Both subtle and blatant sexism seems to overwhelm the media. Women in pop culture are subjected to sexist remarks and expectations from interviewers, directors, co-workers, and the like. Navigating the entertainment landscape is a challenge, and these ladies face severe scrutiny from both outside and inside the industry. They are often expected and forced to deal with frustrating situations from non-consensual pictures taken of them to obvious sexist interview comments. They handle these, and more, with grace and ease. While it often becomes exhausting to watch, the way these ladies handle sexist culture is refreshing. We can all take up their powerful responses!
In July, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, spoke out against the “moral corruption” of Turkey at a meeting following Eid al Fitr: “[A woman] should not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and protect her chasteness,” he stated.
“Where are our girls, who slightly blush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we look at their face, becoming the symbol of chastity?” he asked, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.
Not surprisingly, the women of Turkey did not take kindly to Arinc’s comments and began flooding Twitter with pictures of themselves laughing and smiling with the hashtags #direnkahkaha, meaning “resist laughter” and #direnkadin, meaning “resist woman.” Emma Watson, the newest U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, joined the movement by posting this picture on her Twitter page.
It’s amazing to see Emma use her celebrity and social media to support the women of Turkey. The Harry Potter star and Brown University graduate posted a number of tweets since her appointment as a U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, supporting gender equality.
She brought awareness to the HeForShe campaign:
And she reminded us how men suffer at the hands of sexism:
Emma knows what gender equality is about and isn’t going to stand for sexist attitudes. Props to you, Emma. Keep up the good work!
2. Mindy Kaling
Producer, writer, and star of The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling is the first woman of color to create and star in her own network TV show. Kaling has created a show that reveals a funny, intelligent, successful woman who has real-woman attributes such as flaws, insecurities, and compassion. Despite this accomplishment, Mindy continues to face criticism as the only Indian-American woman on TV. She is a rarity in the industry and, therefore, is often expected to meet an ideal.
On NPR, she said, “When you are the only Indian-American female lead in a television show, you seem to be making sweeping statements about that person simply because you are that person and the only one, whereas, for instance, Steve Carell — he’s not making sweeping generalizations about white American men on his show because there’s so many different white American men on different shows.”
Kaling’s character is often critical of herself, obsessing over her weight and her potential suitors. She is a hopeless romantic who chastises herself for failed relationships. So far, viewers have only seen her date white men. To many, these are major offenses as the show lacks diversity in actor placement and portrays a woman who is not universally representative. But feminism is about ensuring women are not being pushed into certain idealized roles. Kaling understands this perfectly.
She states, “Unfortunately, if you like lipstick or watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians while you do the elliptical machine, and you’re willing to admit to any of that, there are people who think you’re letting down women or something. Which is just a bunch of bullshit, and can make me kind of angry.”
Mindy Kaling has not changed her character to meet prescribed ideals of what she should be representing. She is painting a real person who doesn’t fit anyone’s ideals, but her own.
3. Ellen DeGeneres
Comedian, writer, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was asked to be the spokesperson for a line of pens, Bic for Her. DeGeneres hilariously rejected the offer on her show commenting on the ridiculous nature of gendered pens:
“They’re pens just for ladies. I know what you’re thinking, ‘It’s about damn time! Where have our pens been?’ Can you believe this? We’ve been using man pens all these years! They come in both lady colors, pink and purple. They’re just like regular pens except they’re pink so they cost twice as much. Just think over the last 20 years companies have spent millions of dollars making pills that grow men’s hair and fix men’s sex lives and now ladies have a pen. Wow! We have come a long way baby.”
Oh Ellen, your sarcasm and humor almost makes the idea of a lady-pen bearable. Consider that while women around the world lack reproductive rights, struggle for equal opportunity, and face insurmountable violence, a Pen for Her is being developed. Is this what women really want or need? How legions of women have suffered without a uniquely designed pen!
Watch the full video here.
4. Laverne Cox
The television producer and Orange is the New Black star gave a hefty speech when Katie Couric asked about the genitalia of trans individuals during an interview.
“I think that the preoccupation with transition and with surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t really get to deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we’re targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average. If you’re a trans person of color it’s four times the national average. The homicide rate in the LGBT community is highest amongst trans women. And when we focus on transition we don’t actually get to talk about those things…by focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.”
As she gains popularity, Laverne is using her limelight to shine focus onto the trans community and educate people. Months after the initial interview, Cox returned to Couric’s show where the daytime host apologized and shared that she had learned, “[questions relating to one’s genitals are] very, very upsetting to the transgender community because they feel that people are too often fixated on this, and that your anatomy actually has very little to do with your gender identity.” Hopefully the day will come where Cox won’t need to continuously enlighten the masses.
5. Lauren Conrad
SC: “What’s your favorite position?”
Lauren Conrad: “CEO”
During an interview, Lauren Conrad gave this response to Sway Calloway of the radio show Sway in the Morning. Conrad picked several question out of a hat to answer. When she picked this one, she looked visibly annoyed and faltered for a few seconds before recomposing herself and quipping “CEO.” Great job fielding personal questions, LC! You were sassy, smart, and reminded us all that you’re more than just a pretty face. Way to keep your cool and teach everyone not to cross Lauren Conrad, fashion designer, socialite, and businesswoman.
6. Scarlett Johansson
While promoting The Avengers film and discussing her portrayal of Natasha Romanova AKA Black Widow, Scarlett faced a line of questioning her male co-stars did not have to endure. Like many other actresses, she was repeatedly was asked about her tight-fitting costume, workout routine, and diet regimen. Scarlett Johansson artfully called out many journalists, commenting on how she received the “rabbit food” questions. One of Scarlett’s Johansson’s best moments statements came during an interview with extratv’s Jerry Penacoli when she was asked about her intimate apparel:
JP: “Now were you able to wear undergarments?”
SJ: “You’re like the fifth person that asked me that today. What is going on? Since when did people start asking each other in interviews about their underwear?”
JP: “This is not— well— is it inappropriate?”
SJ: “To ask somebody what kind of underpants they wear?”
JP: “I did not ask you what kind.”
SJ: “You just asked me if I was wearing any.”
Scarlett Johansson was clearly tired of continuously being asked about her body rather than the movie and her role. Johansson is combating the use of ridiculous inquiries by reversing the question and making the interviewer aware of his casually sexist remarks. She’s not the only famous lady who wants to be recognized for her hard work rather than her body.
7. Anne Hathaway
During press junkets for The Dark Knight Rises, Hathaway was also repeatedly asked about her costume and her physicality. Interestingly, Hathaway had a moment similar to Scarlett’s during an interview with the very same Jerry Penacoli of extratv. As Penacoli repetitively reverted to asking about her “form fitting suit” and diet, Hathaway tried to bring focus to the physical strength she required to complete her stunts and the film.
After brushing off the subject multiple times Hathaway chimed, “Are you trying to lose weight? What’s the deal man? You look great.” Penacoli tried to strike a defense and she retorted,
“No, no seriously! We have to talk about this. What— what do you want? Are you trying to fit into a cat suit?”
Penacoli seemed to learn his lesson (at least for now) and began discussing a more reasonable series of subjects.
Hathaway maintained her bubbly personality while calling out the reporter for his unfair inquiries. The balance between graceful and powerful is difficult to achieve, but Hathaway did so perfectly. She shut Penacoli down without sacrificing her charm and good-natured personality. (Of course, she had total authority to handle the situation more starkly if she wished.)
8. Jennifer Lopez
JLo’s I Luh Ya Papi music video makes a powerful statement about sexism. It opens with a director making a series of suggestions to the artist and two friends about the theme for her next video. She and her friends laugh off the concepts and begin chatting.
“If she was a guy we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.”
“No seriously. Because if she was a dude, they would seriously have her up in a mansion with all these half naked girls or maybe even in a yacht. You know how they stage you in a yacht scene with champagne drinking…”
“Why do the men always objectify the women in every single video? Like why can’t we, for once, objectify the men?”
“The video could start with her on the bed with a bunch of naked guys for no reason…”
The next scene contains just that. The video continues with the ladies surrounded by speedo-clad men. JLo is making a powerful statement about the objectification of women in the music industry. How many videos display women as props? By turning the tables, she is satirically pointing out harsh realities of sexism. JLo’s saucy dance moves allow her to take back her sexuality and claim it as her own, rather than something for others to gawk at.
Watch the full video here.
9. Venus Williams
Today the tennis champion is recognized as a great, but she was once dismissed by the tennis world due to cultural politics. Before Venus and her sister, Serena, entered the tennis scene, the sport was dominated by white players female players who were not typically muscular. As Venus proved her skill on the court, she gained acceptance and power. She utilized her newfound influence to become outspoken about her desire for equal pay at Wimbledon.
Prior to Wimbledon 2006, Williams wrote an essay that was published in The Times stating,
“I believe that athletes – especially female athletes in the world’s leading sport for women – should serve as role models. The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message.”
In 2007, Wimbledon and the French Open agreed to pay men and women equally. Athletics has been a difficult ground for women to break, and seeing a household name fight for equality in sport is awe-inspiring.
10. Amy Poehler
The comedian/actress recently appeared on The Approval Matrix, where the show’s host, Neal Brennan, tells Poehler that for the modern man, “Being cool is, like, passé. And now you have to be awkward and adorkable.” Poehler’s response:
“Well, this feeling that you’re having right now — which is like, ‘I’m supposed to be all things’ — is a feeling that women have every day and have their whole lives. So you’re just starting to experience it now. Like how can I be cool and tough, but also sweet and you know-So we have to deal with all those juxtapositions everyday, but I’m glad you’re experiencing it now as a white male.”
He jokes, “I’m sensing a tone.”
Poehler’s forthright attitude in discussing the unrealistic expectations of women (particularly women of color) is refreshing. It’s not always easy to maintain a positive reputation as a public figure and candidly call out racism and sexism.
The women who dominate our TV, movie, and computer screens have the power to stand up against sexism, and the way they handle sexism can inspire us, everyday women, to combat it. Seeing these celebrities call out prejudices and highlight equality to those who clearly lack awareness, reveals that we must keep educating and keep overstepping boundaries. Keep using your influence for good, ladies!