The 88th annual Academy Awards (Oscars) ceremony saw a step in the right direction for a lot of good causes: there was a shout out for LGTBQ awareness from Sam Smith; attention was brought to the ongoing issue of sexual assault by US vice president Joe Biden and Lady Gaga; and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar acceptance speech made an impassioned plea for environmental conservation.
The Academy even made an effort to address racial prejudice in the film industry in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite tag, and following the ceremony boycott by so many high-profile celebrities, a pledge was made by the Academy to double its female and minority membership by the year 2020. These were small victories for many worthy fights, and although there is still a long way to come, the attention brought to each was something not many expected from this year’s Academy Awards.
However, we were not granted progress in all areas this year. One of the long-running issues in media coverage was revisited, despite pleas by those such as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in recent awards shows for journalists to stop commenting on a woman’s appearance. Once again, when we look to the front pages of our newspapers and magazines we do not see the achievements of many fine and talented actresses or their many contributions to the film industry. Instead we are greeted with ‘The Sexiest Women at the Oscars 2016 After Parties’ in Maxim or ‘10 Sexy Oscars Dresses That’ll Make You Do a Triple Take’ in Popsugar.
This disappointing wave of headlines is unfortunately not unexpected. Many seem to be able to turn a blind eye to the media’s persistent choice to ignore the achievements of many women in media and to instead focus on the length of their skirts.
Sexism is unfortunately still a permissible part of society. It is still very common for women to experience sexual harassment in the streets and for it to go unchallenged. And the media’s persistence in degrading and minimising a woman’s worth to her outfit at an awards ceremony is part of this problem.
Further than this unfortunately expected side effect of the 88th Annual Academy Awards, we saw a momentously successful costume designer reflected in the media only as the woman who did not wear a gown to the Oscars. Jenny Beavan received her second academy award this year (for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road), with nine previous nominations also to her name.
Yet it was not her incredible work that everyone was talking about. Instead, a Vine was circulating on social media that showed Beavan making her way to the stage to receive her award; alongside her we see director Alejandro Iñárritu and others refusing to clap. After a jibe from Stephen Fry at the BAFTAs commenting on Beavan’s ‘Bag lady’ appearance it seems that many others had an opinion to share on what they thought was inappropriate attire on Ms Beavan’s part.
Far from an easy issue to address, this one seems indicative of a persistent kind of sexism determined to live out a long life. And unless we can start focusing on what a woman can achieve in her chosen line of work, or the effort and contributions she has made in her field; unless we can convince the public to search the Internet for the achievements and merits of a woman rather than her bra size, sexism will still dominate our media, perpetuating the degradation of women everywhere.