen for our brains and our ability? How do we own our sexuality, be proud of it, heck flaunt it if we want to, without being at the mercy of men’s idea of sexy/beautiful/smart/funny/geeky-sexy/nerdy-sexy/gamer girl-sexy/ and so on…
The reality of the matter is that I’ve chosen to work in an industry where a question like “is she f**k-able” is a totally acceptable judge of someone’s ability to book a specific role. And what’s more, is that I understand it. This is the state of the industry at the moment, and I choose to see it for what it is and do what I can to shift perception from within it.
For example, (and welcome to my personal paradox), I purposely placed myself fully nude, although with very strategic lighting so that it was implied rather than full monty, in the opening frame of my web pilot The Day Player back in 2008.
Why did I do this?
While it definitely served the story because I was using the all too overused and extremely cliché “bad dream” scenario, but I also knew that it would help grab the audience’s attention from the beginning. However despite the fact that I blatantly used the “nude card”, I specifically made sure that it wasn’t a sexualized moment. It was an embarrassing, awkward, real moment. Was it me exploiting myself? Maybe. But again, as I said in my “disclaimer” I choose to work and live in this giant paradox.
I also knew that in order to get people’s attention, an adorable yet suggestive photo that told the story in a single image, would be a great idea for all of the initial promo materials.
Again…giant paradox. Sex sells even when it’s just a suggestion of naughtiness.
I fully acknowlegde that I’m playing the game BUT, I’m playing my way. In order to succeed in this game I have accepted the current rules in order to play. The further along I get, the more I’m trying to adjust the rules, because to do anything else at this point would only work against me. I think in order to change the system, it’s easier to do it from inside than outside. I must point out however that you won’t be seeing me *actually nude*, or scantily clad for that matter, in anything any time soon….that is unless Bertolucci or Scorsese comes calling. Let’s just say I’ll cross that bridge when the time comes.
And again (hypocritical paradox), but I think high heels and red lipstick are sexy. I also applaud women who do burlesque as well as those actresses that decide that it’s ok for them to show their lady parts. I also understand that bare breasts sell an indie horror film to distributors, and that certain networks have the aesthetic of needing young, sexy, skinny magazine type glossy looking girls.
This is the current reality, and eventually with women working the system from the inside out writing more material, working as heads of Studios etc…, things will begin to shift. They already have. In fact, it is extremely refreshing to see movies like Bridesmaids and tv shows like New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and Whitney on the air. But then…Whitney is seen in a slutty “naughty nurse” outfit, and Beth Behrs who plays Caroline in 2 Broke Girls wears heels and a tiny skirt while waitressing. Is there anything wrong with these women rockin’ the sexy? I don’t think so, but here we are back in the paradox…
So, I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Are you a woman stuck in the paradox like me? Are you a man who thinks this post is B.S.? I want to hear from you all. Let’s start a dialogue.
aka) Helenna Santos levy
P.S. There is so much more to be discussed about gender inequality in Hollywood in today’s day and age as evident in this LA Times article about a USC study, but that is a whole other branch of this discussion and perhaps fodder for another blog post since this one has turned out to be longer than War and Peace…