Sexism: Hollywood’s Twofold Image Problem

Who will help Hollywood change this conversation?

The latest in a long line of Hollywood A-listers to blast Hollywood’s ingrained sexism is Emily Blunt, who discussed the issue during a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival this morning.

Blunt plays a female FBI agent in her new film “Sicario,” a gritty drug trade drama. She noted that the filmmakers had to fight an uphill battle to keep the main character female, and though that battle was eventually won, she is still bothered by the way her role is perceived.

“I get asked a lot, ‘You play a lot of tough female roles.’ I don’t see them as tough…I found this character damaged and vulnerable. She’s struggling in the role of being a female cop. It’s not safe.”

The very question implies that any actress chosen to play a role outside of what is falsely perceived as a gender norm is automatically less feminine; it’s a reflection of society’s assumption that strength and femininity are mutually exclusive.

It reminds us of that now-famous Joss Whedon speech in which he discussed being asked why he writes strong female characters and responded, “because you’re still asking me that question.”

It’s a matter of changing the conversation.

As Blunt’s press conference continued, she was asked about her lack of female co-stars in a film about an FBI unit, and about Cannes’ decision to ban flats from its own red carpet. The actress responded that she was “quite used to” the former and “disappointed” by the latter.

Melissa Silverstein of the Athena Film Festival was less forgiving:


Just days ago, Melissa McCarthy called sexism in Hollywood “an intense sickness” that she refuses to tolerate, and expressed her own motivation for challenging inherent and egregious double standards.

“For someone who has two daughters, I’m wildly aware of how deep that rabbit hole goes. I’m trying to take away the double standard of ‘You’re an unattractive bitch because your character was not skipping along in high heels.’”

The comedic actress was referring specifically to an encounter with a critic who had written that she was only a good actor when she looked more attractive and that her husband should never be allowed to direct her because he allowed her to look so homely.

Yes, really.

And while that example is audaciously offensive, many are trying to combat the more subtle displays of sexism as well. Take the #AskHerMore campaign for example, which led the push for journalists to ask female actors about more than their dresses on the red carpet.

But changing the conversation and challenging stereotypes is only half the battle; the ACLU got involved just last week, citing business practices that are outright discriminatory.

“This isn’t just about stereotypes and implicit bias, it’s about blatant discrimination. We heard over and over again from female directors that they’ve been told, ‘This show is too hard for women’ or ‘You can’t do this movie, it’s action’—this to women who have directed plenty of action.”

In response, the organization wrote letters to three federal organizations tasked with ensuring equal employment opportunity. The letters included research and testimonies from 50 female directors, citing instances of bias and sexist practices.

Sexism in Hollywood (like sexism in general) is a twofold problem with a twofold solution. Tackling the employment inequity and hiring more females in male-dominated fields (like directors) will help cut down on the unfair business practices, but like any other cultural movement toward equality, the greater challenge is less simple; a fundamental shift in attitude, priorities, and language will need to occur, and that is a complicated process that cannot occur overnight.