At the Women in Film luncheon in 1992, I spoke about the skewed perception of women in relation to men. I shared my thoughts on how language gave us an insight into the way women were viewed in a male-dominated society:
A man is commanding—a woman is demanding.
A man is forceful—a woman is pushy.
He’s assertive—she’s aggressive.
He strategizes—she manipulates.
He shows leadership—she’s controlling.
He’s committed—she’s obsessed.
He’s persevering—she’s relentless.
He sticks to his guns—she’s stubborn.
A man is uncompromising—a woman is a ball breaker.
A man is a perfectionist—a woman’s a pain in the ass.
Twenty-five years after the “Year of the Woman,” it makes me sick to see that these misguided and misogynistic perceptions about women are still true. Decades later, men and women are still measured by a different yardstick, and that makes me angry. Of course, I’m not supposed to be angry. A woman should be soft-spoken, agreeable, ladylike, understated. In other words, stifled. Women who have the temerity to forcefully express an opinion are often labelled bitchy. Why is it okay for Donald Trump to scream at the top of his lungs and insult other people? But when a woman (like Hillary Clinton) speaks passionately, perhaps raises her voice a bit, she’s called strident and shrill.
I’ve always fought for women to own their power and speak up with passion. And when they do and come out in droves to support each other for a common cause, you get a powerful statement like the Women’s March… the largest one-day protest in the history of the United States… where millions of people proclaimed their resistance to the newly-elected president. When women relate to each other as sisters, our power is extraordinary.
Women can be tough, and sometimes, they’re often tougher on other women.
After the release of Yentl in 1984, I was shocked to find that the harshest, most vitriolic reviews came from women. Those reviews failed to address the theme of the movie: a celebration of womanhood. Instead, the criticism was very superficial, focused on whether I was wearing a designer yarmulke (which I was not).
In my speech at Women in Film, in addition to discussing the challenges of making Yentl, I talked about women against women. Did one woman’s success mean another woman’s failure? I wondered whether we were still behaving like adolescent girls in competition for a date with the football player, while he was out on the field learning tactics, teamwork and mutuality of interest. Had we been trained to compete for men? Sometimes daughters may compete subconsciously with their mothers for the love of the father. Is that something in the DNA, embedded in the collective unconscious of women? Why do even little girls compete with each other? Were we bringing that same fierce competition to our view of other women’s achievements?
Thirty-three years later, women are still each other’s most savage critics. One need only look to our last presidential election. Why did so many women vote against Hillary Clinton, in favor of someone who admitted to sexual assault because he said he was a star? It baffles me still. Michelle Obama said, “Any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice.” In Hillary’s book, What Happened, she wrote, “In the end, I won an overwhelming majority of the votes of black women (94 percent) and Latino women (68 percent), and I won women overall by a safe margin (54 percent). But I failed to win a majority of white women…” What made white women react so strongly against another woman?
Did Hillary make women feel inferior? She chose to put her law degree to work, rather than staying home and baking cookies, and some women took offense at that. They said, “Well, I never liked her.” Instead of supporting her, were they judging themselves according to the standard she set? And since they felt less accomplished, they had to pull her down.
When you’re choosing a doctor, you want the most qualified person. Wouldn’t you want the most qualified person when you’re choosing a president? Have you ever seen a really intelligent person brag about their own intelligence like we saw Trump do this week? And because of voter suppression in Michigan and Wisconsin, and because white women didn’t support another woman, look what we got stuck with…an intellectually insecure Groper-in-Chief. At least 16 women have bravely come out and accused him of sexual harassment. Meanwhile, he’s rolling back women’s rights as fast as he can, eviscerating rules about equal pay, eliminating funding for health care, reproductive counseling, curtailing access to birth control, and making it more difficult for college students to get recourse for sexual assault. He is undermining women and devaluing their ability to make their own decisions.
In one 2016 election debate, Donald Trump tried to physically intimidate Hillary on the presidential debate stage, crowding her space. Hillary’s description: “It was incredibly uncomfortable. [Trump] was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled. It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching, ‘Well, what would you do?’ Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly, ‘Back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.’” This matches the many stories that have emerged in the past month of sexual harassment and assault by powerful men including Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein, among others. Hollywood has to clean up its own messy history of powerful men and their attitude towards women. O’Reilly and Weinstein lost their jobs but Trump was elected President.
Women have made significant strides towards equality with men over the past three decades. More women are becoming CEOs. At our universities, more women than men are graduating. More women are becoming lawyers and doctors.
Unfortunately, more women are also dying of heart disease, and younger women are being affected, with the stress of it all. Women who do go to a hospital in the midst of a heart attack are often misdiagnosed because they are less likely to get the proper tests. And if they do manage to get one, the results are often misread because the standards are different for men and women. We are still fighting for gender equality in medical research.
Even though women constitute 50.6% of the American population, they make up only 21% of the Senate and 19.4% of the House of Representatives. Women are still undervalued. In a study published in the journal Science, researchers found that at age 5, boys and girls each thought their own gender was brilliant. At age 6, boys still thought boys were brilliant. However, girls were less likely to view girls as brilliant. We must not allow misogyny and “mean girl” competitiveness, from women themselves, to be accepted and ingrained into our future generations. As Hillary Clinton implored in her concession speech, “To all the little girls who are watching this — never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
As I also said back in 1984, we must not tear each other down. Every woman’s success opens the door for another woman to succeed. Women have a lot to give… we can have babies, run a company, cook delicious dinners, and become president of the United States. It’s a natural quality for women to nurture and we should hold on to that generosity of spirit. We must recommit ourselves to supporting one another and take that collective female energy and put it out into the world… because the world needs it now more than ever.