Last week, Jennifer Weiner pointed out the very real gender bias that exists when it comes to book reviews and author coverage. In short, women are not represented at the same level as men. Now, I have had problems with Ms. Weiner ever since the “Franzenfreude” debacle of 2010, in which she was quoted as saying “I don’t write literary fiction – I write books that are entertaining.” And while she admits that she and Franzen are too different, stylistically, to compare, there always seems to be an air of resentment in her voice when she talks about literary fiction. But when it comes to the unfair treatment of women in the book world, she is spot on, and I always listen to her when she has something to say about it.
I bring this up because today proved that sexism on the opposite end of the spectrum happens too. The 2012 Academy Award nominations were announced, and under Best Original Screenplay was Bridemaids.
I liked Bridesmaids. It was a comedy and it made me laugh, so therefore it was a success in my opinion. Comedies can be brilliant, as evidenced by the fact that Midnight in Paris and The Artist were also nominated in the same category. Bridesmaids, however, was not brilliant. It was good. Not great, but good. It was called the female answer to The Hangover for a reason. It was the same exact movie.
Praising Bridemaids for its writing is Hollywood’s response to a woman being as skilled as a man when it comes to writing raunchy, juvenile comedies. Sure they make us laugh and even can be quite clever, but men behaving badly is par for the course. When women prove they can be equal, they are rewarded with the label of “better” or “artistic.” It’s telling us, Good for you! You really are as talented as men! Here’s a trophy.”
Melissa McCarthy is also nominated, and I can see why. Without her inappropriately quirky character, the movie would have been mediocre at best, which is a testament to the power of one performance. Though I wonder if that character would have been considered as “hilarious” if she were a size 4. The role itself is one we’ve seen a million times – he’s been in every ’80s teen movie, trying to get the shy main character laid. He’s appeared in action movies and thrillers to provide comic relief. But now “he” was a “she,” and therefore more credible as part of the film’s success. I’m not saying comic relief characters don’t deserve recognition, but if I were Zach Galifianakis I’d be pissed.
This week has shown that when it comes to women in media, whether book or film or otherwise, struggles to be considered equal are still very present. When are people going to learn that we want to praised for our talent, but not when that talent is “being equal to a man?” I won’t be mad if Bridesmaids or Melissa McCarthy win, just disappointed that this will be Hollywood’s excuse for the next ten years to keep women held back, the same way giving Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman the occasional Oscar is supposed to appease African-American actors.
I wish these actors had the guts that Jennifer Weiner has. She’s a NY Times bestselling author who refuses to simply “shut up and be grateful.” She’s able to look outside herself and see bias in the same organization that rewards her. Every writer wants to be recognized for his or her accomplishments, and everyone has the right to question the motives behind that praise. Are we making a big deal out of one woman so that we can ignore the next twenty? Or are we looking at everyone equally for what they’ve accomplished, and comparing them to others in their field accurately and fairly?