Oscars 2015 in Review: Standing up to Sexism

By Emily Welch

Women in Hollywood are fed up. Almost every reporter has one go-to question that they begin red carpet interviews with: “Who are you wearing?” Reese Witherspoon put it, “We [women] are more than just our dresses.” Last night, she advocated the #AskHerMore, a campaign rallying for more well rounded coverage of the Oscars, which has stirred up public and social media platforms.

Witherspoon says she is tired of fielding questions centered on dress choice, hairstyle and makeup. Interviewers should be asking women about their professional accomplishments, not just the luxury brands that they sport. The #AskHerMore campaign raises questions about why men tend to be asked more interesting and intellectual questions, without the *superficial concentration on their outfit.

Countless celebrities and industry professionals alike took to Twitter to offer their support.

Ultimately, the red carpet is optional for celebrities, who might as easily waltz to their seat in the auditorium without blinding themselves in front of cameras. Yet, abstinence from the velvet catwalk seems an unfair punishment for a night that is dedicated to the recognition of talent and success. Part of the fun of the red carpet is the fashion and the spotlight it offers.

True, it would be naïve to think that the exquisite diamonds and dresses are not a principle reason people tune into the red carpet broadcasts. Nor would the Oscars be complete without a touch (okay, a heap) of material glamor. However, the entertainment industry currently lacks the happy medium between fashion and true recognition. One thing is clear – Hollywood needs to start treating actresses like their male counterparts instead of front window mannequins.

Many big name stars have tried fight the sexism and shallow focus of red carpet coverage. At the Grammy’s, Nicole Kidman rejected Ryan Seacrest when he asked her who she was wearing, pretending the question didn’t make sense and refusing to answer it. “I don’t know what to say,” she replied. (Read more.)

Yet, closing the gap in gender equality would surely change the game for major cable stations like E! News and Entertainment Tonight. If the focus on fashion is eliminated, or even curtailed, would these stations still be able to draw viewers? E! News just got rid of their “Mani Cam” that caused a lot of controversy at other events http://bit.ly/1LzfxOb.

For Kate Tocci COL ’16, lessening the fashionable coverage wouldn’t mar the night.

“I watch the Oscars because I am interested in the industry and because I’m fascinated by the process of movie making. It’s nice to see people’s work appreciated,” said Kate Tocci, COL ’16.

“I don’t necessarily think the part on fashion needs to be eliminated; I just think it needs to be equal. Unless they’re wearing something extravagant, men aren’t asked again and again about their outfits,” Tocci said.

Others argue that reading into the issue of red carpet interview questions and the gender divide is overanalyzing what is meant to be a fun night for everyone.

“I don’t think the red carpet presents an issue for sexism or ended inequality. The fashion industry emphasizes both male and female aspects equally,” said Kelsey Begin MSB ’16.  “As someone who couldn’t stop commenting on the impeccable fit of Neil Patrick Harris’s sharp gray suit, I don’t think the industry needs to adjust for an issue that simply isn’t there.”

The Red Carpet was not the only Oscars platform for discourse surrounding gender issues. Patricia Arquette made waves when she took the stage to accept her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress inBoyhood. She used her moment in the spotlight to advocate for gender equality in a bold statement,

“To every woman who ever gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation: We have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” Arquette argued in her speech.  “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”

The audience welcomed her speech with support and loud cheers, especially Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez, who were whistling and pointing from their seats. Meryl even stood up for Arquette in the middle of the speech. And if Meryl Streep does it, in the Oscars, that’s as good as gold.

Where this leaves us is still up for debate. Women are a far cry from equal to men in the workplace (and red carpet), but the fact that accomplished women are using their fame to opening up this important discussion is a step forward for the industry and women’s rights in general.