By Sam Ryan. This piece is part of our September focus on Women’s Rights. See all of this month’s articles here.
As a male who supports women’s rights, I’ve wondered at times whether I’d be classified as a feminist. I support the cause, but it’s not my fight, right?
Clementine Ford’s Wheeler Centre Lunchtime/Soapbox speech, ‘We’re All Equal Now, So We Should Shut Up and Go Home’, which took place on Thursday 13 September 2012, intrigued me but – truth be told – while I expected to be informed, I didn’t expect to leave thinking about feminism in a new way.
… this was the first time I’ve seen such heckling at the usually highly civil Wheeler Centre.
As I arrived – five minutes late – a member of the audience was loudly and persistently interrupting Ford who finally responded, “I’m louder than you, I have the microphone,” effectively asserting her right to do what she had been invited there to do.
The interjector was one of only about 20-30 males (by my rough count) in an audience of a couple of hundred. The truly disappointing aspect, however, was that this was the first time I’ve seen such heckling at the usually highly civil Wheeler Centre. Whatever point was being put forth was, at the very least, countered by the irony of the situation.
With no further interruptions, Ford continued, discussing gender equality, or lack thereof, in modern society through the context of media and film, which she called “the two areas that reflect society back most clearly.”
In news media, she reeled off a flurry of disconcerting statistics from the Global Media Monitoring Project’s ‘Who Makes the News’ report. Two standouts were the fact that only 24 per cent of stories in 2010 featured women (up just 7 per cent since 1995), and that around 80 per cent of experts or spokespeople called on to comment on news are men.
“If you are uncritically consuming the news, as most people do,” she said, “how can you possibly not internalise the idea that men’s voices carry more weight and authority, simply because they’re the ones that you hear most?”
In film, particularly children’s film, Ford painted another grim picture of gender balance, in world’s where almost all the “the robots, monsters, bugs, soldiers, toys, cars, trains, rats and lions” are boys (or men).
She cited the Bechdel Test, which rates films based on three simple questions of a film:
- Are there at least two female characters?
- Do they talk to each other?
- Do they talk about something besides a man?
While failing the test is not necessarily condemnation of an individual film of itself, a quick look through the site for some of your favourite movies will likely prove disheartening.
One film that Ford did highlight to demonstrate the point, was the 2010 Disney children’s film Tangled, one of about ten per cent of mainstream films with a female lead protagonist. Based on the well-known children’s tale Rapunzel, Disney changed the title and emphasised the role of the lead male, so that it would not be seen merely as a film about a girl, for girls.
As a male, it was fascinating to hear Ford discuss the hyper-masculinity that emerged in response to the women’s rights movement …
After all, “Why would boys be interested in a movie that has nothing to do with them?” asked Ford.
Yet, in a film Disney feared would be perceived as too female-centric, only 12 of the 36 speaking roles, and two of ten named characters, were female, Ford pointed out.
“You only have the landscape around you,” Ford said of girls and women consuming media, “and if you’re looking at it and you are only seeing yourself represented in a third of that space, of course you start to believe that you only deserve a third of it.”
The discussion shifted a little as audience questions started, but presented a point of particular personal interest. As a male, it was fascinating to hear Ford discuss the hyper-masculinity that emerged in response to the women’s rights movement, through entrenched restrictive social constructs relating to how we should dress and behave.
… feminism – or the pursuit of equality – has benefits for all of us.
Feminism seeks to dismantle the role of men as the dominant provider, which has contributed to the dreadful suicide rates of men, and advocates an equal share of responsibility. So feminism – or the pursuit of equality – has benefits for all of us.
Ford’s speech was fascinating and well-received, and the subsequent discussion offered me a new way of thinking about feminism as a male that relates directly to issues of masculinity.
But it would be ironic and inappropriate to let that overshadow the main point of the speech, which was that, despite talk of progress and equality, we do clearly have quite some way to go.
But it is in everyone’s interest to get us there.
View Clementine Ford’s speech at the Wheeler Centre website.