Women – Is our guilty pleasure holding back our gender?

 

 

I have always been conscious of the way women are portrayed in film – mainly as helpless objects of sexual desire – but until Elisa Kreisinger’s presentation I had never heard of The Bechdel Test.

 

The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies

 The Bechdel Test asks the following three questions of a film:

  1. Are there 2 or more women in it and do they have names?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

 

The Bechdel Test questions are amusing until you see realize how many movies can’t pass the test and that the movies that don’t pass the test are some of the highest grossing films.

A few days after seeing the video above I read Mindy Kaling’s L.A. Postcard – Flick Chicks: A guide to women in the movies. 

 

I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world. For me, there is no difference between Ripley from “Alien” and any Katherine Heigl character. They are equally implausible. They’re all participating in a similar level of fakey razzle-dazzle, and I enjoy every second of it.

 

It makes sense, then, that in the romantic-comedy world there are many specimens of women who—like Vulcans or Mothra—do not exist in real life.

 

 

There is a lot to think about here.  And as I was thinking about thinking about it I remembered a section of Sidney Poitier’s first autobiography This Life where he said he was over-conscious about the roles he took on and refused any role that played to stereotypes of the black man.  At the time, he was struggling to provide for his family and his wife was frustrated that he was turning down roles when they could not afford to put food on the table. He realized the long term effect of his decision and – for better or worse – was willing to sacrifice his family’s current comfort for what he believed was a greater cause.

Do women need to follow the steps of Sidney Poitier – do female actors need to demand characters that are not cliche?   Do female writers need to demand two female characters discuss something other than men? And do they need to be willing to turn down the job if their demands are not met? And what about us – the consumer – what role do we play? Is our guilty pleasure holding back our gender?  Or am I just over thinking this?

Something Elisa Kreisinger said which has stuck in my head is that “your sense of identity, of self, disintegrates when you don’t see it portrayed in pop culture.”  What effect do “Chick Flick chicks” have on the identity of tween girls?

The Women – a film made in 1939 and again in the 2008 – was considered groundbreaking because of its all female cast. Every person that appears on screen is female. But the entire storyline is about the women’s relationship with men, mainly a cheating husband.  And although enjoyed the films, I want to see a film with an all female cast who aren’t well kept housewives, who talk about anything but men and who spend their time anywhere but a department store beauty salon. What would that story be –  I can’t imagine it.  Mindy Kaling, can you write it for me?




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  1. Stephspiro

    Samarah, I love your post.  I’m such a movie fanatic!  I can make you a ‘great women in film’ list!  Have you seen ‘Searching for Debra Winger’?  It’s *essential* viewing.  It’s Rosanna Arquette’s documentary about women in film, women in Hollywood, and women in general (as they relate to each other and the world).  If you can’t get it, then come over and watch it at my house!  The handful of wonderful, brilliant, articulate, relatable women in Hollywood give me hope.  This is the trailer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-GALaD2kuE

  2. caustenw

    I was also struck by Elisa Kreisinger’s comments on women and film although not surprised. There seems to be a bit of buzz about this topic as of recently with a NYT article, “American Masculinity, Shown in All Its  and blog post, “Is It the Year of the Dude Film” just this week. Both these articles notice the proliferation of male centered films this year and tease out how many of them take on emotional story lines that in my opinion are typically considered feminine. Just more to think about on this topic with timely examples. 

    “Of course the idea that studios (and audiences) would shell out for a good-looking hero (or several) is nothing new; Hollywood has always been a sucker for a struggling — or stuttering — conqueror. But in the nearly three years that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has allowed up to 10 best picture nominees — the same span that I’ve been chronicling the daily red carpets and cocktail-party chatter of Oscar season in my role as the Carpetbagger — there have been at least a few movies in the trophy pool that centered on women: “Black Swan,” which won Ms. Portman an Oscar last year; “An Education,” which introduced Carey Mulligan to the world; “The Blind Side,” which demonstrated that mainstream movies could resonate equally with Oprah watchers and Academy voters; and “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” which had the blessing of Oprah herself, a producer.”- NYT  “American Masculinity, Shown in All Its Angst”

  3. Stephspiro

    I also saw the recent article in The Huffington Post on November 22, 2011, called “Women Are Underrepresented, Oversexualized in Top Films: Study”  
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/women-film-study-annenberg_n_1107899.htmlFrom the article:

    “Like a broken record that continues to stick and sputter, a new study shows that women are still underrepresented when it comes to the top movies in the country.
    A study released by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism took a survey of the 4,342 speaking characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2009 and compared it to results from the top 100 films of 2007 and 2008. For women, nothing much has changed — in these top films, 32.8 percent of actors are female and 67.2 are male — 2.05 males to every one female. This means that less than 17 percent of films are gender balanced, even though females make up half of the ticket-buying population.Perhaps more disturbing is the finding that women are much more frequently sexualized when they appear on screen. They’re more likely to be seen in sexy clothing (25.8 percent to men at 4.7 percent) and more likely to be partially naked (23.6 percent to 7.4 percent).”

  4. Stephspiro

    I also saw an article about this recently in the Huffington Post on November 22, 2011, called “Women Are Underrepresented, Oversexualized in Top Films: Study”:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/women-film-study-annenberg_n_1107899.html

    From the article:”Like a broken record that continues to stick and sputter, a new study shows that women are still underrepresented when it comes to the top movies in the country.A study released by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism took a survey of the 4,342 speaking characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2009 and compared it to results from the top 100 films of 2007 and 2008. For women, nothing much has changed — in these top films, 32.8 percent of actors are female and 67.2 are male — 2.05 males to every one female. This means that less than 17 percent of films are gender balanced, even though females make up half of the ticket-buying population.Perhaps more disturbing is the finding that women are much more frequently sexualized when they appear on screen. They’re more likely to be seen in sexy clothing (25.8 percent to men at 4.7 percent) and more likely to be partially naked (23.6 percent to 7.4 percent).”


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