“As women, we must stand up for ourselves. We must stand up for each other. We must stand up for justice for all.”—Michelle Obama
“I’ve been in this field for more than 30 years,” said co-anchor of Today Ann Curry. “I’ve heard a lot of stereotypes.”
Women continue climbing the rungs of power—building their ranks as heads of state, corporate leaders and media influencers—but their minority status means they still face harsh, limiting assessments based on their gender. “Women are being judged more, even by other women,” said Valerie Young, Ed.D., author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. While male leaders are allowed to have complex personalities, powerful women are often summed up by hackneyed stereotypes that undermine them and their power.
ForbesWoman tracked down many of the world’s most powerful women, from IMF chief Christine Lagarde to Jill Abramson of the New York Times, to ask: What is your least favorite stereotype about powerful women? Gender and career experts also weighed in on the dangerous notions about female success and how they seep into the collective subconscious. The following represent the 10 most hated and pervasive stereotypes.
No. 1: Ice Queen
Halley Bock, CEO of leadership and development training company Fierce, notes that the ruthless “ice queen” stereotype is rampant. Cultural depictions, like frigid magazine editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (and her real-world counterpart Anna Wintour of Vogue) and back-stabbing boss Patty Hewes on Damages, paint successful women as unsympathetic power-mongers. It is, of course, a Catch-22. “A woman who shows emotion in the workplace is often cast as too fragile or unstable to lead,” Bock said. “A woman who shows no emotion and keeps it hyper-professional is icy and unfeminine. For many women, it can be a no-win situation.”
No. 2: Single and Lonely
Harvard lecturer Olivia Fox Cabane notes that the strong perception that powerful women are intimidating to men and will need to sacrifice their personal lives may stop women from going after power. Even those women who aren’t interested in marrying, face harsh judgments. Men get to be “bachelors” while women are reduced to “spinsters” and “old-maids.” In fact, when Janet Napolitano was nominated Secretary of Homeland Security, critics said her being single would allow her to “spend more time on the job.”
No. 3: Tough
The first female Executive Editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson is anything but stereotypical. She had a hard-charging career as an investigative reporter at The Wall Street Journal and edited her way to the top of the Times masthead. She’s also a true-blood New Yorker and is writing a book about puppies. Despite her complexities, she must contend with being called “tough” and “brusque,” making the “she’s-tough stereotype” her least favorite. Said Abramson: “As an investigative reporter, I had tough standards and a formidable way of framing and reporting stories, but I don’t think of myself as a tough person.”
No. 4: Weak
Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla, the country’s first female leader, told me that successful women face typecasting largely because society is still adjusting to women’s recent decision-making power. Chinchilla believes the most pervasive stereotype is that women are “weak,” a perception that may stem from women’s greater desire to build a consensus. “We understand success not as the result of just one person but as the result of a team,” she said. “[It’s a] different way of dealing with power [that] is misunderstood as a kind of weakness.”
No. 5: Masculine
The notion that powerful women must be, lead and look like a man really aggravates Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. In a video interview with FORBES she said–pumping her fist–she hates the idea that “you have to look like a businessman.” She admitted she sometimes feels the pressure to look the “right” way, but tries to resist not being “overly businesslike.”
No. 6: Conniving
When NBC’s Curry first started her career, she was told she couldn’t be a news reporter because women had “no news judgment.” Now, she’s at the top of her game and says the stereotype that most offends her is “the idea that a woman can only be successful because she somehow connived or engineered her rise–that she could not rise simply because she was too good to be denied.” She has experienced it herself, saying that she gets asked if she “forced” NBC to give her the anchor job or if there was a “backroom deal.” Curry told me, “I find it really annoying.”
No. 7: Emotional
Ellen Lubin-Sherman, executive coach and author of business guide The Essentials of Fabulous, believes one the most dangerous stereotypes female leaders will face is that they are prone to emotional outbursts. Despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s consistent cool-headed demeanor, when she teared up on the campaign trail, the media pounced. Similarly, former Yahoo Chief Carol Bartz is frequently cited for her “salty language,” which has been used as evidence that she is “emotional” and a “loose cannon.”
No. 8: Angry
“Anger is a sign of status in men, but when women show anger they are viewed as less competent,” said Young. First Lady Michelle Obama was condemned as an “angry black woman” when she was campaigning for her husband in the 2008 presidential election. The Harvard-trained lawyer conscientiously softened her image and speeches in order to be more “likable,” becoming better known for her fashion and her unending support of her husband than for her stance on political issues.
No. 9: A Token
Women hold just 16% of corporate board seats. But instead of focusing on balancing things out, they are often devalued as being a “token” of diversity rather than having earned the post. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was often the only woman in the room, but her gender didn’t get her there. “While companies take their diversity goals seriously, they are not going to settle for less than the best person for the job,” said Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA career center at Northeastern University. “Women are hired because of their education and experience and what they can do for the company.”
No. 10: A Cheerleader
Billie Blair, president and CEO of Change Strategists, notes that prominent women who are considered feminine and warm may be dismissed as “cheerleaders” rather than the strong leaders that they are. When former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was running for VP, Blair was amazed to hear a male client describe her as “a cheerleader, not a coach nor a quarterback.”
(From October, 2011)
Think. Who is the scariest woman you can conjure? Does she have snakes writhing from her head? Razor eyes and sharpened teeth? Or is she in practical pumps and a power suit?
For the Financial Times’ Lucy Kellaway it is the latter. The columnist confessed in a piece on Sunday, “My successful female friends have started to scare me.” Her successful male friends (see: pudgy, balding), on the other hand, produce nothing but warm fuzzies.
She goes on to list the women she finds most frightening in the world: Madonna produces chills with her grinding and thigh-high boots; Angela Merkel apparently strikes fear with her bowl cut and lip pursing; Carla Bruni-Sarkozy loiters terrifyingly; Rebekah Brooks has that red hair; Marjorie Scardino dares to be the boss, while Margaret Thatcher and Anna Wintour terrorize tyrannically; Hillary Clinton‘s mere existence appears to scare Kellaway.
To her credit, Kellaway seems to recognize the absurdity of her fears, and (eventually) notes that “it could be nothing to do with successful women and everything to do with how we perceive them.”
Last year, I rounded up the 10 worst stereotypes about powerful women, with input from some of the world’s most influential female leaders. Many of them invoked either a cold, sterile rigidness or an erratic, vengeful fury–distinct but equally scary. Meanwhile, studies show that assertive women are more likely to be perceived as aggressive; that women usually don’t ask for what they deserve but when they do, they risk being branded as domineering or, worse even, “ambitious.”
Lifestyle magazines and romantic comedies also often paint power in women as threatening, especially when it comes to love. Female success scares men away, they taunt. It’s intimidating, abnormal and unattractive. But if you just have to earn more than him, do let him drive and don’t talk about work. How generous.
But perhaps it isn’t too shocking that pastel pant suits strike fear in the hearts of friends and employees everywhere. In the U.S., men run roughly 97% of the largest public companies, hold 84% of major board positions and control 83% of Congress. Truly powerful women remain a tiny minority, and fear of the unknown is common and rational—unlike Kellaway’s fears of footwear and hairstyles.
The real question isn’t who the scariest woman is or why she scares us; it’s how as a society do we plan to face these fears and put them behind us?
Happy women’s day, yo
What’s misandry, again?
- Women perform 66% of the world’s work, but receive only 11% of the world’s income, and own only 1% of the world’s land.
- Women make up 66% of the world’s illiterate adults.
- Women head 83% of single-parent families. The number of families nurtured by women alone doubled from 1970 to 1995 (from 5.6 million to 12.2 million).
- Women account for 55% of all college students, but even when women have equal years of education it does not translate into economic opportunities or political power.
- There are six million more women than men in the world.
- Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls. Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school.
- Parents in countries such as China and India sometimes use sex determination tests to find out if their fetus is a girl. Of 8,000 fetuses aborted at a Bombay clinic, 7,999 were female.
- Wars today affect civilians most, since they are civil wars, guerrilla actions and ethnic disputes over territory or government. 3 out of 4 fatalities of war are women and children.
- Rape is consciously used as a tool of genocide and weapon of war. Tens of thousands of women and girls have been subjected to rape and other sexual violence since the crisis erupted in Darfur in 2003. There is no evidence of anyone being convicted in Darfur for these atrocities.
- About 75% of the refugees and internally displaced in the world are women who have lost their families and their homes.
- Gender-based violence kills one in three women across the world and is the biggest cause of injury and death to women worldwide, causing more deaths and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accident, and war.
Elizabeth Jane Cochran, better known as Nellie Bly. This woman was AWESOME. As a female journalist in the 1800s, she not only took a record breaking trip around the world, but she faked insanity to go undercover in a Victorian mental institution and write an expose.
On Facebook and Twitter, there’s hot debate over “Bad Girls.” Many absolutely love the video, proclaiming it to be M.I.A’s big comeback, while others remain unsure. Some see it as embodying resistance to the norm, while others don’t think it resists enough.
For my part, I’m taken in but left feeling uneasy. What’s missing is the present context of North Africa and the Middle East; it’s been a year since the revolution that toppled Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s #Jan25 call that led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the Libyan uprising against Muammar Qaddafi, and ongoing struggles for political justice in Syria and Yemen. Images, videos, and news reports of the region have shown inspiring scenes of resistance.
But in “Bad Girls”’ depictions of the Arab world, I see a false, hyped-up misrepresentation of the region we now know for the Arab Spring. I’m bothered by M.I.A.’s reproduction of Orientalist tropes–“Orientalist” in Edward Said’s sense, of a distorted lens through which Arabs are viewed and “experienced” by the West. “Bad Girls” is just a hipper, high-definition stereotype of Arabs as desert-dwelling, sword-wielding, horse-riding, and dangerous.
M.I.A. and the video’s director, Romain Gavrais, perform controversy for the sake of controversy and cash in on the Arab Spring. They aestheticize the recent uprisings while avoiding a precise political statement.
I get that it’s just a music video. I also get that there’s only so much a music video can do. At the same time, compared to a reality in which Arab peoples are demanding control of their own representation, not as terrorists or blank faces with guns but as people fighting for political voice, “Bad Girls” seems lacking in creativity and vision. While undeniably hip, M.I.A.’s video is politically vacant in comparison to lesser-known artists with far fewer resources–like DAM and Shadia Mansoor from Palestine and the Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst." - Hyphen Magazine’s Thanu Yakupitiyage questions M.I.A.’s solidarity politics in her “Bad Girls” vid on the R today. (via racialicious)
Rick Santorum creates a stir by speaking out against prenatal testing. Virginia’s governor and legislature get caught up in an emotional debate over requiring women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound. President Obama, under pressure, recalibrates his position on health-insurance coverage of contraception for employers with religious affiliations.
Social issues are back with a vengeance, dominating the dialogue on the presidential campaign trail, in Congress and in state capitals.
In an election that until this point has been almost totally defined by the economy’s struggles, the abrupt return of the culture wars has introduced a volatile new element. There are any number of ways in which the politics might play out, but perhaps the biggest question is the degree to which the new attention on social issues might shape the battle for one of the most important electoral swing groups: moderate and independent women voters.
Even before social issues were forced front and center by the combination of Mr. Santorum’s new prominence, the recent battle over the Susan G. Komen foundation’s financing of Planned Parenthood and Mr. Obama’s decision to revise his contraception policy, both parties were tracking the sentiments of women voters closely.
Comments by Mr. Santorum about related issues, including women in combat and the role of “radical feminism” in encouraging work outside the home, only fueled the sense that the election could present women with stark ideological choices about their rights and place in society.
Democrats, including Mr. Obama, have traditionally relied heavily on the female vote. From 1992 to 2008, Democrats won the overall women’s vote in every presidential election, with Mr. Obama defeating Senator John McCain four years ago 56 percent to 43 percent among women, according to exit polls. (Republicans have tended to win white women and married women, with Democrats winning nonwhite women and single women.)
But in the 2010 midterm election, women, who vote in greater numbers than men, swung to Republicans, if barely, cutting deeply into the core of Mr. Obama’s electoral coalition.
There are now signs that Mr. Obama is winning women back to the Democratic side. In a New York Times/CBS News poll this month, Mr. Obama came out well ahead of Mitt Romney among all women in a head-to-head matchup (53 percent to 37 percent) and essentially held him to a draw even among white and married women. Mr. Obama held much the same advantage over Mr. Santorum, who has trailed behind Mr. Romney among women voters in some state polls looking at Republican primary contests.
Social issues provide both parties a chance to rally their ideological bases. For Republicans, especially in low-turnout primaries, invoking values-laden subjects helps generate turnout among conservatives, both men and women. On the Democratic side, the Komen fight and the Virginia ultrasound law have been opportunities for abortion-rights and women’s groups to raise money, register voters and promote their agendas.
It is less clear how the issues might play among moderate and independent women. As one example, Catholic women, another swing group won by Mr. Obama in 2008 that Republicans won in 2010, backed the administration’s stance about health coverage of contraception in this month’s New York Times/CBS News poll.
Democrats say their opportunity is less to run on those issues in particular than to use the subject to help convince women, and especially independent women, that Republicans are moving so far to the right in a general sense that they are no longer an acceptable alternative to run the country.
“When Republicans focus in a very extreme way on these kinds of issues, it focuses more attention on the problems with the Republican brand,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. “It becomes part of a larger narrative about Republican leadership and a referendum on Republican leadership over the last year and a half.”
Independent women “are turned off by extremism,” Ms. Greenberg said. “It’s not a broadband issue for the Democratic Party, but as a targeted message to independent women, it can be very effective.”
But while social issues inspire passionate reactions along the ideological wings of the two parties, they tend not to be seen as priorities among the vast pool of voters in the middle – especially at a time when the economy remains far and away their main concern.
“You rarely ever see social issues come up as one of the most important issues facing the nation,” said Karlyn Bowman, who studies public opinion as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative research group. “Historically, while they have been big and divisive issues in some governor’s and Senate races, they tend not to be very important on a national level.”
More to the point, some Republicans said, the surge of attention to these issues could well prove to be brief, and to fade quickly away if Mr. Romney can dispatch Mr. Santorum relatively quickly and return the focus of the campaign to Mr. Obama’s performance on creating jobs.
“If Rick Santorum is not the nominee, all the attention to these issues is going to evaporate,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “The probability of social issues playing a significant role in the general election is minimal.”
The idea that Republicans will be branded as extremists in the eyes of independent and moderate voters as a result of the current focus on the issues is “a Democratic fantasy,” Mr. Ayres said. “What will drive independent voters is whether they see improvement in the economy and progress in stopping the relentless expansion of federal spending and deficits and keeping us from going the way of Greece.”
A Ninjutsu practitioner performs a split as members of various Ninjutsu schools showcase their skills to the media in a gym at Karaj, 45 km (28 miles) northwest of Tehran February 13, 2012. Currently about 3000 to 3500 women train in Ninjutsu in independently run clubs throughout Iran working under the supervision of the Ministry of Sports’ Martial Arts Federation. Picture taken February 13, 2012.
srsly what the hell am i doing with my life?
WASHINGTON — Only days after having to explain a comment about women in the military and emotions in combat, Rick Santorum seemed to struggle a bit on Sunday to explain a remark in his book “It Takes a Family” that accuses “radical feminists” of undermining families and trying to convince women that they could find fulfillment only in the workplace.
Asked by George Stephanopoulos about that remark on ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. Santorum said that his wife, Karen, had written that section of the 2005 book — though only his name is on the cover and he does not list her, in his acknowledgements, among those “who assisted me in the writing of this book.” He said that when Ms. Santorum, a nurse and a lawyer, had quit her job to raise the couple’s children, she felt that many people “looked down their nose at that decision.”
“Sadly the propaganda campaign launched in the 1960s has taken root,” Mr. Santorum, or his wife, wrote in the book. “The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”
In the interview Sunday with Mr. Stephanopoulos, Mr. Santorum pleaded unfamiliarity with the citation, saying, “I don’t know — that’s a new quote for me,” before adding that “the bottom line is that people should have equal opportunity to rise in the work force.”
But criticism of his argument that more women should perhaps stay home should not have come as news to Mr. Santorum as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination. The book was sharply debated during his unsuccessful 2006 bid for re-election as a senator from Pennsylvania, drawing pointed criticism from women’s groups and Democratic officials at the time.
Mr. Santorum argues in the book that many of the problems facing the poor could be solved by building stronger families and communities, including by making divorce more difficult and providing fatherhood training programs.
His fundamental point, he said on Sunday, was that there should be a strong “affirmation of whatever decision women decide to make.”
Last week, Mr. Santorum faced a brief storm of criticism after saying in a CNN interview that to put more women in combat roles “could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.”
He managed to quell some of the criticism — if not all — by saying later that he was referring to the emotional reactions of male soldiers. “Men have emotions when you see a woman in harm’s way,” he said Friday on NBC, adding that it was a “natural inclination to not focus on the mission but to try to be in a position where you might want to protect someone.”
There is another reason Mr. Santorum, in his interview Sunday, should not have been surprised by the line of questioning he got Sunday. Mr. Stephanopoulos had asked him about the same quote in 2005, pressing him to identify those he said were creating pressure for women to work:
Asked by Mr. Stephanopoulos, “Where are these radical feminists?” Mr. Santorum had replied, “It comes from an elite culture, dictated, again, from academia, dictated, again, from the Hollywood culture and the news media, that says, ‘The only thing that’s affirming, the only thing that really counts is what you do at work.’ ”
He then added: “And that goes for men and women. And it’s wrong. It’s wrong to tell that to fathers. It’s wrong to tell that to mothers. And we need to value mothers and fathers spending time with their children much more than we do in America.”
Katharine Q. Seelye contributed reporting from New York.
Jennifer was an extremely talented undergraduate, majoring in mathematics and engineering. Her grades and test scores were nearly perfect; her professors saw a bright future for her as an engineering professor and encouraged her to pursue a doctorate. In graduate school, she continued to excel, accumulating high-quality publications, fellowships and awards. She landed a premier postdoctoral position and was headed for a first-tier professorship. But she never applied for a tenure-track academic job. As a 33-year-old postdoc, she could not imagine waiting to have children until after tenure at age 40, nor could she imagine how she would juggle caring for a young family with the omnipresent demands of an assistant professorship. The harried lives of the two tenured mothers in her department convinced her that such a path was not for her. Jennifer made the choice to have a family and teach mathematics part-time at a local community college.
Although it’s not hard to find evidence of women professors’ many successes in the academy, scenarios like Jennifer’s are all too common.[…]
If we are to truly equalize the professional opportunities in science, a field where “expertise” takes in the neighborhood 10 years of post collegiate training, we must provide ample and fair support for young families. Fathers too, sure, but the stigma of motherhood and the false conflict that has been built between having children and being able to compete for jobs in professional science. It seems like Sophie’s Choice, only between doing what you love or creating something you love.
It’s about more than the dangers of having kids later in life and creating a real-life Idiocracy. It’s about continuing to rid sexual bias from a world where it has been deeply rooted for decades. Has anyone had thoughts or experiences about this fork in life’s road?
The first is that true gender equality is actually perceived as inequality. A group that is made up of 50% women is perceived as being mostly women. A situation that is perfectly equal between men and women is perceived as being biased in favor of women.
And if you don’t believe me, you’ve never been a married woman who kept her family name. I have had students hold that up as proof of my “sexism.” My own brother told me that he could never marry a woman who kept her name because “everyone would know who ruled that relationship.” Perfect equality - my husband keeps his name and I keep mine – is held as a statement of superiority on my part." -
OMG I LOVE THIS ESSAY SO MUCH. This is the thing that made me embrace slash a few years ago because before I was like “uh-oh I can’t do that it’s something GIRLS do D:” /coolstorybro
Things that cannot screen for breast cancer and things that can.
And for those who are yelling about PP not doing mammograms, “screenings” are not just mammograms. ”Screenings” are also breast exams, which are the first line of defense. Those breast exams are done every time a woman has a pelvic exam, which she needs in order to get birth control or STI testing. Get it together. Semantics do not change the facts.
22 by Lily Allen
It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over…
Dee Rees’ debut film, Pariah, has rightfully been celebrated for its tender coming-out and coming-of-age story of a shy yet sexually curious 17-year-old African-American girl, Alike (Adepero Oduye).
An unprecedented black LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) success at the Sundance Festival in January, the film was immediately picked up by Focus Features for distribution and has since received two nominations for the Spirit Awards, which recognize independent film. In November, Rees was awarded breakthrough director of the year at the Gotham Awards.
Clearly, the movie’s positive critical reception owes much to the brilliant dramatic performances of newcomers Oduye and Pernell Walker, veterans Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans, Bradford Young’s beautiful cinematography and Rees’ subtle yet sophisticated depiction of Alike and her middle-class African-American family’s coming to terms with her lesbian identity.
But Pariah is also indebted to a cadre of often overlooked but no less important documentaries and coming-out films released during the height of black lesbian filmmaking from 1991 to 1996.
In 1993 filmmaker Michelle Parkerson wrote about the birth of a “new generation” of gay and lesbian filmmakers of color whose work challenged stereotypes and stigmas about black lesbian and gay lives on the big screen. Filmmaker Yvonne Welbon, founder and director of Sisters in Cinema and curator of the “Sisters in the Life” black lesbian transmedia project, calls 1991-1996 the “golden age” of a black queer cinema.
“That was the period of time when we had the most women producing the widest variety of work,” Welbon said in an email interview. “Approximately 50 percent of all work produced was made during that five-year time period. Very little work is being produced today by out black lesbian media makers. So maybe Dee Rees is part of the trend of the mainstreaming of niche content that we see happening across all media platforms.”
In her essay ” ‘Joining the Lesbians’: Cinematic Regimes of Black Lesbian Visibility," film critic Kara Keeling attributes the rise of these self-identified "black lesbian films" to their roots in the larger social movements of the late 1960s and 1970s. These filmmakers not only were children of the civil rights, black power, women’s and lesbian and gay movements, but also grew up as beneficiaries of a more nuanced identity politics with which they infused their work.
Moreover, this golden age of black lesbian filmmaking should be considered part of the new wave of black cinema that included Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and Jungle Fever, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust and, of course, Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied and Black Is … Black Ain’t, two groundbreaking documentaries that explored racial and sexual identities.
While Parkerson has been making films since 1973, her most notable films — Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box, the story of Storme DeLarverie, emcee and male impersonator at the Jewel Box Revue, the first integrated gender-impersonation show; and A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde, co-directed with Ada Gay Griffin — were released during this heyday of black lesbian filmmaking.
The most critically acclaimed movie of this period was Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, a clever mocumentary about a black lesbian filmmaker researching the life of a relatively unknown black actress who played “mammy roles” in the ’30s. The main character, Cheryl (played by Dunye), discovers that Fae Richards, the actress dubbed “the Watermelon Woman,” was actually in a sexual relationship with the white female director, Martha Page, and was part of a vibrant underground black lesbian community in Philadelphia throughout her life.
The vast majority of black lesbian films made during the golden age were documentaries, such as Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ coming-out short films In My Father’s House and Silence … Broken; Jocelyn Taylor’s Like a Prayer, Looking for LaBelle and Bodily Functions; and Welbon’s Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100. However, Dunye’s film stood out because it was a fictional film that featured a black lesbian protagonist and landed a distribution deal with First Run Features.
Since Watermelon Woman’s release in 1996, there have been more than 20 feature films directed by black lesbians. However, like most women in Hollywood, black lesbian directors do not have access to the necessary networks, capital or resources to have their films made and distributed for mass circulation.
A recent article, “Why the Odds Are Still Stacked Against Women in Hollywood,” paints a pretty dismal picture. Despite being 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, female directors make up only 13.4 percent of the Directors Guild of America, and women hold only 16 percent of powerful behind-the-scenes jobs, such as producer, director, writer and editor.
Add the layers of being both African American and lesbian, and the dearth of opportunities in Hollywood becomes even more dire. In this context, Rees’ Pariah is already a marketing success.
This is partly because of the savvy of its producer, Nekisa Cooper, who had an illustrious career working in brand management for such companies as Colgate-Palmolive, L’Oréal and General Electric. It was Cooper who helped brand Pariah as a universal coming-of-age story. It is also because of Rees’ access to Spike Lee, her former New York University film-school professor, who was script adviser and executive director for Pariah.
But mostly Pariah is the beneficiary of Rees’ talent and a slowly increasing visibility of complex LGBT characters in both independent and mainstream Hollywood films. More important, the buzz surrounding Pariah (and other films, such as Ava DuVernay’s recent I Will Follow) indicates a small though significant shift in the exploration of the inner lives of black women — their sexual desires, contradictory emotions, lost loves and found selves — on the big screen.
This alone gives a new generation of black lesbian filmmakers, such as Tiona McClodden, director of the 2008 documentary Black/Womyn: Conversations With Lesbians of African Descent, reason to be excited. “After Pariah,” McClodden said in an interview, “it might be a little easier for more of these types of film to be made. I hope it gets even more recognition and award nominations. So far there hasn’t been a show of something that has been commercially successful in this genre, so this is why Pariah is so important.”
Salamishah Tillet is an assistant professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-founder of the nonprofit organization A Long Walk Home Inc., which uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end violence against girls and women. Follow her on Twitter.
The was originally posted on The Root.