By: Brad Kneeland
Women make up roughly 51% of the population, yet we live in a time where women are so disproportionately underrepresented in the media, in film and television that it is staggering. According to the Women’s Media Center:
• By a nearly 3 to 1 margin, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines in coverage of the 2012 presidential election.
• Men were also far more likely to be quoted than women in newspapers, television and public radio.
• On Sunday TV talk shows, women comprised only 14 percent of those interviewed and 29 percent of roundtable guests.
• Talk radio and sports talk radio hosts are overwhelmingly male.
• As newspaper employment continues to tumble, so does the number of women in key jobs.
• Newer, online-only news sites have fallen into the same rut as legacy media. Male bylines outnumbered female bylines at four of six sites reviewed.
• The percentage of women who are television news directors edged up, reaching 30 percent for the first time. Overall employment of women in TV news remains flat.
• Obituaries about men far outnumber those of women in top national and regional newspapers.
• Women comprised just 9 percent of the directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2013.
• Women comprised 39 percent of documentary directors whose work appeared at major festivals in 2012-13.
• Across all behind-the-camera positions, females were most likely to be producers. However, as the prestige of the producing post increased, the percentage of female participation decreased.
• Forty-seven percent of gamers are women, but 88 percent of video games developers are male
I bring this up because, today (August 24, 2016), Leslie Jones, comedienne, SNL cast member and star of the Ghostbuster’s remake, had her social media hacked. I will get back to the statistics in a minute.
This summer has been a particularly nasty one for Leslie Jones. Several months ago, it was announced that a Ghostbusters remake was being made with an all women cast. The reaction was so mixed and largely negative that you would have thought people were playing Pokémon Go in Arlington National Cemetery….oh wait….people were actually doing that? (http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/12/technology/pokemon-go-holocaust-arlington/) Hmm….I don’t particularly remember a huge uproar about that. But I do remember the huge uproar that the cast of the all female Ghostbusters received and I thought it was bullshit.
Here was a movie that had comedic heavyweights Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones cast in the lead roles. Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, stars of original movies, gave their blessing, sang the praises of these four talented women and even had cameos in the remake. But the internet was in uproar. Women? In the lead roles of this remake? Could their fragile, feminine, dainty-selves handle the pressure of such a task? Would they be funny? Would the movie deliver? To all of the male, chauvinistic pigs, face deep in a bag of Doritos, crushing a Rock Star energy drink, wearing their “Make America Great Again” shirts covering their potato salad-like looking bodies, hiding behind the glowing screen of their computer monitors while they scratch their nether regions listening to Ted Nugent on repeat, here’s a spoiler alert for you: these ladies delivered like Dominos.
Was the plot perfect? No. Were some of the jokes ridiculous? Absolutely. Now scroll back up to the statistics I’ve provided for you.
Read them carefully.
Now come back to me.
These four women showed a generation of little girls around the world that they are visible. No, seriously. At a single screen theater in Claypool, Indiana (population 432), a big brother begrudgingly took his kid sister to this movie and there, and because of that movie and these four women, a little girl saw herself represented on the big screen and saw that a world of possibilities awaits her- and perhaps just as importantly, a young man saw the same thing.
Leslie Jones got the hard force of this backlash. Internet trolls cyber bullied her endlessly, led in part by conservative commentator (and now banned from using Twitter) Milo Yiannopoulos. She was attacked for her ethnicity, her gender, her appearance and more. Today (August 24th, 2016), her social media accounts were hacked and sensitive pictures and private information was leaked online. Last week, I talked about the divisive rhetoric coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth and the Republican Party. The hatred being directed towards Leslie Jones is a byproduct of that ideology.
At some point, it is not enough to say “the internet is the worst.” It is not enough to say that “trolls will be trolls” or that this is just cowardly bullies acting out online. At some point, we have to realize that this type of behavior- this conduct- is disgusting, invasive, demeaning and wrong. This type of behavior is not new. It has always existed and we’ve seen it play out for the last seven and a half years in a larger arena under the Presidency of Barack Obama. Do you remember when he was running for President and everyone said he was from Kenya? Remember when everyone said he was a Muslim? Do you think this would’ve played out the same way if President Obama was a white man? Would Bill Clinton have gotten half the shit that Obama has gotten these past 8 years? How many times did we demand to see the birth certificates of the previous 43 Presidents? How many times did we question the religious beliefs of the previous 43 Presidents? So why do we hold President Obama to a different standard? Why do we question whether or not a black woman can have a lead in a major motion picture? Why do we turn to racist and sexist comments to express our displeasure? This behavior is backlash brought on by systematic racism, inflamed ignorance and right wing ideology that is threatened by a change to the status quo. Whether it is being directed at Barack Obama, at Leslie Jones, or anyone else who is not a white man- this behavior represents dangerous ideology that is running strong in our country.
But perhaps most importantly, it is not enough to be outraged at the kind of treatment that Leslie Jones and other women go through. Human decency mandates that you be. What needs to happen now is a serious discussion on white privilege and male privilege. We need to continue to challenge the status quo, to work to break down these barriers and work to foster continued representation of diversity in the media. Change is never quick and progress is rarely easy. Acknowledging our faults and shortcomings often sting, but are a necessary part of growing and bettering as a society. It is incumbent upon us- the majority, the represented, the elites- to acknowledge our privilege and to use that privilege in a way that levels the playing field for all, and in doing so, we must stand by our brothers and sisters on the front lines, who are working to make that change possible. We need continued discussions on privilege and we need continued representation of diversity. If they can see it, they can believe it. If they believe it, they can achieve it. Changing the status quo isn’t about eliminating the privilege that so many enjoy- it is about leveling the playing field so that everyone has a chance to succeed.
To Leslie Jones and to so many others, I am so sorry for what you have gone through. I am so sorry that you have to experience this negativity, I am so sorry that you have to experience this backlash and I am so sorry that such hatred is being directed at you. As a white man, I understand that I have more privilege than most and my experiences on adversity and representation in this world are not comparable to yours, but I promise you that I will use what capital I have to shine light on inequalities and injustices that far too many have to go through every day. Thank you for being on the frontlines and for working to break down these barriers that far too often stunt people from realizing their true potential. Thank you for being a visible, present figure and for putting it all on the line when the backlash has been so vile and the hatred has been so palpable. You will never know just how many lives you have uplifted and inspired by being you, and I implore others to continue fighting the good fight for equality and visibility in the media. You have so many admirers in this world and you can count me as one of your biggest.