In recent years, Hollywood awards show, from the Emmys to the Oscars, have become a platform for actresses like Viola Davis and Patricia Arquette, to address racism and sexism. Throughout the history of televised awards shows, actors have often used acceptance speeches to share their political views. However, now the call for change is being directed inward, as more and more women in Hollywood are vocalizing their discontent and dissatisfaction with an industry that seems resistant to change, and has remained an exclusionary “white boys club” both on and off screen.
With these issues being given the feminist treatment by Hollywood actresses and other female industry power players, it is not surprising that the culture itself, namely awards show culture, has come under fire for its treatment of women on the red carpet. Critics of awards shows argue that reporters ask women banal or superficial questions about their clothes, makeup, and personal lives, whereas male actors are given more opportunity to answer “serious” questions about their craft. In response, the #askhermore campaign has called on media reporters to ask women more questions about their work, and to treat them more equitably on the red carpet.
Sexism on the red carpet extends beyond “shallow” interviewing, to the increasing use of technologies such as E!’s “mani-cam” and “glam cam 360” which puts women’s bodies on display, to be dissected and analyzed (i.e., Fashion Police). Increasingly, actresses like Elisabeth Moss and Cate Blanchett have resisted these uncomfortable displays, as can been seen in the accompanying interview clip. Blanchett calls out the E! camera for its unnecessarily close, slow pan up her body. Her response reveals how invasive these emerging red carpet technologies have become, and many actresses are understandably, refusing to participate.
This shift in awards show culture reveals how these programs have become sites for the production of postfeminist sensibilities, as made visible in the red carpet’s fascination with, and scrutiny of women’s bodies via gendered technologies (note Rancic’s reference to the camera’s “tiara”!). I want to suggest that Hollywood’s postfeminist/commercial logic makes it difficult to resolve these growing tensions between what is increasingly happening on stage (feminism!) and what happens outside (sexism!).
A new ambivalent era in fashion policing?
I appreciate how you bring up the difficult reconciliation between the commercial and cultural logic of the sexist practices of the red carpet, because I feel as though the (awards/carpet coverage) industry does not know what to do with this dilemma. I have noticed a slight change, a more muted excitement over the past year or two to ask the stars who/what they're wearing. I wouldn't call it progress yet, but it is a bit fascinating to see these hosts and programs twist themselves into pretzels following the prime era of fashion police (post-Rivers, see also: Kathy Griffin quits Fashion Police). All of this evolving ambivalence makes Chris Rock's dismissive reference of the #askhermore campaign at this year's Oscars all the more disappointing. I'm curious what Natasha and everyone else thinks about that part of his monologue. To me, it was strange to hear so much bifurcation and reification of both race/racist tropes and gender in his opening.
I think that Rock's dismissal of the #askhermore campaign was part of his overall strategy to diffuse tensions around the broadcast by drawing attention to deeper historical moments of racism. I thought it was a weird strategy because he seemed to be saying that racism within the industry is a problem, but also not really a big deal. Natasha's point about the contradictory commercial and cultural logic of the red carpet is really good because it points to the difficult line female stars negotiate as they try to establish their brand on the carpet, which is one of the few spaces that celebrates female visibility. A-list stars get paid well to wear designer clothes and jewelry, which they also need to mention on camera. Conversations about dresses are also about branding, promotion, and getting paid.
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