This guest post by Stephanie Schroeder appears as part of our theme week on The Female Gaze.
This recent social media missive summed up a lot in terms of both my feelings and viewing habits:
…except I generally don’t and won’t view at all.
I haven’t owned at TV for over 25 years and in that time I have only watched television programs occasionally and mostly only looking on while someone else has their TV playing in the background. This is not snobbery, but rather a consciously made decision not to watch and support the assault on women to which television contributes on an ongoing basis.
Similarly, I rarely go to or stream films. The exceptions mostly come in the form of either accompanying my girlfriend in watching a movie of mutual interest or watching a film she stars in. I do watch friends’ films that present women as human beings with parts other than victims of violence and interests other than being a male appendage.
The article Loofbourow’s above Tweet links to is an August 5, 2015 piece by Manohla Dargis, “Report Finds Wide Diversity Gap Among 2014’s Top-Grossing Films” published in The New York Times. I don’t really need yet another report to tell me what I already know and have understood for decades: TV and films generally do not represent women in any capacity except as adjuncts to or prey for men. The relentless verbal, psychological, physical, and sexual violence against women on screen is untenable. Why are so many film and TV narratives dependent on the violation of women? And narratives not so dependent are still filled with misogynistic violence–“gratuitous” it’s often termed but it’s actually very pre-meditated and well-thought-out in scripts and directors’ minds.
The statistics in the New York Times article, based on the study “Inequality in 700 Popular Films” produced by the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, are staggering but not at all surprising.
Dargis writes, “…one of the report’s researchers, Stacy L. Smith, describes an ‘epidemic’ when it comes to lack of diversity.”
It’s 2015 and the number of female protagonists with personal agency (or even more than one line of female-positive dialogue) are almost zero. Female filmmakers find funding near impossible, and female actors who are not conventionally “attractive” are fewer than few. These stats also hold true for older women, women who are racial and ethnic minorities, and lesbian, trans, and queer women.
Definitely a groan, but no shocker.
I choose to only support women-centered film and TV efforts as a funder, promoter and, indeed, gazer, if the intent, casting, storyline, and other elements are female-positive. There’s really just too much misogynistic and women-negating/woman-hating media in the world for me to do otherwise.
I’m a lesbian who doesn’t watch OITNB. A mortal sin. “I know you hate Orange is the New Black, but….” friends say to me on the regular. No, actually I just don’t watch it. I also don’t criticize it or discuss it at all, a venial sin. I have never seen it, which, to my mind, renders me unqualified to give an opinion about it.
I’m friends with a female actor who is on mainstream television shows fairly regularly whose work I don’t watch. I support her and wish her well, but I have no desire to see the work she is doing in mainstream TV-land.
I am the girlfriend of an indie actor whose work I support, promote, watch and enjoy. Lots of folks inquire, “Why doesn’t she have an agent?” “Why isn’t she being cast in more films?” I don’t have the time or the inclination to get into the business of the film industry and report back on my partner’s lack of visibility or inability to get the attention of an agent, even with some amazing credits to her name. I do have my theories: she’s fat, a lesbian who “looks like a lesbian” and the other usual reasons so many unconventional-looking – by Hollywood standards – actors are overlooked. Women like her are basically invisible on-screen and go more-or-less unrecognized and under appreciated as actors, even though the world is actually populated with more people who look like her (and me) than conventional model/actress types.
I’m a writer with my own projects. A real woman of the type almost never depicted on the screen, large or small. I’m not rich, my apartment isn’t grande, I don’t make much money from my writing and must to hustle other gigs to pay my expenses. Unlike depictions on-screen, it’s not at all a glamorous hustle. It’s a struggle that is neither noble nor character building, just extremely tiring and very real.
What I desire is a world where women are reflected in popular media as the rich multitudes we are as human beings, where both mediums are not monopolized by well-funded (or not) men in every role (creator, talent, funder, distributor, etc.), whether overtly sexist or or not. Where women are people, not possessions.
There are a lot of films and TV shows that are just plain stupid and dumb, period. Others are subtly sexist, and still others are full on murderously misogynistic. I don’t want to in any way lend my support to these endeavors.
So, when friends mock me, implying I’m a TV snob, I let them know: I’m just not into it.
Stephanie Schroeder is a freelance writer and activist based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been widely published, including in the classic anthology, That’s Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation. Her essay, “I Don’t Want to be Part of Your [De]Evolution,” is included in the Lammy-nominated anthology Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage. She has performed at and curated installments of the LBGT storytelling series Queer Memoir, was a contributing editor at Curve Magazine for seven years, and the featured creative non-fiction editor for Iris Brown Lit Magazine’s debut issue. Schroeder is the author of the memoir Beautiful Wreck: Sex, Lies & Suicide.