“You Honour Me With Your Lips…”
Let’s start with a pop quiz. What began in 1985 and has been slowly transforming its environment ever since? The lives of Grace Helbig, Bruno Mars, Lana Del Rey, Michael Phelps, Cristiano Ronaldo? The release of Nintendo’s NES? Live Aid? Whilst the births of prominent musicians, YouTubers and Portugal’s’ favourite son, advances in gaming and the cross-Atlantic fundraiser are all correct, they’re not quite what we’re looking for. The real answer is the Bechdel Test.
To pass the test, a work of fiction must meet the following three criteria: 1) include at least two women, 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man. Now think of your favourite book, film or Netflix addiction. Deadpool? Fail. The Jungle Book? Fail. The Hunger Games? Pass, Orange Is The New Black? Pass. For critics and commentators alike, the Bechdel test has developed into a sure-fire way method of measuring the involvement of women and gender equality in fiction. Less than half of films pass the test, with a staggering amount meeting the criteria due to conversations about marriage, relationships or babies. Let’s be honest for a moment, the Bechdel is hardly a high bar to reach.
It’s been quite a century. Our parent’s parent’s generation were born to the song of the women’s suffrage and the right to vote as the century was in its infancy. A generation later, pioneers campaigned for equal pay, equal rights and the freedom to marry and have children or not. From Emiline Pankhurst and Alice Paul, there’s Zainab Salbi and the politely mind-blowing Malala Yousafzai, and Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project. The world we live in is very different to the world our grandparents grew up in. The gender pay gap is, on average, shifting positively towards gender equilibrium but still has far to go. For the first time in history, the US professional workforce was majoritively female in 2011.
Despite all of these developments and advances, women are still more likely to live in poverty just because of their gender, and have less access to land, income and decision making. Wherever women find themselves on the economic and labour ladders, income is less stable, worse-paid and less formal (unorganised and unmanaged industries such as selling home-grown produce). In less developed countries, women are far more likely than men to work in the informal labour markets which contain fewer rights and less protection.
The pay gap between women and men in sports is a grave indictment of gender inequality. The US Women’s National Football Team out-performing their male counterparts both on the field (Women’s team have been consistently ranked either 1st or 2nd in the World since 1993, in comparison to the men’s hugely fluctuating positions of 8th in 2005 and 35th in 2011) and off it in areas such as average attendance and revenue created (in 2015 the US Women’s National Team brought in a profit of $4,000,000 more than the men, despite possessing a far less established domestic and international game). The economic predictions for 2017 indicate the USWNT are set to out-perform or at worst match the men’s team across the board. In short, female plays are being paid anything from 13% to 965% less than the men (Men’s top earner: $1,401,485 to Women’s top earner: $1,223,411, 50th highest male earner: $246,238 to 50th highest female earner: $25,516). Whilst an extreme and extraordinary case, it proves that in one of the most developed countries in the world and regardless of their out-performance of men, women are being discriminated against solely because of their gender. It’s a similar story regarding women’s sport across the world and sexism almost defines the world of music and the media.
Last week, we looked at the current malaise of male-group culture and the dark side of the Big Four of Masculine Identity with particular attention given to Dapper Laughs, a UK “comic” employed by a national news corporation to create content for millions of viewers based solely on his mockery of rape, female independence and sexual consent. Across the vast majority of media platforms, white males are over-represented with women of any ethnicity rarely employed or found on web-pages of in the pages of magazines.
Female characters tend to fit in to one or more of the following 9 stereotypes: The Dumb Blonde, The Bitch, The Mother, The Promiscuous Tart, The Housewife, The Femme Fatale, The Cougar, The MILF, The Action Hero (normally a fusion of the sex-object and male action hero prototype). It’s almost as if the entire cross-platform media was engineered by men, for men…
One step further takes us into the realms of adult content, where women are fragmented into neatly categorised body parts packaged for male consumption. Each month, pornography sites receive more traffic than Twitter, Facebook and Amazon combined, with 35% of all internet searches relating to adult search terms and male use at a staggering 543% higher rate than women. Porn use rewires the human brain, destroys the ability for individuals to craft intimacy and has proven links to domestic violence (majoritively towards women), child-abuse as well as sex trafficking. It doesn’t get more serious than this.
Despite the upsurge in women’s rights over the last hundred years, women are still under and misrepresented, objectified, under-paid, and under-valued across our societies and cultures. When our hearts and mouths don’t match, we have a problem. Jesus encountered a similar disparity; “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”, Jesus said. The western world requires a check-up. We now live in a time where it is easy to have values that are high brow but views that are low cut. We all know the stories of Susan B. Anthony and Malala but are we prepared to stand on their shoulders and move forward to eradicate sexism in our cities? In our homes? In our own lives? We need modern day Pankhurst’s and more Malala’s.