Never mind the criticism President Trump recently aimed at Meryl Streep: A new study has found that admiration and respect for Hollywood women such as Streep is at an all-time high, marking a shift in attitudes that crosses geographical and demographic lines.
So, good news to mark Wednesday’s International Women’s Day, according to the University of Southern California’s indefatigable Jeetendr Sehdev, the expert on celebrity branding and marketing who churns out regular examinations of Americans’ attitudes toward celebs and their doings. Example: His new book,The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells (and How to Do It Right).
Sehdev’s latest survey (of 10,000 people in North America, Europe and Australia during February) found what he called an “extraordinary shift” in attitudes, especially obvious among Millennials and Gen Xers, in which strong Hollywood women such as Oscar winners Streep, Viola Davis and Patricia Arquette are perceived to have outperformed men in a variety of areas, including risk-taking, tenacity and digital savvy.
“Hollywood women have found their voice, are demanding attention and respect from their audiences, and are finally getting it,” Sehdev says.
Despite the routine and widespread criticism of female celebrities in the media — the recent body shaming of Lady Gaga after her Super Bowl performance comes to mind — “audiences have actually developed a greater compassion toward female celebrities through their public failures and insight about the ‘pain of fame,’ ” Sehdev says.
There’s “an overwhelming perception” among those surveyed that women have to work harder than their male counterparts to succeed in Hollywood, he says. Plus, female celebs get more respect than male celebs from those surveyed because they are perceived to show “less competition and more camaraderie” among themselves.
Whether it’s Adele’s shout-out to Beyoncé at the Grammys or the number of female celebrities seen marching arm-in-arm at the post-inauguration Women’s Marches, “a more open idea of sisterhood among Hollywood’s top stars has changed the perception of female celebrities,” Sehdev says.
Streep, Davis and Arquette, for instance, all have taken strong public stands in favor of more diversity in Hollywood, more women in positions of power and closing the pay gap between male and female stars. In the case of Streep, who has three Oscars and a record 20 nominations, she denounced Trump policies at the Golden Globes, which earned her one of his signature tweet insults as “overrated.”
On the issue of pushing for more women in leading roles before and behind the cameras in the entertainment industry, Sehdev found that 50% of the women he surveyed believe having more women-led movies would improve the overall perception of women within society, and another 28% of women say this would positively impact all women’s lives.
Compare this, he says, to responses by men he surveyed: Only 15% of men said that having more women in leading movie roles would do a lot to impact the perception of women, while 31% say this would improve women’s lives to a degree.
In terms of leadership, Sehdev says he found that most people surveyed (74%) perceive female celebs as the same as men in leadership qualities. Younger people are especially likely to hold those views.
“Millennials are the first generation to believe female celebrities are every bit as capable of being powerful leaders as male celebrities,” Sehdev says. “They are the most gender-blind generation we’ve seen. This in combination with the fact that more women in film are unafraid to speak up is causing an extraordinary shift in attitudes.”
Female celebs are also perceived to be more tenacious, more willing to take greater risks, more passionate and compassionate on human rights issues, even more intelligent about connecting with younger audiences.
“Female celebrities are seen to be more digitally savvy and more active in social media, and that increases relevance with younger audiences,” he says.
All demographics surveyed agreed that female celebs over 40 and female celebs of color can be considered desirable and sexy, but Millennials and Gen Xers were especially more likely to agree.
“A turning point for attractiveness, Hollywood women of color and those over 40 are perceived as increasingly desirable as definitions of what is considered sexy continue to change,” Sehdev says.
If these attitudes are increasing among audiences, why does the entertainment industry place the most emphasis on box office returns? Sehdev says it’s inevitably a losing position given the changing attitudes he has found.
“Strong female characters have always been good business at the box office,” he says. “Hollywood has no choice but to recognize this and reinvent itself or it will continue to lose relevance among younger audiences.”