If you follow feminist, pop-culture-y websites (think Jezebel and Feministing) like I do, you’ve heard of the campaign #AskHerMore by The Representation Project (Seriously, check them out. They are amazing). For those of you who don’t spend as many hours on the interwebs as I do, I’ll fill you in: #AskHerMore is a movement calling out the way Hollywood diminishes the work of its female stars by focusing on their appearance (‘Oh my goodness, love your dress! Who are you wearing’) and family life (‘But how did you juggle shooting in a remote location and being a mom?') in questions on the red carpet, instead of focusing on their careers.
Of course the questions they’re asked on the red carpet are just a fragment of a larger problem: the lack of complex, multi-faceted female characters in big box office films today (or probably ever). Remember when the first Hunger Games came out and people were surprised that a female lead could draw large audiences in an action movie? I was surprised that people were surprised, but I guess we’re making progress. Right now I’m going through a phase in which no matter how great I think Robert Downey Jr. is, or Chris Hemsworth or [insert hunky male actor here], I am just so over seeing huge budget films in which virtually all of the heroes are big strong white dudes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fight scene or ten-minute series of explosions (and my own hunky white dude I have for a husband), but it really gets to me that in the top 100 films of 2012, women had only 28% of roles with speaking parts. (There are ton more troubling statistics about the status of women in the media today. Check out the The Status of Women in the US Media 2014 report here.)
I’m behind any movement that seeks to empower, advance, and support women, of any profession. Period. But does the idea that professional women should be asked more questions about their professional accomplishments mean that it’s not ok to ask them about their families, hobbies, and triumphs outside the office? This is a question that I’ve honestly struggled with as a founder and editor of Beta Pleated Chic, a blog that seeks to show the full lives of women working in science, engineering, and medicine. The lives of women we’ve interviewed include children and partners and mountain biking and boyfriends and girlfriends and cooking and painting and traveling…and….and….and….. Am I diminishing my medical professor’s amazing professional accomplishments by asking her when and how she decided to have children? Or how about the MacArthur Genius Grant recipient I asked how she and her husband managed to find post docs and professorships at the same universities? Part of me feels guilty asking these women such questions, as if I’m perpetuating the same problem that #AskHerMore is seeking to eradicate. But I’ve come to realize that there is a fundamental difference between the following two questions:
1. ‘So, dear, tell me…how do you do it all?’
2. ‘Dr. ____, how did you manage having two children during your postdoc?’
The first question is meant to sensationalize the super human who juggles being a career woman and a woman woman (because most mere mortals are not capable of succeeding at both, and in fact, most women who try to do both will fail miserably). The second question acknowledges that there are challenges that exist for women who decide to have children while advancing their careers (but let’s be real, post docs and parenthood aren’t for sissies anyway), and that maybe this person has some ideas about how to make it a bit less challenging.
What I find actually the most problematic is not that women are asked so many questions about The Work Life Balance – this is an important question. All humans should care about this. What I find problematic is that men are not asked about how they balance their careers and their families and life in general as well. Are women supposed to be the special stewards of happiness for all of humankind? Nope. We’re not. That’s why we need to #AskEveryoneMore.
(And, while we’re at it, let’s dramatically increase the number of speaking roles for women in Hollywood by funding more female directors and producers. Side rant over).