Why Women Seen and Heard Produced a Virtual Film Fest

Included in this blog post:

  • Why Women Seen and Heard Produced a Virtual Film Fest
  • Produce Your Own Virtual Film Fest
  • Are You Ambitions? Take our AQ (Ambition Quiz)

WHY WOMEN SEEN AND HEARD PRODUCED
A VIRTUAL FILM FEST

When women speak up, are they likable? Is it wise? Let films be your guide.

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Given the constraints of our lifestyle as we shelter in place, it’s no wonder that more of us are kicking back at night and streaming films. And yet, for all the escapism movies offer, it can be difficult to relate to the female characters portrayed in popular films. Screenwriter Nora Ephron encouraged women to “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

Thinking of oneself as a heroine isn’t easy in a media-saturated culture which has the power to define how women should appear and behave. The most commercially successful films are often more than a little out of touch with reality. In spite of women’s advances, most films continue to marginalize and objectify female characters. Women are typically presented as saints or victims, objectified or sexualized in order to manipulate men. I believe that most women today prefer to see female characters that transcend these stereotypes and that showcase women who live full, rich lives that reflect a range of interests and abilities.

Change happens slowly. Research from the USC Annenburg School confirms that most films don’t emphasize a woman’s full potential to lead creative and productive lives outside the home. Instead, films reinforce the idea that “a girl’s value is not only based on her appearance but also her romantic interests.” We know that women can be astronauts and brain surgeons but 93% of on-screen female characters are still engaged in “stereotypically female chores,” such as cleaning, gardening or caring for children at home. It’s rare to see women in film engaged in science, technology, math and/or engineering activities, closing lucrative business deals, or shaping Congressional policies.

Finding thought-provoking films about the issue of working women and power for the Women Seen and Heard Virtual Film Fest (VFF) took some digging, however we found five outstanding films available to stream on either Amazon or Netflix. Our film choices showcased women who are “seen and heard,” behaving in ways that defy the stereotypes; that is, all of the female leads are self-directed, ambitious and articulate women making their mark, or at least trying to, as they navigate the obstacles in a male-dominated world.

The films included fast-paced thrillers with many plot twists and include: The Contender, Equity, Miss Sloane, Hidden Figures and The Assistant. These films showcase strong, brilliant women who work in politics and government, on Wall Street or the film industry, or are self-employed. You’ll see them lose and/or gain power, play by the rules or make up their own, achieve big dreams, and push boundaries. They face moral dilemmas, often encountering disdain from men whose approval they need to succeed.

The lead characters in these films aren’t necessarily likeable. Instead, they are ambitious women who want to succeed on their own terms and don’t care about being well liked. And yet likability has a huge impact on opportunities in the workplace. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Likeable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven.” We’ve all learned a great deal about the issue of likability from press and scholarly analyses of Hillary’s loss. We learned that the concept of “likability” reflects a double-standard for women and men. In historically male-dominated cultures, such as those found on Wall Street or in Washington D.C., it’s easier for a man to be found likable by his peers, even as he becomes more successful. For women, likability oftentimes reflects Victorian gender norms that keep women out of power. The Harvard Business Review reports on data that clearly show women are perceived as less likable as they get more successful.

While movie audiences enjoyed these films, they weren’t profitable for the movie studios. Perhaps that’s because the reviews weren’t necessarily favorable. On the other hand, keep in mind that about 78% of film critics are men who prefer action films or films that include gratuitous violence. Also, male critics typically lack a gender lens through which to evaluate the depiction of female characters’ relevance to life today (check out my list of articles about women in film to learn more). Films like these provide a fertile field for discussing whether ambitious women actually utilize power differently from men. It forces us to question the sacrifices women make in order to achieve their goals. As Lily Tomlin once said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” Take our Ambition Quiz (below) to learn more about your own determination to succeed and what it might mean for you personally.

JOIN THE WOMEN SEEN AND HEARD VIRTUAL FILM FEST!

This is a DIY Film Fest and the guidelines below are merely suggestions to help you get started. Feel free to change things up and make the experience uniquely your own!

  1. First, review the list of films we suggest and decide how many to watch. To ensure that the films you choose represent racial, cultural, or ethnic diversity, see the list of 38 additional films.
  2. Invite your friends or colleagues to discuss each film via Zoom or FaceTime. To maintain engagement and momentum, watch and discuss one film per week at a set time on the same day of the week.
  3. Use the Discussion Guides provided for five films mentioned in this blog post to help get the conversation started and to help keep people on track during the discussion.

WHAT’S YOUR AQ? Take our Ambition Quiz and share your score with friends!

  1. How important is it that you succeed in business, government, or your professional life?
    • VERY IMPORTANT
    • SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT
    • UNIMPORTANT
    • NOT SURE
  1. Do your values and principles guide you?
    • YES
    • NO
    • NOT SURE
  1. Given your goals in life and/or work, do you want to “win” at any cost?
    • YES
    • NO
    • IT DEPENDS
    • NOT SURE
  1. When you see something that is “wrong” or unethical, would you speak up, even if it might negatively affect your career?
    • YES
    • NO
    • IT DEPENDS
    • NOT SURE
  1. Are you a self-directed person who has a strategy for achieving your goals?
    • YES
    • NO
    • I LACK A STRATEGY AND LEAVE IT TO LUCK
  1. Do you care whether people find you ‘likable?’
    • YES
    • NO
    • SOME PEOPLE
    • SOME OF THE TIME
  1. When or if you found something was wrong/unethical in your workplace, would you speak up?
    • YES
    • NO
    • NOT SURE
  1. Would you give up a balanced personal life to achieve your business/professional goals?
    • YES
    • NO
    • NOT SURE
  1. Do you have a high-tolerance for risk?
    • YES
    • NO
    • NOT SURE
  1. Do you think you have to compromise “feminine” or “womanly” qualities in order to succeed in a competitive environment in which you might have to make tough financial or personnel decisions?
    • YES
    • NO
    • NOT SURE

SCORING: Are you ambitious? You decide! And what did you learn about yourself from this quiz?

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