In the past 100 years, women have worked to overcome gender roles that kept women in the domestic sphere and men in the public sphere. Although women have gained autonomy and freedom in their careers and ambitions (often simultaneously speaking out against issues that previously served to silence them), our behavior within these public realms continues to be policed. In an age when visibility does not just mean attention, a critical look at the way we treat women in the public eye is more than necessary. I asked five women at the beginning of their own careers what they think about empowerment, visibility, and how to break the rules.
Written, Styled and Photographed by Lee Phillips
What expectations are there for women looking to make a name for themselves in the public eye? How can we dismantle these stereotypes?
Tam-Anh Nguyen, 21, Dream Job: Film Maker
“The idea of a woman who knows what she wants (and deserves) is just really threatening, and I think that’s in any industry.”
What I’ve noticed is that women who exert more of what our culture deems to be “traditionally masculine” — traits like being “outspoken” or “assertive” — are often castigated and labeled as demanding and anal (those are the more mild terms). The idea of a woman who knows what she wants (and deserves) is just really threatening, and I think that’s in any industry. On a grand scale, its really daunting to think about and I don’t claim to have an answer on how to dismantle all these -isms, but on a more personal level in terms of the daily struggles I face, I’ve just made it a point to never waver in my particularities and to not apologize or hesitate when asking for very basic things like to be paid for a gig or to spend another hour editing down a clip until it’s where I want it to be.
Kimberlie Montano, 19, Dream Job: Model and Set Designer
“I think a way to part from these stereotypes of women in the mass public is to have more stuff made for women BY women [because] I think a lot of it starts from the media not being honest about women.”
[Some expectations are that one must] always be “done up” and tolerable of all the rules that come with being a woman. Rules as in it’s almost an obligation for women to be overly sexy from a man’s point of view – like butt pics, lingerie, boob pics, etc (even though those might not be how a woman would make herself feel sexy). A way to break away from this is to not put up with it and to tell other girls that’s it’s okay to be sexy, but be your own sexy. Not the “man’s” sexy. And to not do anything out your comfort zone, whether it’s a photo, a video, a day at the beach, literally anything!
You can see how mainstream content is mostly brought to you by men because their selling points are for men. For example, an Axe fragrance commercial will have a guy spray this cologne and a dozen of half naked woman run to him, rub on him. It’s not realistic and it’s very objectifying for women. Women are used as props instead of actual human beings in today’s media, but it really has to do with a lot of men being in control, the source and power of what we see in media. I think a way to part from these stereotypes of women in the mass public is to have more stuff made for women BY women [because] I think a lot of it starts from the media not being honest about women. We need more women writers, directors, producers etc. on big motion pictures.
Aaminah Roxanne, 20, Dream Job: Tattoo Artist
“Women’s empowerment means understanding and embracing our power as women. It means breaking through oppressive barriers to achieve what we truly want.”
The expectations set for women looking to make a name for themselves might revolve around an easy come up. I don’t feel like the [come up] process is respected enough and some may not realize that success never happens without serious dedication. Women also don’t exactly have it easy with being taken seriously in the creative realm. Ultimately, I don’t feel like enough is expected of me, which is why I go out of my way to put my all into my craft. Women’s empowerment means understanding and embracing our power as women. It means breaking through oppressive barriers to achieve what we truly want. It also means unlearning some of the small minded standards set up for woman and what’s deemed as appropriate or not.
Sofia Grey, 16, Dream Job: Modeling
“We’re much more than pretty faces, we’re powerful and intelligent young women who deserve to be acknowledged when speaking out on important topics.”
To put it shortly, the expectation is to sit there and look pretty. We can dismantle these stereotypes by speaking out on issues and staying true to ourselves throughout the process of moving up in the public eye. We’re much more than pretty faces, we’re powerful and intelligent young women who deserve to be acknowledged when speaking out on important topics. Important topics to me are sexism and racial injustice. Many important people choose not to speak out about these topics and stay silent. I hold these topics very close to my heart as a women and person of color. I feel it’s important that we discuss these topics until we can resolve the problems. If we don’t speak out it will not change anything or make any progress. All of our voices need to be heard loud and clear. [Women with public attention] have the power to make a bigger impact when they speak out on these topics – they have a bigger platform. They have people who look up to them and will listen to them. If they speak out on these topics people will listen and at least acknowledge these problems. It’ll make them think about it and make them think about what it’s like to not be privileged.
Julia Smith, 16, Dream Job: Fashion Designer and Herpetologist
“Women’s inner qualities should be focused on rather then their appearance.”
I feel like women are definitely expected to be beautiful; sexy in fact. And women who don’t meet those standards, standards originating from men, are put down. Women who are considered to be “beautiful” and “sexy” in the public eye are often recognized solely for those physical characteristics, shaming those who don’t seem to fit. As for women who are engaged in a professional job, they are expected to act more masculine in order to prove their status. Women who are doctors, scientists, biologists, fire fighters, police officers, and even teachers aren’t taken seriously when they embrace their femininity or “act like a girl/woman.” Women’s inner qualities should be focused on rather then their appearance.
As an artist/young professional, you’re going to be coming into the spotlight as your career advances — how do you keep yourself grounded through this journey, and what advice would you give other girls?
Tam-Anh: I’ve always been pushed to be hyper critical of myself and my work, especially in a male dominated industry like film…and that definitely can freeze you…what pulled me out of it was surrounding myself with other female creatives, who weren’t necessarily into film, but excelled in whatever field they loved and that really pushed me. And it was through that community that I was able to really hone my skills and see this more confident version of myself come into fruition.”
Kimberlie: Staying focused and reminding myself to just have fun! Advice that I would give to other girls is to be themselves. 🙂
Roxanne: Setting time aside for me to rest, explore, and simply experience definitely allows me to recharge while helping me keep a positive outlook on my path. My advice to other girls is to give yourself credit as you pursue your passions… keeping that confidence will really take you further.
Sofia: Stay true to yourself, don’t let the spotlight change you and set a great example for other young women. Make sure you’re truly happy and content with the life you’re living.
Julia: Staying true to myself, finding comfort in just being alone, and not partaking in the thought process that anyone is lower then I am. When all else fails, turn to yourself for advice; and start over again.