In his acceptance speech for winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor in La La Land, Ryan Gosling took a moment to thank the ‘lady’ in his life, fellow actor Eva Mendes. While he was singing, dancing and playing the piano for the role, she was at home, holding the fort, looking after things so that we could have “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a film”.
“If she hadn’t taken all that on so that I could have this experience, would surely be someone else up here other than me to today. Sweetheart, thank you”, said the actor.
She wasn’t just making sure his dinner was cooked by the time he came home, no, she was “raising our daughter, pregnant with our second and trying to help her brother fight his battle with cancer”. Despite the swooning on social media for his Notebook-esque outpouring, I can’t help but feel that Eva Mendes, an award-winning actor in her own right, took one for the team and provided the emotional labour needed for Gosling to further his own career.
Gosling’s appreciation for his partner, may be genuine but it plays into structural inequality women face in the workplace, least of all Hollywood. Yes, Mendes has agency, and the decision to put her career on the back burner for the sake of her husband’s was hers, but why did she have to make that decision to begin with?
In 1,206 films, 60 to 90 per cent of the dialogue was delivered by men, and in an additional 307 films, that figure shot up to 90 per cent. More damning still, a pathetic seven per cent of Hollywood directors are women. It would seem that male directors are hiring male actors for male roles, meaning that Mendes simply doesn’t have the same amount of opportunities as her husband.
This isn’t a trend consigned to the entertainment industry. According to data from the Pew Research Centre, the number of stay-at-home mothers in the USA has been steadily rising for the past 15 years.
What’s more, there’s often an assumption within relationships that the woman will stay at home to look after children, sick or in other cases, ageing relatives. This isn’t something that women are just “better at” and we’re “angels” for taking on such work. Rather women are taught to be self-less and to care, and more often than not, feel an obligation to do so. It is something that is expected of women, and valorising it perpetuates this as an ideal that women have to live up to, and often make sacrifices for. Earlier this year, Gosling told the Evening Standard that women are “better” and “stronger” than men. Putting women on a moral pedestal in this way excuses men from transgressions, such as not coming home and helping with care work.
Gosling's speech runs uncomfortably close to the old adage "behind every great man is a great woman". No, she's not behind you: she's standing right next to you, and maybe you should tell the audience next time that you’ll be home to help out more.
(This article was amended on 10 January).
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