Last October’s bombshell reporting on sexual harassment ignited a firestorm of public scrutiny into the misdeeds of Hollywood’s most egregious sexual predators. But unless that national dialogue begins to address Hollywood’s broader addiction to objectification and sexualization, we risk perpetuating many of the far-reaching effects of Hollywood’s sexual harassment.
Largely ignored in the exposés of Hollywood harassers is the way in which they use nudity and sexual scenes in their films to perpetrate their harassment. One actress(a 20-year-old college junior) was told if she “could not bare her breasts in private” and feel comfortable “getting naked” with a director, she “would not be able to do it on film.” A young Vietnamese actress was asked “if she was ready to star in a few sex scenes” and then was reassured by her harasser, “I can teach you, don’t worry. Many stars have also been through this.” Another actress who rebuffed repeated sexual overtures was eventually forced to decide between having her film scrapped halfway through production or agreeing “to do a sex scene with another woman.” She writes, “he would never let me finish this movie without him having his fantasy one way or another.”
Harassment in Hollywood is not isolated to those who have bravely shared their stories publicly. It is an endemic and pervasive reality of the highly sexualized content of Hollywood films. Consider these facts. The vast majority of movies are written, directed and produced by men. Of the 100 top-grossing films of 2015, only 7.5 percent of directors were women. In these male-dominated movies, females were three times as likely to be cast with nudity (29 percent vs. 9.5 percent). The percentages are even higher for actresses in their teens (41.2 percent) and twenties (38.7 percent). Let those statistics sink in. For years, Hollywood moguls have defended nudity and sexual scenes in movies as “art” and “reality.” But there’s a perverse reality behind this “art” when groups of middle-aged men require almost half of all teenage actresses — teenagers — to appear nude in their films.
Hollywood’s harassment spreads as these scenes are mass distributed, reaching ubiquitously into public and private spaces where a highly sexualized vision of humanity is displayed and internalized, particularly by impressionable and sensation-seeking youths. Social scientists have long known that portrayals of smoking in movies encourage the same behavior in children. Similarly, studies find that adolescents exposed to sexual content in movies are more likely to have sex at younger ages, have more sexual partners and engage in more risky sexual behaviors.
Sexual harassment and assault are reaching staggering levels. In 2015, one in four college women reported having been sexually assaulted by force or when they were incapacitated. Although this cannot all be blamed on media, young adults, often fueled by alcohol and other drugs, are likely to model the sexual “scripts” they’ve consumed. And many who have internalized these scripts often feel powerless to say no to unwanted sexual behaviors, as evidenced by recent research on young women responding to sexting requests.
If there was ever a time to confront Hollywood’s addiction to objectification and sexualization, it’s now. Here are four ways:
First, believe change is possible. In 1985, 68 percent of movies featured characters smoking. But a cultural shift in attitudes toward tobacco led to a steady decline. In 2010, that number had fallen to 21.4 percent. There’s no reason a cultural shift in attitudes toward female objectification could not lead to similar changes in Hollywood.
Second, don’t tolerate secondhand exposure in inappropriate movies. Smoking was once common in public places, but people refused to tolerate secondhand smoke, and public exposure is now rare. The same can happen if we choose not to tolerate secondhand exposure to increasingly violent and sexualized movie content. Let businesses, including hotels and airlines, know when you don’t approve of the movie content they’re showing. And ask those around you to turn off inappropriate content with the same courtesy you’d ask someone to stop smoking next to you.
Third, make sure your children learn about human sexuality from you, not Hollywood. The majority of American adolescents between the ages of 14 and 16 report that media is their “primary source of sexual information.” That doesn’t have to be the case. There are resources to help.
Fourth, ask public servants to get involved. In 2016, Utah declared pornography a public health crisis. It all began when a group of concerned women contacted their state senator. Public health campaigns have been employed to curtail smoking, drunk driving and teen pregnancy. Ask your representatives to get involved with public health campaigns to warn of the risks of consuming media that objectifies and sexualizes women.
Time’s up for Hollywood’s sexual addiction.