It was recently announced that comediennes Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – both Saturday Night Live alumnae – will be hosting the upcoming Golden Globe Awards. Hurrah! I thought to myself. Not only are we spared another cringe-inducing year of Ricky Gervais mercilessly mocking his audience, but they have replaced him with two of the funniest people in Hollywood right now. And they are women! This last bit – that they are women – was both a source of a ‘hurrah’ for me, but also a source of a ‘really’? Should I really be ‘hurrahing’ the fact that two girls are hosting the Golden Globes? Surely we are in an age where such a thing isn’t news, and is in fact just the way it should be?
I would argue that women are currently having a bit of a winning streak in Hollywood. Not only do Ms Fey and Ms Poehler both write and have the lead role in their own hit shows (30 Rock and Parks & Recreation respectively), but these shows are both very popular and critically acclaimed – which is a rare combination. A woman – Kathryn Bigelow – has finally won the Best Director Oscar, for the very un-girly war film The Hurt Locker. Last year Bridesmaids broke box office records and proved once and for all – as if it needed proving – that girls could be just as funny as their male counterparts, and that their brand of funny wasn’t just funny to girls – it had across the board appeal. And this year a movie franchise was launched which sees a teenage girl not just as the lead – but as a lead who is more concerned with protecting her family and being a leader than she is with who to choose as a boyfriend (Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games).
So this is all good, right? Well, yes. But surely such things shouldn’t be news stories? They have all been commented on as signally a positive change for how women are portrayed by Hollywood. There is no doubt it is a good thing, but it saddens me that women doing well in Hollywood – outside of the usual looking good in frocks at the Oscars malarkey – is still news. It’s 2012 – shouldn’t we be on at least an equal footing with men by now? Apparently not.
I saw a documentary last year that scared the bejesus out of me. It was called Miss Representation, and dealt with the issue of how the media portray women, and the impact this was having on young girls growing up. The two most shocking things I took away from this film were a) the very very very small percentage of female writers and directors in Hollywood and b) the impact the cult of reality celebrity was having on young girls making decisions about what to do with their lives. And the two are inextricably linked. The more shows there are like Fey’s and Poehler’s – about strong women, written by strong women but with an agenda that just makes you laugh – the more likely it is young kids will be inspired by them. But what concerns me the most is that these young girls aren’t watching these shows – they are watching the E! channel and growing up wanting to be famous like a Kardashian. Hardly a life path I would be recommending for one of my nieces.
Hence, my hurrah is a justified one, albeit one I am reluctant about. We need to see more women writers and directors – creating the kinds of shows and films that young people will watch and go ‘well, that is something I could do with my life’. We need to see more powerful women represented in celluloid – more press secretaries like CJ Cregg (The West Wing), more studio execs like Jordan McDeere (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), more TV producers like Bel Rowley (The Hour) and more CIA agents like Carrie Mathison (Homeland). I want my nieces to be inspired by people on TV – to grow up learning about different opportunities available to them, and about the importance of working hard. And, of course, how far the ability to tell a good joke can take you 😉