I’ve been thinking lately (I do a lot of that you’ll notice) about women and how we are represented in the stories of the world. All stories – but mainly television and film.
The problem with thinking about this is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. The overwhelming disparity. The stereotyping. The hyper-sexualisation. The fact that as a woman I can see a film aboutmen and still relate to it, but many men can’t relate to a film about women. (Thus the argument that females aren’t represented because men won’t watch films about us). The fact that even when I do see a kick-arse woman on film that she is generally the exception and not the rule, surrounded on all sides by men, interacting predominantly with men doesn’t help. This is despite the fact that like many women, some of the most defining and important relationships in my life have been with other women.
So what does that tell me about what Hollywood and the media thinks about these types of relationships? This then led to other thoughts of the role our stories play in constructing our world. Our stories reflect and set our beliefs. Our beliefs lead us to take action. Action that creates the world.
Did you know studies have found that the more TV girl’s watch, the less options they think they have in life?
One of the reasons I so loved Xena when that show was on was it was the first time I’d seen someone who kind of looked like me as the hero – she was female, she was brunette and she was Greek. Jesus. I nearly wet my pants.
As a kid I had no real female heroines to identify with. I had to pretend to be Luke Skywalker or Atreyu or … you get the picture. Someone with a penis. Not someone whose genitalia looked like mine.
When I discovered I wanted to be a writer, my first project was to attempt to write a script based on the life of Boudicca, the Celtic Queen who almost drove the Romans out of Britain.
I envisaged it as a sort of female Braveheart. When I told a VCA-grad filmmaker about this idea, the answer I got was ‘you’d need to have lots of tits and arse… the world won’t buy a female action hero’. That was ten years ago. And despite Xena and the more recent Katniss Everdeen, I’m not sure how much has actually changed.
It’s my firm belief that the reasons for why the world is as it is can often be traced through and reflected in our stories. To see where a society is, ask it to share its stories with you. Of course this is a simplification of sorts – stories also delve, reflect, ask questions, seek answers. But when most of our stories are about men, feature men, look at the world through men’s eyes, and represent women in very limited ways – when at all – you have an answer of sorts for what is happening in the underbelly of our world.
That’s not to say – the world sucks and men are to blame. Not at all. It’s just to say that we are unbalanced, and the world seems out of balance. And we desperately need the voices of our mothers, sisters and daughters to be heard, seen and understood in our collective narrative if we are to tell a different type of story. Let me put it another way – when 66% of the work in the world is done by women, and half the population of the world is female, why are our stories so out-of-whack with that reality. Where are all our women?
This thinking then led me to other thoughts about the way that stories can expand or limit our creative potential. For example, when we play genre in impro our default is often to play what we’ve seen before – characters we recognise, the templates and archetypes and yes, stereotypes, we’ve been exposed to. And because those stereotypes are constructed in ways that often diminish the stories of women, our impro can sometimes do the same. We don’t have to be sexist to fall into this trap either. I’ve fallen into it. Many times. Simply by the way we respond, our innate instinct is to replay those stories we’ve seen again and again and again.
If we’re going to change the world for the better, we need to expand the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And if we’re going to do that, a big part of it surely is to more fully embrace half the world’s storytellers.
So what am I doing about it… well, I hope I’m writing a story where gender is less important than character, where at least half of it is explicitly told through the eyes of the women in the world (not because they’re women, but because that’s what serves the story), where the females are equally as competent and capable with story wants that transcend gender, but more importantly that both boys and girls will love to read.
Inspiring I hope the next generation of storytellers to tell better and bigger stories of who we are and who we have the potential to be.
Just a thought.