Opinion

The one word we should never use when discussing a woman’s professional achievements

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Nina Hartstone, the sound editor on Bohemian Rhapsody, is about to attend her first Oscars but all anyone can talk about is her being a mum. This has to stop. 

When it comes to Oscar nominations for the non-acting categories, the gender gap is grim.

Men comprise 77% of all nominees, and in some categories women are rarely recognised at all. One of those is Sound Editing, the award that celebrates the work of those who decide what we hear when we go to the movies. Sound editors create noise, music and dialogue recordings, choosing the sounds that we ultimately end up listening to in the cinema.

In 2018, not a single woman was nominated for a Sound Editing Oscar. Over the course of the last decade only eight women have been nominated in the category compared to an astonishing 91 men. 

Which is why it is so exciting that this year three of the ten nominees for Sound Editing are women: Mildred Morgan and Ai-ling Lee for First Man and Brit Nina Hartstone for Bohemian Rhapsody.

Nina Hartstone with the Bohemian Rhapsody team after winning a BAFTA in early February

Hartstone, who already has a BAFTA for Sound Editing to her name, is the favourite to win at the Oscars according to Gold Derby. She’s also the first European woman to be nominated for the award, with a career that spans everything from Gosford Park to Gravity

But you wouldn’t know it by the way she has been discussed in the press.

“Windsor mum Nina is off to the Oscars,” the Slough Observer wrote. “The Sound editor mum up for an Oscar,” the BBC wrote, in an article that has since been rewritten. “At home, Nina Hartstone runs the PTA and feeds the cat. At work she’s a BAFTA-winning Sound Editor.”     

Social media users have been quick to criticise the tone of this coverage. “You mean mothers can also be talented?!” one person wrote. “Who knew?” Another added: “It’s hard to believe it’s 2019, isn’t it?”

This kind of rhetoric isn’t confined to the Oscars. Erasing a woman’s identity by labeling her a ‘mum’ or a ‘wife’ is something that has happened to everyone from Nobel Prize Winners – Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was called “British wife” in news reports when she won her award – to New York Times’ Bestselling authors.

Like Liane Moriarty, for example. It happened to her when she attended the premiere of the television adaptation of her novel Big Little Lies in 2017, only to read articles the next day headlined: ‘Sydney mum walks red carpet’.

“Rather than Sydney writer,” Moriarty has said. “Before I had children I was a full time writer and after I had my children I’m still a full time writer. My husband is a full time stay-at-home dad. Nothing has changed. Once you have children you are called a mum and that’s all you are.” 

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Hartstone is one of the most accomplished sound editors nominated for an award at this year’s Oscars. 

In the concert scenes of Bohemian Rhapsody, and in particular the film’s climactic Live Aid performance, Hartstone and her team recorded star Rami Malek’s breathing, blowing and smacking his lips and spliced it into existing audio of Freddie Mercury’s performance to create a seamless, unified sound. Each of the 600 extras in the crowd were recorded responding to the performance individually, to create a sense of space and drama onscreen. 

“Rami gave such a great performance with such amazing physicality,” Hartstone told The Los Angeles Times. “The big challenge was making it sound like his voice all the way through the movie. The sheer privilege of working with Freddie’s vocals was really exciting for me.”

She also explained that, over the course of her 30-year career, she has been subject to Hollywood’s systemic sexism. “My first job was in the cutting rooms at Pinewood [studios],” she recalled to Slough Observer. “I made the tea a lot. It was a real old boys club. I did not tell them I had a degree in visual and performing arts, they would not have liked it. I know what it is to be treated as a second class.”

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody - Fox

A moment from a concert scene in Bohemian Rhapsody

Sexism was rife in Hollywood 30 years ago, and it’s still rife in Hollywood and the world today. It’s there in the way articles about women are always framed around their status as mothers and not as people with professional achievements of their own. It’s there in the way that questions towards these women in interviews are always framed around their personal life or what they’re going to wear on the red carpet. 

If we continue to dictate a woman’s value and worth in society based on whether or not she’s a mother, then is it any surprise that glaring gender gaps still exist across all industries? How can we ever expect to close them if we can’t even celebrate the career achievements of a woman without erasing her professional identity in favour of that of hers as a mother? Seriously, how, when we can’t write a headline referring to Hartstone’s achievements that uses her name and not the reductive moniker ‘sound editor mum’?

It’s 2019, and women are finally being allowed to be large, to contain multitudes, to have careers and lives and passions as well as children.

The real story when it comes to Hartstone is whether or not she might be the first woman in a seven years to win a Sound Editing Oscar next week. If she does, we’ll be celebrating here at Stylist.co.uk. And when we write the story to herald her victory, we’ll be calling her loudly and proudly by her name. 

Images: Getty, 20th Century Fox

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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