A very safe generalization about actresses in Hollywood is that they got there through their talent and hard work. Yes, there is a multitude of bimbo celebrities -- many of whom make a better living than their more talented sisters -- but they inhabit a media-made Hollywood rather than that of the filmmakers.
Despite the presence of organizations like Women in Film, most women in film are still hired as classy baubles to bring much-needed sheen to monosyllabic actors. Some, count me in, would say Women in Film is a pointless love-fest that undermines what it is supposed to be supporting.
It is rather sad to say, but there is a pronounced tendency in the collective mentality of the Hollywood female to take the studios' big bucks for playing second fiddle to half-wits and then traipse around the chat shows whining about their multi-million-dollar lot.
Women in film have not taken the obvious opportunities.
In publishing, it has been the norm for 30 years for small houses to "rediscover" and promote neglected writers, who -- surprise! -- usually turn out to be women. Despite the common complaint that there are no parts for women, there are more roles for women than Hollywood could ever film!
Independent and guerrilla filmmaking has largely been a male domain. Actresses, some earning many millions of dollars, have not risked what they should have to bring dynamic parts to the screen. There are plenty of women directors, writers, et al, who are able to assist.
Though this is a blanket accusation, I don't think Hollywood women have done what they could for independent cinema and female talent.
Even successful woman directors in Europe, of which there are a fair few, rarely get the plane tickets their male counterparts do. Sensing that their allocated time at the top is getting ever shorter, actresses seem to be taking what they can get.
How much of this is personal decision and how much is at the coaxing of agents and managers, who can say. (Men are guilty of this, too, but the rules are different for them.)
The success of "Mamma Mia!" and "Sex and the City" has led some to speculate that the studios will resuscitate the "woman's picture." I don't want to see films like that. It's ironic that "Mamma Mia!" -- this has to be said -- is one of the most poorly directed films ever. I have seen a few episodes of "Sex and the City" and parts were funny, but it is too obviously for women.
Films that are unashamedly aimed only at women will work occasionally, like sports films for men, but as a faddish ghetto they will sink careers.
Women write, direct and produce countless TV shows without anyone noticing; women report on wars and the economy and only the most chauvinistic man will comment. We don't think of their output as womanly. Despite Hollywood's much lauded liberalism, moviemaking is one of the few places left where a woman, artistically speaking, may encounter unequal conditions and skepticism about her ambitions.
To some extent the audience is to blame, but many actresses confirm stereotypes by adopting a woman's magazine approach to their career and allowing what they are wearing to be more important than what they are saying and doing.
The contemporary female celebrity has allowed her appearance to become the focus of her public being. Glamour has always been part of Hollywood, but it was more accommodating in the past.
Streisand and Hepburn have two of the most recognized personae in cinema precisely because they are not homogenized specimens, perfected under an anaesthetic. The flawless legions are doomed to obscurity. Women should remember Anna Magnani's words to a photographer, "Don't hide my wrinkles. I worked too hard to get them."
Today it's essential that serious actresses make an impact beyond the screen and stage, just to engage the audience. Some celebrities complain about the struggle to be heard above the saturation; there is no saturation, that's the problem, just a vast puddle of celebrity mish-mash that evaporates without trace. As celebrity has become more democratic, a trend which is accelerating due to the epidemic of reality-TV stars, the public are becoming even more uninhibited about discarding stars.
There is no doubt the film industry is heading for some major changes. The economic implications of starved capital markets will probably still affect production and budgets even as the box office booms.
Now is possibly the best time for women with modestly budgeted films to make them, instead of boom times when small budgets are, perversely, viewed with suspicion and contempt and event movies are de rigueur.