Why I Won't Let My Kids Watch the Red Carpet on Oscar Night
When Cate Blanchett called out the cameraman who slowly scanned down her body during a Screen Actor's Guild Awards interview in 2014, she spoke up about something that's bugged parents watching the red carpet for ages: sexism. Blanchett asked, "Do you do that to the guys?" And of course, the answer is no.
For those of us who are fans of movies, pop culture, and even pretty dresses -- and who are also parents -- the Oscars red carpet presents a challenge. We can hold our noses while we watch with our kids -- grimacing when actresses are asked to show off their manicures -- for the chance to hear a few words of wisdom from talented actors and actresses being interviewed. But the reality is that the messages reinforced during these events aren't good for kids, and especially our daughters. The focus isn't on the hours of work Reese Witherspoon or Ava DuVernay poured into their movies, but on how they fill out their gowns and whether their stylists chose the right shoes to match.
Add these messages to the hundreds of sexualized images of women in TV, movies, on magazine covers, and in video games, and the red carpet is one more example that teaches kids that women's value exists primarily in their bodies instead of their minds.
For those of us with daughters, the weight of sexism and body-shaming can feel overwhelming. But as parents, we have the power to turn things around. Here's how:
Talk about it. Kids actually care what you think -- even if they don't always look like they do. If you make media literacy a part of your parenting practice, you're arming your kids with protection against the barrage of mixed messages that swirl around them every day. The red carpet is just one place to start the discussion about how the media treats men and women differently. Or, for a different approach, take control of the red carpet experience and turn it into a source of inspiration for creativity like Mayhem and her mom did.
Aim for balance. Most of us don't want to avoid popular culture completely. But by being selective with the types of media we expose kids to -- especially when they're younger -- we can give them an appreciation for the great things movies, books, TV, and games can offer without reinforcing negative messages. Look for movies and games, for instance, that portray woman as strong, nuanced characters, instead of helpless victims. From The Tale of Princess Kaguya to Boyhood, this year's Oscars honors some that fit this category.
Set an example. Think about how you talk about celebrities and their appearance around your kids, whether you're watching the red carpet or leafing through a supermarket magazine. But more important, think about how you talk about your own body and appearance. Helping girls and boys to appreciate all the wonderful things their bodies can do, without focusing on a Hollywood version of beauty, will pay benefits for life. And pointing out when famous people are kind, smart, and generous can help reinforce the idea that character and behavior is more important that how you look or dress.
Thankfully, some actresses are standing up against sexism in Hollywood, but there's a long way to go. As more women become leaders in the movie industry, we suspect more folks will object to asking actresses, "Who are you wearing," and instead ask, "What are you creating?"