People 09 November 2017
The spotlight on gender inequality has been greatly expanded in recent years in industries like business, sports, and entertainment, but what about those who work behind the lens? Film and media represent some of the professions with the highest levels of inequity, yet they're often still being overlooked when it comes to female empowerment.
For a few sobering statistics on this front, consider that women made up just 28 percent of all speaking roles in theatre-released films in 2014, only 16 percent of directors, writers, editors, and producers who were employed in the top 100 grossing films of 2015 were women, and women were found to only makeup crew membership of 17 percent in music, 5 percent in camera and electrical, and just 9 percent of special effects in an analysis of 2000 of the highest-grossing films between 1994 and 2003.
These massive inequalities are what inspired entrepreneur, photographer, and host Amanda De Cadenet to create #Girlgaze, a digital media company that promotes the work of female photographers and directors, by creating visibility and jobs for girls behind the lens. Founded in 2016, De Cadenet created this collection as a way to respond to this lack of gender inclusivity and give the next generation of women who want to work in the photography and film industries.
Despite the quick success that #Girlgaze has enjoyed, getting the attention media outlets like WWD and Paper Magazine, a partnership with Glamour, and a design collaboration with Warby Parker, De Cadenet never set out to be an entrepreneur. It was after experiencing the frustration for women's stories so often being filtered through the lenses of men and male-owned media platforms that she decided to be the change she wished to see. “I've made it a point to bring as many women as possible with me, whether it's that I hire women to work on The Conversation to work in roles that are traditionally male," De Cadenet told SWAAY about her entrepreneurial philosophy. She looks at this company as a way to pay it forward, women supporting other women, as she wants to stop the good old boys club industry practices that often leave women competing against one another for such little real estate or completely out of the equation to begin with. “We need more examples of women who truly are supporting other women, not just paying lip service to it."
“At #Girlgaze, I hire women and girls that don't necessarily have the experience, but have the passion and enthusiasm." says De Cadenet.[thb_image full_width="true" alignment="center" image="9774" img_size="full"]
Her endeavor led to the creation of the #Girlgaze book, which features a curated collection of photographs that capture how young women perceive the world. Co-authored by English photographer and filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson features a collective of images submitted from female-identifying photographers around the world, that feature raw, candid shots of life as it's being lived: on the streets of the city, hiking in the mountains, laughing with friends, the realities of life in war-torn countries, and beautiful fields.
With this book and company, De Cadenet is addressing the problems female creators face on a daily basis, by using her power and success to put the spotlight on other talented women." If you look at all of the different industries...there's been men at the top of these organizations, 99.9 percent, there have been so few spaces for us," she explains. In fact, she believes this lack of seats at the table is what causes successful women to feel like they are in competition with one another and often tear one another down instead of build each other up. “It's been ingrained in us that “Oh my god, if I don't get that one space, then she is going to get it!" There's been so few opportunities and openings. It's not even our fault- but that's why we compare as opposed to saying “She is doing great!" #Girlgaze is changing this narrative by addressing this paradigm head on and instead of just talking the talk about empowerment and inclusion, is giving talented women opportunities every single day to have their work be showcased in a way that isn't objectifying, sexualizing, or speculative.
Not only is De Cadenet giving women a platform to tell their stories candidly, but has been candid about her own dark past. As a teenager, she found herself in juvie as a consequence of running away from home, was sexually assaulted, and also had an unintended pregnancy, which are experiences that would devastate many young people. Instead, she rose from this experience and went on to become a TV host at the age of 16, which found her success that she's never looked back from nor taken for granted. “You can't live through what I've lived through and not be humbled!" she says. “I've recovered through everything that I've been through over the years, since I've been willing to find things that work. There's a lot...there isn't just one path. What I do know is that it's crucial to remain teachable and to retain the outlook of 'Hey, I'm still learning.' and you know, I am." Her secret sauce of remaining teachable has clearly allowed her to be so resilient, which is a lesson we can all learn from, in the face of adversity.
Photo Courtesy of Red Magazine
Instead of trying to always make our lives look perfect and beautiful, this exposure of the messiness is a curtain she believes needs to be opened now more than ever, especially in a world that is filled with pressure coming at women from all angles to be flawless.
“This is the common experience for a lot of people and I'm just trying to shed light on it and say, Hey, shit happens. Life is messy; let's stop pretending that it's some curated Instagram version of the reality, so that we can all stop feeling that we're not enough," -Amanda De Cadenet
To put it simply, #Girlgaze (the book, that is) shows what it's like to be female in this world, from all angles, emotions, and capacities. You see women and girls running through fields, reflecting on tragedies, smiling, crying, embracing, engaging in the community, friendships, intimacy, and fun. This book runs the gamut on showcasing what humanity really looks like, without any of the fluff or frills. It's naked in a way that isn't sexual, but is completely raw in its delivery. There's no shame, no fear, just girls living and experiencing the world as themselves and showing it to all of us through their art.
Giving women and girls the power to be themselves, without any pressure or backlash, embodies true feminism and De Cadenet is on the forefront of this entirely new conversation about womanhood. Bringing women together instead of tearing them apart is a central part of her mission in the world, which she believes is the key to changing it. “ I don't want to quote my friend Hillary [Clinton] here but, “We are stronger together," she says. “The more that we can create opportunities and spaces for people to connect and identify with one another, the better it is. I've always felt like that and always known that, that I've made it a mission of mine." Look out, sexism- there's a new sheriff in town.
It's the question on everyone's tongues. It's what motivates every conversation about whether or not Liz Warren is "electable," every bit of hand-wringing that a woman just "can't win this year," and every joke about menstrual cycles and nuclear missiles. Is America ready for a woman president?
It's a question that would be laughable if it wasn't indicative of deeper problems and wielded like a weapon against our ambitions. Whether thinly-veiled misogyny or not (I'm not going to issue a blanket condemnation of everybody who's ever asked), it certainly has the same effect: to tell us "someday, but not yet." It's cold comfort when "someday" never seems to come.
What are the arguments? That a woman can't win? That the country would reject her authority? That the troops would refuse to take her orders? That congress would neuter the office? Just the other day, The New York Times ran yet another in a long series of op-eds from every major newspaper in America addressing this question. However, this one made a fascinating point, referencing yet another article on the topic in The Atlantic (examining the question during Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid), which cited a study by two Yale researchers who found that people were either the same or more likely to vote for a fictional male senator when told that he was ambitious; and yet, both men and women alike were less likely to vote for a woman when told that she was ambitious, even reacting with "feelings of moral outrage" including "contempt, anger, and disgust."
The question isn't whether a woman could be president, or whether a woman can be elected president – let's not forget that Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than the wildly unqualified man currently sitting in the oval office – it's whether or not it's appropriate for a woman to run for president, in a pre-conscious, visceral, gut-check way. In short, it's about misogyny. Not your neighbors' misogyny, that oft-cited imaginary scapegoat, but yours. Ours. Mine. The misogyny we've got embedded deeply in our brains from living in a society that doesn't value women, the overcoming of which is key for our own growth, well-being, and emotional health.
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?
That misogyny, too, is reinforced by every question asking people to validate a woman even seeking the position. Upfront, eo ipso, before considering anything of their merit or experience or thought, whether a woman should be president, that, if given the choice between a qualified woman and an unqualified man, the man wins (which, let's not forget, is what happened four years ago). To ask the question at all is to recognize the legitimacy of the difference in opinion, that this is a question about which reasonable people might disagree. In reality, it's a question that reason doesn't factor into at all. It's an emotional question provoking an emotional response: to whom belong the levers of power? It's also one we seem eager to dodge.
"Sure, I'd vote for a woman, but I don't think my neighbor would. I'd vote for a woman, but will South Carolina? Or Nebraska? Or the Dakotas?" At worst, it's a way to sort through the cognitive dissonance the question provokes in us – it's an obviously remarkable idea, seeing as we've never had a woman president – and at best, it's sincere surrender to our lesser angels, allowing misogyny to win by default. It starts with the assumption that a woman can't be president, and therefore we shouldn't nominate one, because she can't win. It's a utilitarian argument for excluding half of the country's population from eligibility for its highest office not even by virtue of some essential deficiency, but in submission to the will of a presumed minority of voters before a single vote has ever been cast. I don't know what else to call that but misogyny by other means.
We can, and must, do better than that. We can't call a woman's viability into question solely because she's a woman. To do so isn't to "think strategically," but to give ground before the race even starts. It's to hobble a candidate. It's to make sure voters see her, first and foremost, as a gendered object instead of a potential leader. I have immense respect for the refusal of women like Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and pioneers like Carol Mosley-Braun, going as far back as Victoria Woodhull, to accede to this narrative and stick to their arguments over the course of their respective campaigns, regardless of any policy differences with them. It's by women standing up and forcing the world to see us as people that we push through, not by letting them tell us where they think we belong.
One of the themes I come back to over and over again in my writing is women asserting independence from control and dignity in our lives. It's the dominant note in feminist writing going back decades, that plea for recognition not only of our political and civil rights, but our existence as moral agents as capable as any man in the same position, as deserving of respect, as deserving of being heard and taking our shot. What then do we make of the question "is America ready for a woman president?" Is America ready? Perhaps not. But perhaps "ready" isn't something that exists. Perhaps, in the truest fashion of human politics, it's impossible until it, suddenly, isn't, and thereafter seems inevitable.
I think, for example, of the powerful witness Barack Obama brought to the office of president, not simply by occupying it but by trying to be a voice speaking to America's cruel and racist history and its ongoing effects. By extension, then, I think there is very real, radical benefit to electing a chief executive who has herself been subject to patriarchal control in the way only women (and those who others identify as women) can experience.
I look at reproductive rights like abortion and birth control, and that is what I see: patriarchal control over bodies, something no single president has ever experienced. I think about wage equality; no US president has ever been penalized for their sex in their ability to provide for themselves and their families. I look at climate change, and I remember that wealth and power are inextricably bound to privilege, and that the rapacious hunger to extract value from the earth maps onto the exploitation women have been subject to for millennia.
That's the challenge of our day. We've watched, over the last decade, the radicalized right go from the fringes of ridicule to the halls of power. We've watched them spit at the truth and invent their own reality. All while some of our best leaders were told to wait their turn. Why, then, all this question of whether we're ready for something far simpler?
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?