Talking about sexism and gender inequality in Hollywood isn’t exactly new territory anymore. Jennifer Lawrence discussed wage inequality in a recent essay for Lenny, and the differences in Photoshopping between males and females have gotten a little bit out of control. But something that’s often overlooked is a more nuanced inequality, and one that people might shrug off because it’s seen as coming with a certain level of privilege and vanity, the institutionalized discrimination of “beautiful people” in Hollywood.
It sounds silly, but it’s real—pretty women in Hollywood are often seen as just that: pretty woman. Nice things to look at. Not people with thoughts and opinions and brains, just like every other person in the world. Even as I write this, I can feel readers rolling their eyes: Oh boohoo, pretty people want me to feel sorry for them for being pretty. How tough their lives must be. But what we all need to understand that discrimination is discrimination, even if discrimination of pretty women trying to make a living in Hollywood isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, especially in our current political and social climate. That’s where StyleLikeU’s The What’s Underneath Project comes in. They recently teamed up with The CW’s Reign actress and activist Caitlin Stasey to talk about her experience in the entertainment industry and “the surprising struggles that she has been met with as an actress,” and the video is definitely worth a watch
Stasey is no stranger to sexism, both in the real world and on Reign. For those of you who don’t watch (mild spoilers ahead), her character, Kenna, spends time as the King’s mistress, only to be pawned off on his illegitimate son for marriage as a result of his increasing insanity. She’s mocked and ridiculed for her choices and her position until she’s able to find her voice. While the show takes place in 16th century France, the struggles she faced as a “pretty girl” aren’t altogether different from the ones faced in 2015.
The interview isn’t just another girl complaining about how hard it is to make it in Hollywood. Stasey is completely aware of her privilege as a white, cis female, and she’s able to put that aside to discuss the real problems that women in Hollywood face every day, from basic insecurity to blatant sexism and harassment from powerful men that control the industry and the future of the careers. She’s also recently launched a platform called Herself.com, a site consisting of profiles and nude photography, the purpose of which is to “emphasize the diversity of the female figure and to empower women to find themselves through those images.” It’s the ultimate in body positivity, and it’s definitely worth a look when you have the chance (there are nude photos, so it’s probably NSFW).
Here are five things we learned about sexism in Hollywood from Caitlin Stasey’s contribution to the The What’s Underneath Project:
1. “Sexy only exists within a certain box.”
She talks about how the way people perceived her changed when she cut her hair, saying that when she had longer hair, people assumed that was stupid, as if the way a woman wears her hair is indicative of her intelligence, or any other aspect of her personality for that matter. She then goes on to detail an experience wherein she wore high-waisted jeans for an audition, and immediately afterward, her agent called her and told her that the casting director didn’t think she was sexy anymore; that he just saw her as a “mouthy girl next door.” Stasey is, without a doubt, a beautiful woman, but her decision to wear something that made her happy, that she liked, rather than dressing for the male gaze, ultimately made it difficult for her to get a job that might have furthered her career. This is no different than how women everywhere struggle with what to wear to work or to job interviews to be “taken more seriously” in their professional environments.
2. It’s almost impossible to find a role for young women written by a young woman.
And, as a result, women aren’t always portrayed in the best or fairest light. In a recent report done by Variety, it was concluded that women comprise seven percent of directors on top films, and 80 percent of films in 2014 had no female writers. Stasey says,
“Some of the greatest heroines have been born in the hearts and minds of men. That’s my difficulty, watching old white men write for young women or any marginalized individual, because they just have no fucking idea what they’re talking about.”
Things are changing ever-so-slightly with the growth in popularity of shows like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder that feature strong women so prominently, but those are all older, more established women. Young women are still seen as frail, emotional beings, and that’s simply not who we are anymore. Men refuse to see that, and it’s hard for women to break through and tell those stories in such a male-driven industry.
3. Men in Hollywood are profiting from the marginalization of women.
“People are genuinely f*cking lazy…The quickest way to make a dollar is to objectify, humiliate, and mutilate women. We love doing that, we love defeating women.”
Anyone who’s ever seen pretty much any ad campaign (like this one that Sprite did a few years ago) knows that the go-to motif for many companies is to use sex as a selling point. This would be fine if it wasn’t consistently done in a way that treats women as sex objects. It’s no different than the comments that spurned that #DistractinglySexy and #ThingsFeministMenHaveSaidToMe hashtags—it’s all sexist, it’s all degrading to women, and it all sets us back too many years to count.
4. Hollywood is driven by insecurity.
Life and Hollywood (which, let’s be real, is the furthest thing from real life) are completely driven by insecurity, and this is nothing new. Fears of not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, just plain enough are the driving forces behind most actions for most people, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Stasey says,
“The war [against sexism] that we are fighting doesn’t have a specific face, and if we can see the thing represented in a person that’s in close proximity to us, we can say, ‘Oh, it’s that, that’s the issue, it’s this Victoria’s Secret model, or this woman eating Carl’s Jr. on the beach.’ We love to make women the bearer of that burden.”
“People think that beauty opens doors, but it opens door to cliff edges…[Hollywood] is a town of women who have been told that, like, their value will found in how taut their skin is and how high their tits sit and how high their asses sit…I know my body in a way that isn’t judgmental, but I know that I don’t look like Sports Illustrated. I don’t have a Sports Illustrated figure. It’s not too far off, but it’s not that, and that margin of different is quite significant here.”
Even those who are “closer” to today’s idealized standard of beauty feel that they can’t hold up, and that that’s a real concern among women these days is ridiculous.
5. Marginalization is marginalization.
“You can’t tell any marginalized group how to respond to their marginalization.”
This, in my opinion, is a sentiment we need now more than ever.
Those are just a few of the seriously smart parts of Stasey’s entire interview. If you want to hear everything else she had to say (and you totally should), watch the full video below!
(Photo: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)