TV and films reach a lot of viewers from different walks of life. They’re seemingly inclusive and accessible to all. Like art, we see media as a reflection of our society right now. Reality TV’s legacy and the steady rise of Filipino rom-com 2.0. and Instagram influencers are not merely coincidental. They are relevant because the media says they are.
And when it comes to female representation in media, the same rules apply.
But there’s an existing imbalance we seem to ignore. In a not-so-post-patriarchal world, women from all sectors of life don’t see themselves in stories broadcasted everywhere. “The overall make-up of the characters in 2018 top-grossing films analyzed to reflect the films’ producers rather than their audience: they are white, male, and middle-class,” Plan International’s research indicates.
“We storytellers are privileged that our medium is a great way for communications. We need to create more stories for healing, empowerment, and transformations”
In this Day of the Girl, this is exactly what Plan International’s #ReWriteHerStory wants to voice out. Their symposium last Oct. 9 is a conversation on female representation in media. “Girls and young women have told us clearly that they are influenced by what they see on screen,” the research continues. “And the underlying messages of the films analyzed have changed little for decades: male characters dominate storylines; women leaders, where they do exist, may be portrayed as intelligent, likeable, and effective, but they are also sexualized and objectified.”
Plan International’s #ReWriteHerStory invited media practitioners to join the panel. Plan International’s DM Barcelon, “Be A Girl Champion’s” author Chloe Reynaldo, “Women Writing Women’s” co-editor Diana G. Mendoza, Illustrador ng Kabataan’s Ara Villena, TBWA’s Executive Director Bryan Sy, and “Huni sa Kahilom’s” director Lynn Lim spearheaded the conversation.
With other journalists and filmmakers, we tried to answer: What’s next for female representation in Philippine media? Here are our notes and insights from the talk:
Storytelling tropes have more power than you think
Stories in film and TV are fuelled by tropes. Although they are storytelling devices, some of them perpetuate harmful stereotypes of women. Women in refrigerator (a woman gets killed to fuel male lead’s angst), manic pixie dream girl (a quirky female lead written only to inspire male lead), and Mary Sue (a derogatory term used to describe a male author’s ideal woman) are just some tropes that can warp young women’s perception of themselves.
“We fall sometimes into the trap of celebrating tropes for the wrong reasons. Take Elsa from “Frozen”s’ titular song,” author Chloe Reynaldo points out. “Let It Go” is a good song, but what it’s teaching rebellion without a clear cause. It’s letting go of her responsibilities by leaving her kingdom and running away from her truth. Why couldn’t we focus on Anna’s healthier character development instead? She’s the one who learned that romantic love will not always save you.”
She also added her thoughts on what representation young women can benefit from. “When we see female leaders, they’re strong bossy and confrontational. Why do we have to let go of feminine values to be perceived as good leaders?” she asks. As for what stories we need more of, she mentions STEM’s (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) women. “It’s a rising field and there are more women in it that we think.”
“Sa probinsya namin, tinuruan kami na ang mga legendary heroes namin mga lalaki. Kung may mga babae, sila’y querida o demonita. So anong sinasabi natin sa mga kabataan?”
Conversations on gender equality start when we’re young
“Maraming lalaking main characters sa children’s books, so bakit ganoon?” children’s book illustrator Ara Villena asks the crowd. “Lagi tayong magsuri kung ano ang ilalabas nating content para sa kabataan. Sa YA, perhaps even in comic books, karamihan ng pinakasikat mga lalaki ang main characters.”
Plan International’s research indicates that young women need role models and to see themselves in the stories that surround them. “To be it, they must see it. We need to make stories about female leadership visible and normal,” they remind us. Although Ara tells us about the imbalance of diversity in children’s books, she mentions a silver lining in our industry.
“Sa lipunan natin ngayon, nagproprogress ang content natin dahan-dahan,” she says. An example she gave was a local children’s book tackling the sensitive subject of child sexual abuse. “’Ang Lihim ni Leah’ ay sinulat ni Ogie Rivera. Ito’y tungkol sa rape within her home. Sa dulo, may course of action silang inilagay. Dapat mag step up ’rin ang mga tao para dumami pa ang mga librong katulad nito na pwedeng makatulong sa kabataan.”
We need to provide platforms for all sectors
A common mistake in feminist discussions is that it’s exclusive to women only. But it’s not a complete conversation without marginalized sectors, Indigenous Peoples, and the LGBTQ+ community as well. “Ang concern ko sana magkaroon ng mga malawak na conversation. We storytellers are privileged that our medium is a great way for communications. We need to create more stories for healing, empowerment, and transformations,” filmmaker Rod Marmol tells us.
He also reminded everyone how not all stories reach the people who need it the most. Most of the time, stories of empowerment and important discussions like representation never reach communities who need to hear them. “’Yung mga Lumad children, ’yung mga anak ng magsasaka, ’di napupunta ang conversation sa kanila. We need more stories of struggles and hope as well.”
Why we need men in the conversation on gender equality
The patriarchy fucks everyone over. Men have never been exceptions to toxic ideologies of machismo and what it means to be a real man. Growing up, boys were told that acting feminine is being less than. They were told to be a man: callous, stoic, and unfeeling. Even though we all know that this isn’t right.
“For those of us nurturing boys, let’s nurture boys to be empathetic. Kung wala sila, hindi kumpleto ang conversation,” Marmol says. “Ang usapin ng gender nagsisimula sa pagkabata. Oo nga, maraming mga istorya tungkol sa women empowerment online. Paano na lang sa mga rural na lugar na walang social media?” DM Barcelon of Plan International adds. “Sa probinsya namin, tinuruan kami na ang mga legendary heroes namin mga lalaki. Kung may mga babae, sila’y querida o demonita. So anong sinasabi natin sa mga kabataan?”
This is why calling wrong ideologies out and educating one another is important. And if we want to move the conversation of gender equality forward, everyone needs to be involved. “Social and gender norms can change, pero who can change this? Tayo. Sino ba ang magcacall out? Tayo ’yun,” she reminds us. “Magsisimula ang pagbabago sa concious effort. Magsisimula ’yun sa pageeducate natin sa mga taong malapit sa atin.”
Art by Cathy Dizon