The summer blockbuster season often lends itself to interesting commentary on the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women in film. I was intrigued to explore this subject after reading that Marvel Studios “cannot” produce female-centric action films in the near future due to previously scheduled male-centric pictures. This is a disappointing excuse and as Amanda Hess of Slate also mentions: Marvel’s summer hit Guardians of the Galaxy could have included more female characters and represented the women in the film in a much more complex and empowering manner. For more on this subject, Salon has a great article on its website.
So, why the underrepresentation of women in action flicks? I bet it has something to do with the still widely-held belief that women cannot be kickass action stars. Over the years, they’ve existed in action films as the damsel in distress girlfriend or the leather-clad heroine (think: Catwoman) meant to bring male comic book fantasies to life. Have women even been given the chance to show that they can carry an action flick? Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider seems to be the only one that comes to my mind. The problem is not only that women are not being given these roles. The problem is that women are “asked to prove” that they can be superheroes. Does anyone doubt that a male action hero can carry a film? Apparently not since they keep churning them out at rapid speed. Seriously, how many remakes of Spiderman, Batman, and Superman are they going to make? How about one from the perspective of Lois Lane? Amy Adams’s Lois was fantastic in Man of Steel. I recently viewed Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. Johansson proves herself to be an engaging and satisfying action star, a status she has gained through her work on the male-dominated Avengers films. Even when women are action stars in films, as in Guardians of the Galaxy, the focus sometimes shifts to their sex appeal, sexy outfits, and the ways they use their feminine whiles to fight off attackers and save the day.
It doesn’t help that studios are making excuses or denying that there is even a problem. I was sad to hear True Detective‘s creator Nic Pizzolatto, aggressively deny the criticism that his show does not portray women well or include enough women. His excuse: The show was told from a male point of view… My response:
This lack of meaty and interesting roles for women extends beyond action films. Women in films still exist with one-dimensional personalities meant to help men discover their true passions or appear as sexual objects for the male viewer. Or sometimes there are only 1 or 2 women in a film. I observed this while watching the previews before Lucy. One example includes Colin Firth’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. It appears that adding women to a film is an afterthought like “Oh, we better sprinkle a couple in there to make ourselves look good! Of course, we include women there’s one in the film (Me theorizing the thought process of big studios).” Never mind how women are portrayed, sometimes 50% of the human race doesn’t even make an appearance in a film besides as the mother who gave birth to the male lead…
I am happy to see that female filmmakers are finding solutions to these problems by creating multi-dimensional characters for themselves. I just watched, Ruby Sparks, an amazing film about a man’s dream girl who comes to life. He slowly realizes that his relationship is meaningless since she is a figment of his imagination and not a real person with dreams and aspirations. Zoe Kazan wrote the screenplay and starred in this film. When reflecting on her character and the term, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, she says,
I think sometimes filmmakers have not used their imagination in imbuing their female characters with real life. You know, they’ve let music tastes be a signifier of personality. But I just think the term really means nothing; it’s just a way of reducing people’s individuality down to a type, and I think that’s always a bad thing. And I think that’s part of what the movie is about, how dangerous it is to reduce a person down to an idea of a person.
Another great film, In A World, stars Lake Bell as a voice coach who tries to break into the male-dominated voiceover industry. Bell wrote the screenplay and starred in the film similar to Rashida Jones in Celeste and Jesse Forever. The women portrayed in these films are interesting and complex. The films also offer compelling commentary on the experiences women navigate everyday. What happens when Bell’s character gets a job just because she is a woman? Or what happens when you’re in a relationship where the person is obsessed with the idea of you? These are real questions I want to watch movies about.
As I was driving home listening to the lyrics of Sara Bareilles’s, “1000 times”:
Cause I would die to make you mine
Bleed me dry each and every time
I don’t mind, no I don’t mind it
I would come back 1000 times
I considered how “unromantic” they really are. I understand feeling so much love for a person that you would die for them circa Romeo and Juliet, but this song advocates for something different… To me, it says, “I would die so that you could be with me, and I would keep coming back for you no matter how many times you said no (approximately 1000 times).” This ideology worries me because it is not healthy for men and women to consistently pursue someone who does not and will never love them back the way they want or need. Note: No matter how much you love someone, it is not worth pursuing them 1000 times).
I recently read an insightful article about characters in various television series who continue to pursue women who rebuff their advances constantly. It comes across as funny that this socially awkward guy keeps pursuing the girl of his dreams who either has a boyfriend or is not interested. Brooklyn Nine-Nine calls this the Full Boyle where Detective Boyle endlessly seeks out Rosa and plans dates for them to attend after she always says that she is not interested. NO means NO, yet these television shows inspire men and women to keep pursuing people who do not want them and who may never return the affection. Let’s also consider Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in 500 Days of Summer. Gordon-Levitt spoke about how unhealthy his character is for obsessing over a woman who has clearly moved on and told him she was not interested. Yet, in the film this comes across as romantic that Tom loves her so much and why wouldn’t Summer be interested in a man that is so devoted to her?
We’ve all had crushes on people (many fictional in my case: Think Jim from The Office and Jack from Lost). However at some point, we make a move or we move on. It is not healthy, sexy, or funny to pursue someone for years who does not love you back or treat you the way you deserve. Robin Thicke should take note of this!
Note: I love Sara Bareilles, and the song is beautiful. I’m just not feeling the meaning behind it.
I watched this Ted talk last night from psychologist, Meg Jay, discussing how to make the most of your 20s. Enjoy and ponder!
#Letgirlslearn initiative raises awareness of girls’ education in developing countries.
Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star as siblings in The Skeleton Twins.
Thoughtful reflection on being a virgin in The Guardian.
Very interesting article about Game of Thrones and the Female Gaze.
Sex myths we need to stop teaching boys.
Men as feminist activists.
Fascinating article on dyslexia.
I recently visited Fred Meyer to buy my dad a Father’s Day card and observed the plethora of stereotypes card companies rely on to sell cards. The two cards above are prime examples of the roles we assume fathers must fill. They grill, eat meat, fix things around the house, and teach their kids how to drive. Let’s move beyond these stereotypes that limit the roles men have in their children’s lives.
After getting back from a long camping trip with my students, I decided to catch up on lots of television, including CBS’s Friends with Better Lives. I had so much hope for this show because a) I’m looking for a sitcom to replace How I Met Your Mother in my life and b) I am a sci-fi nerd who loved the show Roswell growing up and was so excited to see that Majandra Delfino is on the show!
However, after binging on five episodes, it appears that FWBL relies on traditional views of femininity and masculinity to complete the show’s punchlines. For example, Jules, the super hot Brooklyn Decker, is engaged to Lowell, a vegan hippie who owns a sustainable cafe. In one episode, the men don’t want to invite Lowell to boys’ night because they think he won’t be “into” that kind of thing. When Andi asks for a reason, Lowell coincidentally walks over with a dessert and sprinkles flowers around it. Lowell’s feminine behavior gets a laugh because clearly if he acts like this he won’t be into boy’s night. When Lowell goes to boys night, he is shocked to see that the boys are eating cupcakes and watching The Good Wife. He mocks the boys and insists they do manly things like get drunk and steal police bicycles. (Okay, this sight was pretty funny!) However, I have a hard time getting behind a show that relies on the same old crap to get laughs.
The show also gets at another one of my pet peeves: the archetype of a single woman who is always longing for a mate to complete her. Kate is spunky and funny yet it is revealed in a recent episode that what she really longs for is a soul mate who she can have her dream wedding with. I think this is something we can all relate to but it bothers me that the promo for this show clearly labels her as single. Does this really matter so much?
Let me also address that the show uses Brooklyn Decker’s supermodel status in the most stereotypical ways possible. Her character decides to become vegan for her fiancee yet Jules harbors a love for meat. Jules sneaks a bite of Kate’s hamburger and the camera goes in slow motion as Kate cannot stop eating this giant hamburger (Think every Carls Jr. commercial on the planet). This recipe (sexism + sexy stars) isn’t new for television. I would argue that How I Met Your Mother‘s success rests somewhat on its use of sexist jokes. We need to rethink “what is funny” in order to get better sitcoms on television.