U.S. lags behind other countries in stopping sexism

This week, Sweden announced it will implement a movie rating system that will inform viewers if the film is sexist. Sweden will use the Bechdel test which requires that the movie have (1) at least two females (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man.

The Guardian reports:

“The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house cinema in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district…Beliefs about women’s roles in society are influenced by the fact that movie watchers rarely see “a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them”, Tejle said, noting that the rating doesn’t say anything about the quality of the film. “The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens,” he added.

 

I love the Bechdel test, but I adapted it to rate movies for children to discount the Pink Ghetto. For the Magowan Test for Gender Bias in Children’s Movies (1) at least two females who are friends (2) go on an adventure (3) and don’t wear revealing clothing. Simple requirements, yet surprisingly difficult for Hollywood to even come close to meeting in the many movies put out for little kids every year.

Recently, Saroya Chemaly posted in Salon The MPAA’s backwards logic: Sex is dangerous, sexism is fine:

The real problem in movies today isn’t sex, it’s sexism — often coupled with racist caricatures for even greater effect. Imagine if our movie ratings considered sexism and racism as content that children should not be viewing without parental input. Just a thought.

 

I couldn’t agree more. The lack of attention to the rampant and repetitive sexism in children’s movies is exactly why I started Reel Girl. I rate children’s movies on a scale of 1 – 3 S’s to denote gender stereotyping. I would much rather my kids hear a swear word than witness more narratives and images where females are sexualized and marginalized. When I started Reel Girl, almost four years ago, I couldn’t find anything else on the internet that rated children’s movies and products for sexism.

The Week also posted recently: Why female pleasure, not sex, is the real taboo:

The common defense of television censorship is the need to protect the young and impressionable. It’s all for the children. So why is it that a national broadcaster in the 21st century feels the need to bleep out a scene of a teenage girl masturbating, while the rest of television is stuffed to the gills with scenes depicting rape, torture, suicide, and sex between middle-aged adults and adolescents?

Sweden gets this hypocrisy and is addressing it. While I am so psyched this country is taking major steps to alert viewers about sexism, I’m upset that the home of the free and the brave remains slow on the uptake. I honestly think my blog, Reel Girl, is the best resource for rating sexism in children’s movies, and I do it for free, when I have a few minutes of time.

It’s not just sexist movies that our country endorses as OK for kids. While the U.S. has made child beauty pageants a national pastime, with TV hits like “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “Honey Boo Boo,” this year, France outlawed the sexist practice. The New York Times reports:

 

“It is extremely destructive for a girl between the age of 6 and 12 to hear her mother say that what’s important for her is to be beautiful,” Chantal Jouanno, the ban’s champion, said Wednesday. “We are fighting to say: What counts is what they have in their brains.”

Ms. Jouanno, a former junior minister for environment and a senator representing Paris from the center-right party U.D.I., wrote a report on the “hypersexualization” of children in 2011. The report was commissioned by the health minister in response to public outrage over a photo display in Paris Vogue that featured under-age girls in sexy clothes and postures, with high heels, makeup and painted fingernails. The episode drew attention to the increasing use of very young girls in fashion photography and advertisements.

Of course, child beauty pageants don’t just affect the contestants, but everyone who sees the images of these sexualized kids on TV or in magazines.

Moving on to the United Kingdom where after a campaign by Let Toys Be Toys for Girls and Boys, Toys R Us announced it would divide products by type instead of by gender. What about Toys R Us in the USA? Or Target? Not so much.

So why do you think Sweden, France, and the United Kingdom have taken leadership positions in stopping sexism while the U.S. lags behind? I know there’s some bad evidence against us, such as not one female president in our entire history, but aren’t we supposed to support equality and justice for all? Isn’t that our thing?

I have a theory on why the U.S. continues to be a leader in promoting, rather than stopping sexism. While our role as superpower slips as we move further into a global economy, the U.S. remains clearly dominant in one area: culture. American movies dominate the world. While Obama may fall from favor, everyone worldwide knows and adores Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. My guess is that because of this role as a culture shaper, the U.S. and its mutinational companies like Disney and everything Hollywood will be reticent to change and risk losing hegemony over world culture. The irony is, if the U.S. continues to lag behind in recognizing sexism, eventually, it will lose its position as #1 culture shaper. The change towards recognizing sexism, so ubiquitous that its, paradoxically, become invisible, is happening much slower than I would like it too, but it is happening. Sweden, France, and Australia are starting to get it. Women are the world’s largest untapped resource. As long as we keep selling women short, we all lose.

On a positive note, I did just get this email from Hillary Clinton.

On Friday, we announced a new initiative to accelerate the progress of women and girls at home and around the world. We call it No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, and I hope you’ll be a part of it.

No Ceilings has its roots nearly twenty years ago, and we hope it will have an impact just as far into the future.

The great unfinished business of our time In 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 189 countries set an ambitious goal: Women and girls should be able to participate fully in the progress and prosperity of their societies. I was proud to co-lead the American delegation to the conference and to declare to the world that “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”

We’ve made a lot of progress since that day – more girls are in school, more women hold jobs, and more women serve in public office – but we’re still a long way from the goal of full participation. Women and girls continue to face ceilings that limit what they can achieve and hold back entire economies and societies. More than 100 countries have laws on the books that restrict women’s participation in the economy. Women are nearly half of the world’s population, but hold only 20 percent of all parliamentary seats. Around the world, including in the United States, women tend to earn less than men. And nearly 5 million girls are still married under the age of 15 every year.

The great unfinished business of the 21st century is helping women and girls break through these ceilings and contribute fully in every aspect of life.

I was in Beijing in 1995. I was 26 years old. I felt inspired and hopeful. Maybe what the U.S. needs to risk making change is a female president leading the way.

3 thoughts on “U.S. lags behind other countries in stopping sexism

  1. Pingback: Failing the Bechdel Test, Sweden leads the charge to change films! | my literary life

  2. The Magowan Test is fantastic!

    Here is a companion media gender bias test. It’s called the Nebbie Test for Gender Bias Among Female Animal Characters.

    1) at least two female animals, preferably significant or protagonistic in role
    2) who aren’t othered from the male animals by stereotypically female accessories or appearance (i.e., a bow on the head, more humanoid body shape than the male animal)
    3) and where none of the animal characters, male or female, are gender failed ( peacocks are male, not female; worker ants, bees, and wasps and bloodsucking mosquitoes are all female)

  3. I love the Magowan test! Your blog is a very important resource for me, as a mother (of a baby girl, but also if I’d had a boy! It’s important to show boys that girls can do all they can, as well).

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