Thursday 21 February 2019

Yes #Metoo is a global shift, but don't forget #Themtoo...

As women begin to win, we must stand for all who suffer discrimination, writes Sophie Donaldson

Emma Stone’s jibe while presenting the award for best director at the Oscars last week did little for feminism. Photo: AP
Emma Stone’s jibe while presenting the award for best director at the Oscars last week did little for feminism. Photo: AP
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

This time last year, I was feeling a tad jaded by International Women's Day. The premise of gender equality seemed to be smothered by individuals applauding themselves and their squad with flattering selfies and brands jumping on the hashtag bandwagon. None of it seemed empowering, nor did it seem likely to help the advancement of women in the workplace or elsewhere.

This year, however, things have changed. Last Thursday's celebrations felt more significant than any other year. The #Metoo movement has miraculously segued from a celebrity-endorsed hashtag into a global attitude shift in which women feel supported in speaking out against sexism and abuse. The power imbalance that exists in many workplaces has finally been called out for what it is. Predatory behaviour is no longer something that stays in the boys' club and men in positions of power have been toppled from dizzying heights. These spectacularly public fallouts would have seemed unfathomable this time last year.

The worlds of politics, business, education and media have been rocked by revelations of abuse and harassment that have emerged from #Metoo. The Hollywood awards season, which wrapped up last Sunday with the Oscars, wholeheartedly supports the movement. All-black dress codes, Time's Up badges, white roses, standing ovations, a possible presidential candidate and scathing speeches against the patriarchy; this awards season rippled with ire.

There were some truly memorable moments. Oprah's rally call at the Golden Globes had people pitching her for the 2020 election, while Natalie Portman, who was presenting the Best Director award, eloquently highlighted the deep gender imbalance at such ceremonies.

"And here are the all-male nominees," she said to the ecstatic cyber-applause of the internet. It was a succinct, smart observation that summed up the glaring discrepancies that exist when it comes to giving women credit where credit is due.

Her subtle yet powerful utterance was so impactful it clearly inspired another A-list presenter at last Sunday's Oscars.

Like Portman, Emma Stone was presenting the award for Best Director. Like Portman, she clearly felt that four male nominees versus one female was a poor representation of the talent that exists in film. She, too, took the opportunity to address this long-standing discrimination but unfortunately, her speech fell flat with certain viewers.

"These four men, and Greta Gerwig, created their own masterpieces this year," she proclaimed. Gerwig is only the fifth woman to be nominated in that category in the history of the Oscars. However, Jordan Peele, who was also a nominee, was the fifth black man to be nominated for the award.

Whether Stone was aware of this second significant nomination isn't clear, but her failure to acknowledge it, while reducing Peele and the other male nominees to simply their gender, had some online commentators branding her words as 'white feminism'.

While Stone's attempt at witty cynicism was a fail, the online attacks seem unduly harsh. Stone is Hollywood's young, affable goofball. Compared to some of her contemporaries, she seems sincere and honest. No doubt Stone was proud of a fellow young, female creative and aware of the lack of recognition given to women. After such a whirlwind awards season, in which speeches given by women at the podium resulted in thunderous applause and viral tweets, you can hardly blame Stone for feeling as though she was expected to follow suit.

However, referring to male nominees simply as 'men' doesn't do anything for women. We are too familiar with how reductive it is to refer to an individual by their gender alone. We are expected to act like ladies, deal with our 'women's problems discreetly and be a good girl, love.

It is appalling that only five women have been nominated for Best Director. It is equally appalling only five black men have received the same recognition. To dismiss one minority in order to elevate another is to behave exactly as those with privilege and power have done for centuries.

Compared with recent years, in which the majority of the Best Director nominees have been white men, this year's line-up was a wildly diverse bunch. One woman, one black man, one Hispanic man and two white men aren't representative of the world at large, but this line-up offers more diversity than ever before.

The success of #Metoo lies in the solidarity of all the women and men who have stood behind it. As women continue to win our war, it is imperative we stand for all people who have endured historic discrimination, not just those who we identify closest with.

Sunday Independent

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