STOP WHINING, GIRLS!
‘‘Do two sexisms make a decency?’’asks author, critic and writer Elizabeth Farrelly.
Her column in Fairfax newspapers yesterday sported the headline: “The new feminism: if it’s girly, it’s good”.
Farrelly (left) says she swears off female-oriented websites and “girly” groups and organisations that attempt to address gender imbalance.
She says of successful architect Zaha Hadid, ‘‘She didn’t bother whingeing about work-life balance… She just did it … Build something brilliant, funny, sweet, enchanting, weird, crazy – I don’t care. Do it, and they’ll come.’’
It is seductively simple logic.
If your work is good enough it will be rewarded. And why wouldn’t it, because gender does not matter, right? Men and women are equal now.
Thing is, the statistics on gender bias in the arts (and nearly everywhere else) suggest the issue is not so simple.
Although statistically, women buy the majority of published novels, and although about equal numbers of women and men are published (yay!), women are still vastly underrepresented in awards and reviews.
In Australia, for instance, 70 percent of the authors reviewed in The Weekend Australian in 2011 were male, and of the authors reviewed in the now defunct Australian Literary Review in 2011, 81 percent were male.
Likewise, the Financial Review featured 79 percent male authors. These depressing stats are also reflected in major overseas publications.
The lack of female authors recognised by the coveted Miles Franklin award (ironically named for Stella ‘Miles’ Franklin, a woman who had to use a man’s name to be published) is so notorious that it recently spawned the Stella Prize for women.
As novelist Dr Kerryn Goldsworthy, a former editor of Australian Book Review and a former member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, says, ‘‘Most of the unconscious bias I have seen in the literary world, and I have seen a great deal, has been to do with the male-centered values of a dominant culture whose values most people wrongly think are universal and gender-neutral.’’
What about film?
To quantify women’s representation in movies we can use something called the ‘‘Bechdel test’’, created (originally in jest) by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. To pass the Bechdel test, a movie simply needs to have at least two female characters who talk to each other at some point in the film about anything other than a man.
Easy, right? Except that a remarkable number of films (many I dearly love) fail this test. Out of the nine films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars last year, only two clearly passed the Bechdel Test.
Gender bias is often unconscious, and it is not the fault of any one film, TV show, newspaper, radio program, editor or individual. It is not even the fault of one gender.
Though the Bechdel test has real limitations, when applied to groupings of popular or award-winning films it does illuminate the fact that the majority of movies are still made from the male perspective, with male characters telling stories about men’s lives.
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