It’s been a week since the Oscars, but Cate Blanchett’s Best Actress acceptance speech is still trending with me. Or rather, Maureen Dowd’s riff on it is.
Blanchett implied that her Oscar win for “Blue Jasmine” proved that films with women at the center aren’t “niche experiences.” Dowd’s March 5 column “Frozen in a Niche?” demonstrated otherwise:
“The percentage of women directing, writing, producing, editing and shooting films has declined since 1998, according to an analysis of the top 250 grossing films of 2013 by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. (The anticipated halo effect from Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to win a directing Oscar for 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” never happened.)
“The center’s latest report had some stunning stats: Women accounted for 6 percent of directors, 10 percent of writers, 15 percent of executive producers, 17 percent of editors and 3 percent of cinematographers. And women are still more likely to be working on romantic comedies, dramas or documentaries than the top-grossing, teenage-boy-luring animated, sci-fi and horror movies.”
Sound like a niche to me. Mais pourquoi? Why should women – who drive the economy and dominate colleges and professional schools – be second-class citizens in Hollywood?
The answer lies partly in the idea that women are the more fluid and open of the two sexes. They, myself include, will happily sit through an action-driven flick like “The Avengers” or “Thor,” because the male of the species is the default mode of world culture and because women enjoy being with and gazing at men.
As Mazzuchelli from the “wilds of western Iowa” posted to Dowd’s column: “Suspect there's a natural proclivity by both sexes to watch males in action. I adore romantic comedies, but folks, I'm looking at the guys. Admit it. Men are fascinating. Men invent everything worth invention, they burn hotter, they're just fantastic.”
Precisely my reaction as I drank in Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray facing off during a World Tennis Day exhibition at Madison Square Garden March 3. When reigning Wimbledon champ Marion Bartoli stepped onto the court to hit with Andy, all I could think, God forgive me, was Gee, she’s put on a lot of weight since she retired. I couldn’t wait for Nole to go back to hitting with Andy.
I bet a lot of men in the crowd felt the same way. Men may think women are fantastic, too – or at least that some women are fantastic-looking – but not enough to sit through “How To Make An American Quilt.”
Or anything else that smacks of the female or feminine. Indeed, when I was handing out invites to the party launching my new novel “Water Music” – part of “A Night of Beauty” at Bloomingdale’s in White Plains, N.Y. March 13 – I was quick to say to the male invitees, “Well, maybe your (wife, girlfriend, mother, sister) will want to attend.” I didn’t dare presume that any men other than gay men – whom our society lumps with women – would be interested in a night of beauty.
That’s because men don’t have to be interested in the traditionally feminine. They still hold the power. And that power cuts like a knife. It’s thrilling and sexy. But it can also be brutal and uncaring.
Which means women have to care about themselves. As Mazzuchelli’s post concluded: “…it's past time for women in media to get their own firms moving forward. Stop blaming everyone else.”
Women can do it. They did it with breast cancer. (Do you see men networking and organizing around prostate cancer? No.) But women are going to have to let go of the little girl-isms that society has foisted on them – the doubt, the guilt, the diffuse concentration, the fear and anxiety, the need for control and above all, the paralyzing perfectionism. As Best Song winner “Let It Go” says:
“It’s time to see what I can do
“To test the limits and break through
“No right, no wrong, no rules for me
That song, from “Frozen,” is about a young princess named Elsa owning her magical powers. But it’s also become my personal anthem. When I wrote “Water Music” – which is, after all, about four gay athletes – I thought, Well, maybe I should be writing about women instead, maybe I shouldn’t depict the guys having sex, maybe this and maybe that.
But you know what? Men have been unapologetically depicting women forever. Time for a woman to consider the emotional and sexual lives of men in a big way.
And no maybes about it.