Women in Hollywood won’t solve sexism alone

Meryl Streep and Ai-jen Poo arrive at the 75th Annual Golden Globes at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Hating on Hollywood — the home of the unattainably beautiful and fabulously wealthy — has always been easy for those of us living in Pittsburgh’s somewhat colder climate. But with last weekend’s Golden Globe Awards marking the end of a year full of scandals and sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, recent critiques seemed especially pointed.

Mere days before actors and actresses dressed all in black promenaded into the Beverly Hills Hotel, which hosted the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s awards ceremony Sunday evening, a team of people, led by Los Angeles street artist Sabo, blanketed the city with posters accusing specific individuals in the industry of wrongdoing.

“She knew,” one bright red strip read, covering an image of actress Meryl Streep’s face.

“Caution, Pedophiles Ahead,” another sign read.

Farther afield, criticisms might have been less immediately stinging — but were nevertheless just as harsh. The movement prompting attendees to wear black, intended to draw attention to the victims of sexual assault in the industry who have come forward since accusations surfaced in October against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, drew criticism for superficiality, among other complaints.

Most of the critics of Hollywood’s showy penance had a point: what, after all, happened because of the stars’ act of solidarity? It’s probably true that women in show business could have done more — Slate staff writer Christina Cauterucci suggested a whole list of more disruptive actions that “actually affected the audience’s viewing experience or asked some small sacrifice of the participants.”

Yet the question remains — why focus with such intensity on the actions of women in Hollywood? It’s hardly believable that Meryl Streep, or any of the other women wearing black dresses, could solve the problem of institutional sex oppression and abuse. And suggesting this feels more like blaming the victim than adding anything constructive to the conversation. Wearing a black dress to a red carpet event doesn’t harm anyone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse — and criticizing other people for doing so certainly doesn’t help.

The entertainment a culture produces for itself — and to some extent, the industry built up around the production of that entertainment — reflects the social norms and values it comes from. Hollywood might offer more shockingly visible examples of sex criminals, but it is not any more sexist or abusive than the rest of the country.

Deeply ingrained prejudices, like those that make up the system of structural sexism in the United States, are not unlearned over the course of one film association’s awards ceremony. Critics of the women who participated in Sunday’s blackout seem to think if they had just gone a little bit further and been a little bit more disruptive with their protest, they would have been able to undo the problem of systemic sex abuse. That’s simply absurd.

The enormous pressure this mind-set puts on individual women — even women in positions of power — can lead to very negative consequences for individuals who don’t commit themselves symbolically. Blanca Blanco, an actress who attended Sunday’s awards ceremony in a red dress, faced massive public backlash for her apparent insufficient commitment to the cause of fighting sexual abuse in entertainment.

In the aftermath of her fashion faux pas, Blanco made a connection between the pushback for her dress and the toxic culture that allows sexual assault to flourish in Hollywood in the first place.

“Shaming is part of the problem,” she told Fox News in an interview yesterday. “It hurts my feelings, but I guess it’s part of being in our industry.”

Not only does an excess of critique for the prominent individuals at Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony harm the women we can see on the screens in our living rooms and movie theaters, it hurts many more who face the same struggles. Comedian and master of ceremonies Seth Meyers alluded to that untold number in his monologues Sunday evening.

“This movement understands that what tarnished our world this year tarnishes so many others and is reaching out to help them, too,” Meyers said. “People in this room worked really hard to get here, but it’s clear now than ever before that the women had to work even harder.”

Whether the movie industry will continue to hemorrhage celebrities guilty of horrific sex crimes on a daily basis in 2018 is unclear at the present. What is clear, however, is women — both in Hollywood and throughout the rest of the country — will continue to face a sexist system regardless of what symbolic gestures are or are not undertaken by the elite at an awards ceremony. Progress will only come with all of us working toward that future.

Henry is the Opinions Editor of The Pitt News. Write to him at hgg7@pitt.edu.

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