Friday, October 3, 2014

The Seventeen Percent Symphony

Dress (Betsy and Adam, Bealls) 
Several years ago, only 17% of the musicians in major symphony orchestras were women. Faced with evidence this was the result of gender bias, an industry-wide effort was made to rectify the imbalance through "blind" auditions. Initially, these "behind the curtain" try-outs yielded the same results. It was later discovered that the continued lack of parity was not because because men are better musicians than women, but rather because the subconscious bias was perpetuated as selection committees responded to the distinctive sound of the female musicians' heels as they crossed that stage for their auditions. When the same blind competition was repeated in bare feet, the percentage of men and women who made the cut was about equal! This is just one of the interesting tidbits I learned last night from Academy Award winning actor and Olympic Archer Geena Davis at a fundraiser for the Women's Fund of Central Indiana
As I mentioned in my recent post, Bond Girl ChicGeena has made a life long mission of bringing gender equality into the popular culture lexicon and to working within the entertainment industry to alter stereotypical reflections of girls and women in television and film. In fact, she feels so strongly about the topic that she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which has produced some groundbreaking (and heartbreaking) research not only on the way that women and girls are portrayed in television and film, but also on the disparity in sheer numbers of roles for women vs. men. For example, even in "crowd" scenes, only 17% of the actors or extras are women (what is with the number 17?!) In her keynote address, Geena posited, tongue in cheek, that this must be because the writers, directors, and casting agents think that women don't like to gather in groups...they should have seen the crowd of Women's Fund supporters who came out for this evening's celebration, the vast majority of whom were women!
Bracelet (Nadri, Nordstrom); Ring (David Yurman G. Thrapp Jewelers); Clutch (Profyle Boutique)
The research pertaining to "G" rated movies and child-focused television programs was, to me, the most disturbing. From the significant imbalance of male to female roles to the hyper-sexualization of female characters(and wildly unrealistic body proportions in the animation world), the images that young girls ares spoon fed in high definition Dolby surround sound are not doing them any favors. Of course, there are some notable heroines who break the mold, but the lack of parity between men and women is startling. Among movie roles in which the characters have jobs, 81% were men, and the most prevalent "job" for females that actually have one is royalty (good work if you can get it). Why does it matter? It matters because kids believe what they see, and research has demonstrated that girls' self-esteem goes down as the amount of time they spend watching television increases, while boys' self-esteem goes up. Thankfully, Geena's outreach efforts are having a positive impact on the imbalance. Visit for more information on the Institute's research and outreach.
Geena's speech was about much more than statistics, though, and the self-deprecating and humorous stories she shared about her own youth were very entertaining. Geena Davis is a funny woman! But, as she recounted childhood and adolescent insecurities about her "too tall" body and perceived lack of athletic ability, she made a comment that really struck a chord. This larger than life, vibrant, funny, and beautiful woman admitted that she spent many years trying to take up as little space in the world as she could, feeling as though she didn't deserve to stretch her limbs and live out loud. I expect her experience resonated with a lot of women in the room, as it did with me. I certainly spent a number of years self-conscious and insecure, wishing I were invisible and trying to take up as little space in the world as I could.
Who knew that Spanx made fishnet tights, and I love these Badgley Mischka shoes so much that I also have them in red!
Fear of taking up space, standing out, being I pondered the concepts on the way home, it occurred to me that such insecurities may be a significant reason so many American women are afraid to wear hats even though they'd love to do so. At the opening gala for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra a few weeks ago, I was the only woman in attendance wearing a fascinator, but I lost track of the number of women who stopped me during the course of the night to say they wished they had the courage to don one. To me, the hat "made" my ensemble for the evening, and the entire look was based on my desire to wear it. 

I had a similar experience when I wore a different hat to dinner and a New Year's party last year. To be sure, because hats are not common accessories in the average American woman's wardrobe, wearing one will likely draw attention. It might even land you in the local newspaper. And yes, women wearing hats take up more space in the world. To that I say, hats on!
The percentage of women who gathered as part of the real-life crowd enjoying  cocktails and conversation before the symphony's season opener was much higher than 17%
Fashion is what you buy; Style is what you do with it!
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