I started my creative essay for my application to the film school here at USC with one line: “I come from a long line of powerful women.”
I went on to assert that my lineage made me into the young woman I am today: driven, strong and ready to take the film world by storm, regardless of the ratio of men to women in Hollywood.
At the time of writing that essay, I hadn’t yet been introduced to the word “feminism.” At least, not in the way I would become acquainted with it later. Back then, I shied away from the F-word, quick to disassociate myself from a group that I perceived as radical, worried it was too polarizing a term for a girl on the brink of defining who she was.
Of course, almost two years of college now under my belt (and a conference paper on feminism in Ridley Scott’s 1991 film Thelma & Louise presented last spring), I now have a different perspective. But back then, I knew simply that the women in my family were strong and powerful, and I would be, too, no question. I didn’t need to label myself a “feminist” for that to be true.
So, when actress Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting (most notable for her role as Penny on The Big Bang Theory) recently responded “Is it bad if I say no?” after Redbook magazine asked if she was a feminist, I understood. Cuoco went on to add: “I was never that feminist girl demanding equality, but maybe that’s because I’ve never really faced inequality.” Focusing on the foundations of her argument — that she “never … faced inequality” — it’s easy to see why. A quick glance at either her IMDb or Wikipedia page shows that Cuoco has had fairly steady work since 1992, at the tender age of 7 years old. Furthermore, she has never made less money than any of her Big Bang co-stars, despite the fact that the rest of the cast has been primarily composed of men since the show’s inception.
For a woman who has been able to support herself with an equal salary compared to the other men in her “office” for the past seven years, the idea of feminism might seem antiquated or simply non-applicable, as she points out. In the following weeks after Cuoco’s interview was published, outrage flew from every direction, requiring Cuoco to apologize for her statements. The outrage, I found, was a bit extreme; however, the response not only helped Cuoco better understand the actual definition of “feminism” but it also sparked a dialogue as Cuoco went on her subsequent “Apology Tour.” Cuoco’s faux pas and celebrity status provided an avenue by which readers and viewers had a chance to think about and explore definitions of feminism for themselves, proving that — beyond academic definitions and conference papers at liberal institutions — the media is a very effective platform to relate and share thoughts, ideas and information.
Emma Watson’s #HeforShe campaign is the best example of this medium being put to good use. #HeForShe is labeled as “a solidarity movement for gender equality” on their website, calling men to the force and asking them to speak out for their female counterparts. The campaign is made possible by Watson’s star status, so created by the Harry Potter franchise. When she launched #HeforShe, she asked countless other celebrities to join in on Twitter, furthering the movement and its exposure to the millions. It is important to note, however, that nowhere on the #HeForShe website do they advertise “feminism” as its cause or part of its manifesto; they simply tout “gender equality” as their initiative, which raises an important question: when discussing equality, should the F-word be left out of the picture?
Even if Cuoco’s blunder allowed for others to be educated, it still raises quite a few hairs when mentioned to those who don’t understand its exact definition. When The Hollywood Reporter recently asked cinema legend Meryl Streep what the biggest lesson she’s learned in her career was, she simply said: “Ask other people what they make. Because the men usually make more than you do. And it’s good to know. You’re not allowed to ask. But it’s good to ask.” She doesn’t preach feminism, but she clearly states the need to assert oneself as a woman.
From here on out, this column will continue to explore not only one of my first loves, film, but also the multi-faceted relationship it has with a considered “minority” within the industry: women. I will explore those trends, developments and projects that are either written, produced, created by or affect women. This is all opinion, but it is also a dialogue; feel free to respond by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minnie Schedeen is a sophomore majoring in critical studies. Her column, “Film Fatale,” runs every other Tuesday.