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How to demolish media stereotypes

Don't see yourself represented on TV? Do your own thing, say indie filmmakers Natalia Leite and Alexandra Roxo

Can being slutty disrupt the sexual status quo? What does it mean to be a female writer? In conjunction with our Girls Rule issue, some of our favourite activists and artists will be musing on these questions for Girl Guides, a series of how-tos on the state of modern womanhood. Here, filmmakers Natalia Leite and Alexandra Roxo (the women behind our fave new-age Cali road trip Be Here Nowish) talk about how to make your own media.

As two female filmmakers, we are sometimes baffled at the ways TV shows and films depict women. In the media many women are portrayed only as perfect, cute, skinny, young, sexualized beings, most commonly as secondary-characters to their male leads who drive the story forward. And, yes, the year is 2014. Thank God (or Goddess) for women like Joan Rivers (plastic surgery and all), Tina Fey, Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling, who choose to defy the stereotypical women that are prevalent in the media and just be themselves. They aren’t afraid to speak up and say, “Hey I can be funny and cool, and I don’t look like a Barbie doll.” These women have opened the gates for women on TV and in films to be accepted as complex characters with desires and fears, and different types of bodies – not the “I-have-a-personal trainer-and-only-drink-green-juice” type of body and happy persona that we are so used to as “normal”.  

As we put work into the world we have certain standards that we try and abide by to help change the way that women are portrayed in the media, so that our culture can begin to catch up to the reality of things. In our recent shows Be Here Nowish and Every Woman, we really thought about how we want to represent ourselves and our female characters in ways that empowered women and showed them as the full beings that they really are. We write, direct, and act in both shows, AND do our own hair, make-up and wardrobe most of the time. This can be a bit of a mess because we watch takes where we think, “Fuck, why didn’t you tell me my thigh was looking like that?!” But we just have to get over it.

Speak up

As women we have been brought up to believe that our story is less important in sometimes subtle, but more often blatant, ways... But history is changing. Many of us were brought up to be polite and smile and not ruffle our skirts in the playground, to smile and not make a fuss or cause a stir. After reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In we, like many other women, have been thinking more and more about the ways we speak up and challenging ourselves not to be afraid to write that email or ask for that raise. It’s still hard, there are many moments when it’s just easier not to... But we have to, or else!

Let’s be honest, we are all special beings with a unique story to tell. If we are all sitting quietly on the sidelines, then people like us have no real stories to relate to. In 2013, the percentage of TV episodes directed by Caucasian females was only 12 per cent, and segments directed by minority females were only two per cent... Holy shit! Looks like we have some work to do. 

Don’t be afraid to let it all hang out

Whether it’s showing off your real body to the public (as Lena Dunham does so well), or your love of porn, do it with pride! Be who you are: queer, bleeding, angry, ecstatic, bloated, etc etc etc... This helps change the way people view women and it's gonna take some time, so let’s just cut to the chase and be real already. Don’t be afraid to be honest with the world about who you are and show your weird quirks and “flaws”. Chances are that if you’ve experienced or felt something someone else has too. Being flawed and being okay with it is much more interesting than being perfect.  And, not to state the obvious, but women are made in all colours, shapes, and sizes, and we all get old. So why are there so many roles written for women in the 20s and 30s but barely any for women in the 60s? It’s no wonder so many actresses in the 60s are trying to look like they are still 30. Write female characters who are complex, troubled, unique, of different ages, races, cultural and social backgrounds, and you might be surprised at how much your audience relates to it and will thank you for it. 

Try putting yourself in the media

People love taking selfies, everyone is getting comfortable in front of the camera these days... How about taking it a step further and putting yourself in your own work?  This can sometimes be challenging if you are really showing your true self because women get criticised in harsh ways for exposing themselves to the world. Comments like “fat”, “ugly” and “old” are not generally attributed to men but are rampant towards women.

We all hesitate to post that picture where our stomach is hanging out or we have a huge zit, but the biggest thing we can do is POST ANYWAY. It’s easy to untag yourself these days in that photo where you think you look fat but that just contributes to the problem. So does Photoshopping…. (ahem, Vogue). Let’s be bold, and just be ourselves. Say “fuck it!” Robert Redford is considered “sexy” for his wrinkles. Judi Dench should too, right?