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Tuesday 01 March 2016

"Is Feminism an out-dated concept?" ask ESCP Europe's HeForShe society

The ESCP Europe HeForShe society hosted its inaugural event at the London campus on 25th February 2016.

Founded in 2015 by Master in Management student Aurélie Hartmann, the society is an offshoot of the solidarity campaign HeForShe, which was launched on 20th September 2014 by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson.

The purpose of the initiative is to recognise that gender equality is not only a women's issue, and Ms Watson's speech was a call to arms for men and boys to recognise that gender equality was not only their shared responsibility, but also something that could be of significant benefit to themselves. The movement is supported by many high profile men, including US President Barack Obama and Ban Ki-moon, the US Secretary General.

For the ESCP Europe society's first event, special guests Jenna Suru from Belle Époque Films, and Vanessa Pellegrin, the film-maker responsible for 'The Trouble with the F word' were invited to talk to an audience of students about their work and personal experiences of sexism in the filmmaking industry.

Suru presented a fascinating overview of some of the inequalities in the industry. One of her key examples was Patricia Arquette's Best Actress in a Supporting Role acceptance speech at the 2015 Academy Awards in which she said: "It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

While many were seen to support Arquette on the night (most notably Meryl Streep), she was criticised after the fact by fellow female actor Stacey Dash. Dash said on Fox & Friends: "In 1963, Kennedy passed the Equal Pay Law, it's still in effect. I didn't get the memo that I didn't have any rights."

Despite Dash's dismissal, wage inequality in Hollywood is well documented. Forbes noted in November 2015 that between June 2014 and 2015, the world's highest-paid female actor, Jennifer Lawrence, made $52 million; by comparison, the highest-paid male actor, Robert Downey Jr., made $80 million. Lawrence and her fellow female co-star Amy Adams also made two percentage points less for 'American Hustle' than the three male leads in the same picture.

Suru also noted that the most frequent question asked of women attending award ceremonies is "who are you wearing?" Cate Blanchett went viral in 2014 when she questioned an E! Online camera crew who chose to slowly pan up her awards outfit. Bending into shot, she asked: "Do you do that to men?"

However, Suru noted that some feminist statements from within the industry can be misjudged. A key example was in the promotion for the 2015 picture 'Suffragette', for which Meryl Streep was photographed wearing a slogan t-shirt saying "I'd rather be a rebel than a slave". The quote is originally attributed to Emmeline Pankhurst's 1913 speech, but attracted criticism more than one hundred years later because of its apparent lack of recognition for black feminism. Suru reminded the audience that it is important to remember that feminism is not a single entity or movement, and that there are many facets therein.

As well as being underpaid in the movie industry, women are also significantly underrepresented. Suru presented statistics showing that the proportion of Oscar nominations for women peaked at 26%, but dropped to 13% the following year; in 2016, the figure was just 24%. There has never been a female nomination in the Cinematography category; and only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director (with only one winner therein - Kathryn Bigelow for 2008's 'The Hurt Locker'). In 2003, only 29.2% of 100 films had female speaking characters. Between 2007 and 2012, only 10.7% of films had a balanced cast of genders.

How can women fight this situation aside from speaking out at public events? One example came from actor Jessica Chastain: her frustration from the lack of female parts inspired her to start her own production company, Freckle Films, which would be instrumental in creating the roles she saw were missing.

As the founder of her own company, Belle Époque Films, the issue of underrepresentation in entrepreneurship was key to Jenna Suru's talk. She stated that research has shown only 18% of startups are created by women. A video by Tech Crunch suggested that the reason for this has its roots in stereotyping from a young age: women are not traditionally seen to be good at science and maths, which discourages young girls and women from excelling in these areas and moving into science-based industries.

When asked if she had experienced sexism, Suru recounted an experience in which she asked a man for feedback on her company's branding. She was told that the logo was "obviously made by a woman", and nothing else. While Suru says that she took the feedback on board, she also had the opinion of 'so what?' Why is it relevant that her logo was created by a woman? Why is such a thing seen as worthy of note or negative in any way, and why was this the only feedback she was given?

The evening moved on to the second speaker, Vanessa Pellegrin. Pellegrin is currently crowdfunding her documentary project, 'The Trouble with the F word'. The film is inspired by increasing negativity attached to the word 'feminism', and plans to explore why many women are rejecting an expression that was once created to fight for gender equality.

She said that her work so far had found that feminism was coming under increasing attack from not only misogynist groups who view the term as anti-male, but also from those who feel alienated by modern-day feminism or see there as being too many sub-groups under the one banner who are individually fighting for specific causes.

Pellegrin's documentary will feature Lucy-Anne Holmes, the British campaigner who founded the No More Page 3 movement in 2012. UK tabloid The Sun had featured a topless "Page 3 Girl" in its daily paper from 1970, and online since 1999. The campaign was a success, and the feature was dropped as of 17th January 2015 (albeit with a one-off return on the 22nd of the same month).

Holmes' role in the documentary will be to address the question of how women can be against a movement that was created to make their lives fairer. The trailer noted that a YouGov poll found that only 19% of people identify as feminist; and that in 2015, the UK government removed the subjects of feminism, sex/gender, gender equality and patriarchy from its A-Level syllabus.

The position of the documentary's antagonist will be filled by Nick Lancaster, a self-proclaimed Egalitarian (one of the expressions suggested to replace feminism when discussing gender equality).

The film aims to answer whether 3rd-wave feminism is outdated, or whether it is simply misunderstood. Has feminism become a sexist movement? And if so, how do we tackle gender inequality?

Both speakers then took questions from the audience ranging from discussions on the Bechdel Test, the reach of feminism and whether it is something that is only relatable to Western women, and further discussion on inequality in startups.

The event was followed by a networking reception, allowing students to spend more time chatting with our guest speakers.

The ESCP Europe HeForShe society has further events planned for the semester, including a panel discussion on 17th March. Please check our events calendar for more information soon!

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