American Cinema revolves around men and women are worthless if they don’t look good.

This supercut film trailer highlights something that a lot of people consider a problem in modern cinema; the representation of gender and race. Here is an article that argues that this kind of representation is a problem that needs to be addressed. In it the author says “The “ONE MAN saves the world and gets the girl” fantasy is strong in the above video, but did you notice how the only time “ONE WOMAN” is used it’s for a romantic comedy?”

Lena Dunham; TV show Girls subverts traditional representation of women
Lena Dunham; TV show Girls subverts traditional representation of women

They also consider the fact that in some cases where the protagonist is a black person, they are helping a white child on a journey of discovery, and when the ‘One man’ happens to be Asian, he is often referred to as a warrior and is depicted in a martial arts film as opposed to being referred to as a man. We all know stereotypes are important, no one truly believes that stereotyping is wholly negative, we use stereotypes all the time in our minds when we see certain things symbolic of other things and don’t try to tell me you don’t because you do. We all like to think that we have morals enough that we wouldn’t pass a slim blonde girl in a mini skirt and tube top and immediately think ‘slapper’ but my bet would be that we all do, maybe not with those exact words or maybe not in such a negative way, but we do use stereotypes in every day life all the time. It’s how we, as humans, create meaning. So when an Asian man is depicted in an action film, we expect him to be a martial artist or a ‘warrior’, we expect it because our sense of meaning, and our understanding of particular stock characters, comes from stereotypes used all the time in film.

John Berger famously stated that ‘men act and women appear. Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at’. In other words women in media are passive, men are active, women are there to look nice and be one dimensional and give the men something to look at and act for while the men do the looking and the acting, men actively drive the plot forward. This is only true because that’s how producers have allowed it to be, they’ve clung so tightly to these gender roles and stereotypes that they’ve become the norm and a lot of people are afraid to step outside of what is considered ‘acceptable’. Carol J Clover‘s final girl theory, which applies predominantly to horror films in the slasher genre (like Scream and Halloween) suggests that there has been changes in the way women, particularly in the horror genre, are represented; the final girl (Sydney Prescott in Scream and Laurie Strode in Halloween) is the more intelligent, the one who fights to the end and often survives and the one who is innocent and ‘pure’, who doesn’t have sex, who doesn’t drink and who doesn’t get involved with promiscuous activity. She is also masculine. Often the final girl looks

Brit Marling; writing and directing her own films to act in because she was sick of only being offered the part of the sexy horror victim.
Brit Marling; writing and directing her own films to act in because she was sick of only being offered the part of the sexy horror victim.

androgynous, in clothes neither overtly feminine nor overtly masculine, usually she wears little or no make up, and her actions and manner of speaking is more stereotypically butch than that of her girly, promiscuous counter parts in their short skirts and cleavage showing tops.

The problem? In order to be taken seriously a woman has to be as manly as a woman can get without strapping on a fake penis and drawing on some chest hair. She has to be androgynous and stereotypically butch, and in turn she loses her sexual appeal (well, stereotypically speaking she does). The media tells us what’s attractive, and we’re told that long haired women with big boobies, revealing clothes, slim slender bodies, long legs, make up and jewellery are attractive, girls who are giggly and fun and all round girly girls. Women who are  intelligent, strong, independent and don’t fit the stereotypical sexy girly girl by wearing mini skirts and low cut tops are considered butch, and when you label them as such they lose their feminine worth and are treated as though men should be repulsed by them. Melissa McCarthy is making a big impact in cinema, she’s getting more and more lead parts as a ballsy, mouthy, funny-woman and in turn has garnered a lot of negative press about her image, recently being branded ‘tractor sized’ among other horrible things. There’s the issue, not that women aren’t represented enough in film but that society seems to think that in order for a woman to be an interesting character capable of driving the plot, she must be tailored to be butch, masculine, androgynous and in turn must be the kind of woman that men aren’t interested in; I mean, God forbid a woman could be interesting, independent and attractive….those things just can’t possibly go together *rolls eyes*. Of course the other issue there is the assumption that a woman is of little worth if she doesn’t fit what the media tells us is men’s ‘ideal’. You only have to watch a couple of episodes of Family Guy to realise that the media advocates that a woman is of no worth if she’s overweight or not pretty or sexy enough, while men can get away with being fat slobs and no one cares (there is an episode in which Lois gets fat, and despite the fact that Peter has always been fat, suddenly when she gains weight it becomes a massive problem).

All of this is very black and white, and all very, very generalised. Truth is not many real people think that way at all. Not many of us genuinely think women are of no worth if they’re big or not what we’d consider ‘pretty’ (which is ambiguous anyway since beauty is in the eye of the beholder) but the media is all powerful, all knowing and all seeing and it surrounds us all the time, ramming down our throats its ideals and its beliefs of what we should find acceptable.

Melissa McCarthy; her weight has NOTHING to do with her ability as an actress and yet it's the one thing that everyone's talking about.
Melissa McCarthy; her weight has NOTHING to do with her ability as an actress and yet it’s the one thing that everyone’s talking about.

Is it really a problem that the majority of lead characters are men and women are underrepresented in any genre other than romantic comedy? Not really, no. Hollywood is obviously the biggest power in film, but if you don’t like Hollywood films and you don’t like that they only really make films centred around male protagonists, then don’t watch Hollywood films. There are plenty of indie filmmakers out there, and plenty of women aiming to make a difference. Brit Marling and Lena Dunham are two brilliant young producers that spring to mind when I think of women that are trying to make a change in how women are represented; both took to writing their own stuff to act in because they were sick of being dictated to about what they could and couldn’t do. Marling for instance only ever got offers to be the sexy dumb blonde in horror films, and not wanting to lower to that level she started writing and directing her own stuff. If you want to see an independent woman doing good things in the media check out her films! Another Earth, Sound of My Voice and most recently The East. While we’ll never change Hollywood, we can make choices about what we do and don’t consume, that is the one thing the media hasn’t taken from us; our ability to choose what we watch and our ability to decide that we won’t let the media indoctrinate us with their views on what is and is not acceptable.

Men can get away with more because being funny, ballsy, sarcastic, violent, rude, dirty minded etc etc (all the things that we find entertaining in our characters) are considered masculine,we all need to get over these preconceptions and stop berating women when they do try to change how women are represented (again one of the best and most recent examples being Melissa McCarthy) because until we stop feeling the need to berate women who are masculine, or who swear, are funny, are dirty minded or violent for being butch, ugly, unattractive or even (if you want to be a complete asshole) ‘tractor sized’ then we will never get what we want, if what we want really is for women to have a more active role when they’re represented in the media.

Going back to what I said about Family Guy and women losing their worth if they’re not slim and sexy, or stereotypically attractive, what Rex Reed said about Melissa McCarthy is a real-life example of that. The fact that she’s a bigger woman has absolutely f*ck all to do with her ability as an actress, no bonafide critic would even consider her body image as a reflection of her talent, so why did he need to say it? Because the media’s attitude towards women is that unless they look good they’re worthless. As frustrating as it is, it won’t change unless we as audience members change or own views, because like I said in the opening of this article; no matter how moral or open minded we think we are, we all fall foul of stereotyping and we all come up with preconceived ideas about a person because of their looks.

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4 thoughts on “American Cinema revolves around men and women are worthless if they don’t look good.

  1. I agree with you Natasha. However I think that a lot of the horrible comments are made by media aimed at women. If you look at Heat magazine or E channel you’ll see people endlessly commenting on the appearance of people. Really interesting post, you’re a lot smarter than me!

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    1. Yeah that’s true, I think women are just innately bitchy and berate other women to make themselves feel better, sad but true! I guess the media thinks they’re making their female readers/viewers feel better about themselves by making nasty comments about actresses; especially when those actresses are stunning, the media knows we’re all jealous! 😛

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  2. After reading your comment, I just want to say that it’s sad how women are represented like this in today’s media. Well, personally, I’m going to create a show about a girl who’s intelligent, funny AND attractive. I’m not doing it JUST to fit these requirements; it’s just how I genuinely wanted to write her from the start. Why? Because I know no gender when it comes to writing interesting characters. I want anyone to be able to relate to my characters, regardless of their gender.

    About a decade ago, there was a cartoon on the Disney Channel called The Buzz on Maggie. It was about a preteen girl fly who tried to make her life easier by creating clever schemes that would just backfire, only for her to learn her lesson in the end. I’m not going to act like it was a fantastic show, and it did get mean-spirited at times, but it was a decent enough show, and if there’s anything it got right, it’s that it wasn’t afraid to take risks with its female protagonist. The writers didn’t mind making her zany, witty, or even the butt of slapstick humour, and they seized every advantage they could of it. Now that I’m older and aware of the way women are represented in the media, I appreciate the work that went into The Buzz on Maggie, and I often cite it as an example of how to create a funny, charismatic female lead, even if she wasn’t perfect. The show is partly what inspired me to write cartoons, as well as my main influence in making cartoons in general, and I’m glad I watched it as a child. It’s a shame it was cancelled after one season, because if it were more successful, it could have left a huge impact on the industry, and there would probably be more variety in female-centric media that females and males can enjoy.

    Anyway, those are my two cents. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. 🙂

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