What the Oscars Tell Us about How Society Views Women

03 Mar 2014
Cate Blanchett, photo UK's Daily Mail

Cate Blanchett, photo UK’s Daily Mail

Last night, at the apex of her career, standing before a TV audience of one billion, Cate Blanchett held the Best Actress Oscar in her hand and chided ‘filmmakers “who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences.  They are not.  Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money.”’  Blanchett’s championing the stories of women was in stark contrast to the two “heroes” tributes in Sunday’s Oscar telecast, which offered a barrage of film clips where men so outnumbered women, one would think we were only 5% of the population. 

Blanchett is correct.  Her film “Blue Jasmine” made money, as did “Gravity” – a film occupied almost solely by Sandra Bullock.  What about “Bridesmaids,” “The Help,” and “Philomena,” starring the always superb (and 79-year-old) Judi Dench.  Per Forbes Magazine, Philomena has so far earned “a worldwide box office of $85 million.  [T]he $12 million movie earned 708% of its production budget at the box office.”  Clearly there is a market for the stories of women – heroic, tragic and comedic. Yet the studio heads still don’t think to have women lead the marquis or helm the project in great number.

This would clearly indicate that Hollywood still has outworn ideas about a woman’s ability to generate revenue or to fascinate an audience for something other than her breasts. 

Looking at the problems faced by average Americans, the plight of women in movies would elicit little more than a ho hum but even Conservative columnist Roger L. Simon of PJ Media issued a warning to his compatriots:

“[A]s you run your personal boycott of Hollywood, remember this. Almost everyone else you know — be it family, friends, business associates and, most especially, your children — is not. They are consuming Hollywood entertainment in mammoth gulps. And politics, as the late Andrew Breitbart said repeatedly (and he was far from the only one), is downstream of culture.”

His words matter just as much for women and men across the political spectrum.  If the cultural message being offered by Hollywood is that women are subordinate to men, how is it possible for us to imagine women in role of leadership?  Isn’t it possible then that we may be deprived of better leadership if we never turn over a new rock? 

Ironic that women are outnumbered by men in film by about the same ratio as we are outnumbered in Congress. 

This is not about women imitating or superseding men, but understanding that women are reliable partners — and business partners. Welcoming women’s contribution in greater number will lead to greater return for all of us, economically and socially.

Despite the notion that Hollywood is a cultural leader, the NY Times’ Alessandra Stanley stated that “…Hollywood doesn’t set the social agenda. More often it timidly trails the culture, then belatedly buys in and turns up the music.”  For example, embracing Gay rights is the current zeitgeist with the recent Supreme Court decision and President Obama’s “evolving” views on the issue. It is not surprising then, that Hollywood found the courage to embrace “Dallas Buyer’s Club.”  Yet women seem a group still embraced more for appearance than substance. 

Another Forbes article shared that “most years, less than 5% of films are directed by women,” a “mere 6% of films are gender balanced,” but “When a female director is behind the camera, there are typically more women on screen, and less hypersexualization.” 

Females are 51% of the population, yet grossly underrepresented in terms of the population or essential roles in most films, television and animated products.  It has been proven that young girls see themselves as having less opportunity or less of a voice when they are repeatedly shown these types of examples on film.

Last year, it was barely a blip on the radar that two significant World War II heroes died:  Nancy Wake and Irina Sendler.  Ms. Wake was known by the Gestapo as the “white mouse” and was atop their most wanted list.  Per John Litchfield of the Independent:

“She led 7,000 guerrilla fighters in battles against the Nazis in the northern Auvergne, just before the D-Day landings in 1944. On one occasion, she strangled an SS sentry with her bare hands. On another, she cycled 500 miles to replace lost codes. In June 1944, she led her fighters in an attack on the Gestapo headquarters at Montlucon in central France.”

All she got was a small TV-movie falsely depicting her as having an affair with one of the resistance fighters and “frying eggs” for the men.  That is the way males in charge were comfortable seeing her or thought that audiences would accept her.  But as I had noted in an earlier piece, Nance Wake said “She was too busy killing Nazis for amorous entanglements.”

With thanks to the reporting of Richard Pendlebury in UK’s Daily Mail, another great World War II heroine Irina Sendler was…

“…[A] Roman Catholic social worker had managed to save 2,500 Jewish babies and toddlers from deportation to the concentration camps.  She had spirited them out of the heavily-guarded Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, and hidden their identities in two glass jars buried under an apple tree in her neighbor’s garden.  She was beaten, tortured and sentenced to death by the Gestapo – who even announced her execution. But Irena survived, her spirit unbroken, her secrets untold.”

She saved many more lives than Oskar Schindler, immortalized in the film “Schindler’s List,” yet I wager no one knows who she was, or Nancy Wake for that matter.  For more on these women, read here.

Women need role models, too.  We cannot celebrate what we’ve never heard of. 

For those who reject Hollywood for one-sided story telling or hyper-sexualization, the answer is not to reject the medium, but rather to protest the vapid and reward stories that depict what is real, not a fourteen-year-old boys’ version of heroism, action or sexuality.

Otherwise we will get a continuing stereotype where only men are heroes and women fry eggs.


*Originally published at EPIC TIMES*

Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a shocking exposé deconstructing the biased media narrative plaguing women who dare to lead.

Available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon. #1 on Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

Like Anita Finlay, Author on Facebook.

Follow @AnitaFinlay on Twitter.



  1. Anita–I, too, thought Cate Blanchett’s comments were powerful and elegant and I was so glad that they didn’t “music anyone off” of their acceptance speeches and let them say what was in their heart and important for the world to hear. Great job from you echoing this and I thought the all the actors were so generous and smart in their interviews and helping us to understand that they are also people with an opinion who care, not just out for their next acting job.

    • Anita Finlay Says: March 3, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks, Elisa. What I think some people do not get is that Blanchett is making a cultural reference. Stories with women matter because they teach us to value women and women’s history.

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