NeW Conference Countdown: Scholarship Winner Ferrum

June 22, 2010 | NeW Staff

Our next Scholarship Winning Essay comes from Ferrum, A NeW Leader from Arizona College of Law.  Here’s what she had to say about Hollywood, women, and how NeW is countering today’s cultural norms:

“Are you a Carrie, Miranda, Samantha or Charlotte?”  I often hear this reference to Sex and the City.  It makes me indignant to think some people assume all women can be categorized as one of four promiscuous, man-obsessed, self-centered, aggressive characters who are only concerned with attaining wealth, beauty, and power.  I do not recognize any of those traits in myself or in the women I know.  The women I know perform everyday acts that are unselfish, unassuming, and unseen.  Carrie needs an audience.  Real women do not.  

One of the many great things about NeW is that NeW women are real women who celebrate women and womanhood.  The voices of NeW represent sincere, nurturing, modest women who are firm in their beliefs and standards.  NeW understands that real women do not fit under simple categories.  NeW keeps me focused on the substance of womanhood, not labels.  Hollywood, on the other hand, is fixated on labels because labels are uncomplicated and easy to sell.  One of Hollywood’s most popular labels for women is its version of the “empowered” woman.  Shows like Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy consistently feature women with unwomanly ambition, mock or undervalue female friendships, and avoid depicting a woman in a healthy, traditional relationship with a committed man.  These shows offer neither an accurate portrayal of how women are nor what womanhood ought to be.         

Hollywood also likes to portray women as the opposite of empowered, as weak victims.  In 2008, all five Best Actress Oscar contenders were nominated for playing tormented, tragic characters who were brought to within an inch of their lives.  These portrayals are difficult to identify with because real women are not commonly fragile sufferers on the verge of breakdowns.  By 2009, however, Hollywood tapped into something more genuine in its portrayals of women.  Performances nominated for the Best Actress Oscar included a devoted wife defending her family in The Last Station, a cheerful Julia Child who loved cooking for her husband, and a gracious, family-oriented mother in The Blind Slide.  Those portrayals were based on real stories of real women, so they faithfully captured authentic aspects of womanhood.  In The Blind Side, womanhood was portrayed as something giving and uplifting, something spiritual.  The Blind Side was also an enormous box-office draw.  Its success sent Hollywood a message: We want movies that affirm traditional family values.  

Women have a greater influence on how Hollywood portrays us than we might realize.  Ratings and box-office earnings signal to Hollywood what we want to see.  The popularity of the Sex and the City show is the reason Hollywood made the movie, and the popularity of the movie is the reason they made a sequel.  We can perpetuate inaccuracies in Hollywood’s depictions of women by continuing to watch them.  If we want women to be portrayed truthfully and positively in films and on TV, then women must indicate what we value and who we are, honestly.    

We do not look to Hollywood to tell us the truth as it is, but we do look to Hollywood to represent ideals: perfect kisses, epic romances, hard-won victories, happy endings.  Hollywood’s portrayal of women feels false because it does not represent those ideals within the context of true womanhood.  Instead of panning the camera on what is steady and modest, Hollywood takes the big things in life and exaggerates them.  It gives us the illusion that Hollywood is larger than life, when in fact your life, my life, every life is a bigger production than any blockbuster could ever be.    

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