Just in case you needed another reason that Patrick Stewart is awesome, there’s this video, which has been making the rounds lately. Many people tend to criticize celebrities who speak out in support of or in opposition to an issue, a cause, or a politician, though most only seem to criticize when the celebrity supports a position they themselves are opposed to and have no problem when a celebrity supports their side. Aside from the fact that celebrities have the same right to voice their opinions as any other person, they also are in a special position given their fame. And in no way is violence against women or empowering women a “political” issue, no matter what some people may try to say. Take a look (Click here to read more from the woman who asked the question on her blog):
Are Patrick Stewart’s opinion and views more important than yours or mine? No, of course not. However, they are in a special position because of who he is. Celebrities can reach a much wider audience than the average Love Pirate with a blog. And celebrities who have inspired us with their art are more likely to have people listen to their message. When he (and others) speaks about his personal experience with violence and abuse against his mother, it destigmatizes it, allowing others to share their experiences. It provides a social safety net for people to come forward and receive help.
He makes several good points, and it’s clear he knows what he’s talking about. So many celebrities do “charity work” for the good press, standing somewhere saying that they are for something or against something, but a smaller number not only have the experiences that allow them to relate but the drive to use their position to help make change. Patrick Stewart makes some excellent points, and when his understanding (but not excuse making) for his father is combined with his compassion for his mother it’s truly heartbreaking. He hits on not only the acts that were perpetrated against her but also on its causes and the way society reacted.
This all reflects the other advantage that celebrities have in championing causes. Not only do they reach a wider and more receptive audience, but many of them (particularly actors) are so charismatic with their delivery. Who can forget Edward James Olmos’s criticism of the use of race at the United Nations Battlestar Galactica panel?
In case you haven’t been able to tell from this blog, women’s rights are a big issue for me. This includes everything from stopping violence against women, to control of their reproductive rights, to the way they are treated and viewed in our society. I would have been one of those men standing and applauding in the video. And while it’s true that there are women who mistreat women, largely it’s a problem with men, so it’s refreshing to see a man like Patrick speaking out. I’ve seen first hand various types of abuse against women, and his comment about the medics saying that his mother had done something to deserve it really hit home. I’ve heard comments like that more times than anyone should have to (one time is too much). The thought that any woman is asking to be hit, raped, assaulted or verbally abused is not only misinformed and ignorant, but cruel and hateful.
The other side of the celebrity coin is the art they make. It’s one thing to use fame to try to spread a message, but it’s another entirely to put that message in your art. Everyone has a work of art that has changed their life, and the power of art is stronger and more permanent than the people behind it. It’s why so many of us were so angry with Star Trek Into Darkness, which took a huge platform which has historically been progressive in its handling of issues and its criticism of all forms of discrimination and used it to ogle and objectify women. The apology from one of the writers was nice, but it doesn’t address the issue. I have no problem with sex or nudity in film, but when you write one dimensional female characters and then put them on display so that their only purpose is to theoretically excite male viewers, it’s insulting not only to women but to men as well. There was nothing sexy about it.
There’s a discussion for another time about whether art has a responsibility to promote positive change. (my short opinion: I feel like art exists for its own sake, and should have no requirements placed on it. However, the industry as a whole should strive for a positive message, not only to offset the negative but because it’s right. Given the current state of things, any missed opportunity for a step forward feels like at least a half step backwards.) But regardless of whether you feel that art should try to be a positive influence it’s true that it can be one.
The opportunity to represent women in a positive way is not only something we should be doing, but also makes for better stories. It’s the reason we have Katniss and Tris, Buffy and Scully. It’s the reason the main character in my novel is a strong female. It’s the reason that Can’t Stop the Serenity exists (my favorite event of the year), which continues all these years later to make money for Equality Now. It’s important to continue to try to empower women because we still live in a world that’s trying to strip them of that power. As for art, I’ll let Joss Whedon tell it better than I can:
If you or someone you know is the victim of gender-based violence, you can find hotlines for several types of abuse here. (You can also find information about violence against women here, and general help here. If you want to get involved, click here.) (Help/Resources for those in the UK here.) Remember, it’s not your fault, and you deserve to be safe.