If you’ve watched a movie lately and you care the slightest bit about feminism and the representation of women in film, you’ve probably been dismayed. Many movies these days either completely neglect or stereotype women into confined boxes, like the ditzy blonde or the nerd. It’s so disheartening to constantly see your gender flaunted as a sex prop and only in the movie or scene to be attract the main male character. It’s even more disheartening to see your gender absent from a film altogether. In fact according to Forbes, “Only 16% of protagonists in film are female.” Even worse, of these 16% of female protagonists, many of them are over sexualized. Many female heroes or protagonists use their sexuality and their bodies to save the day. Think of Lara Croft or Catwoman, for example. The entirety of their characters are based around their sexual attraction, and although they may fight alongside or against men, they are doing so in revealing, tight outfits, that are meant to utilize the power of the male gaze and attract male viewers. So what kind of message is this sending to women? If you want to be a star, you have to use your appearance. Sure, you can be just as powerful as a man, but you will have to use your body to do it.
Let’s face it, there is an astounding lack of Buffy or Katniss-like female characters in Hollywood. But why is that? Mostly because behind the scenes, the shows are run by men. According to Forbes, “Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (telecommunications, entertainment, publishing, and advertising).” Additionally, “Women comprise 7% of directors and 13% of film writers in the top 250 grossing films.” Chances are, the last movie you watched was written, directed, and produced by a man, which means that most of our media is from the perspective of a male. Consequently, Hollywood films and television shows are male-dominated, and the female characters are created by the male perspective because they are mostly written by men. Of course, men do not know what it is like to be a woman, so female characters are often boring, dumb, or just plain inaccurate. Take Penny from the TV show, The Big Bang Theory. She is very one note: blonde, ditzy, shopaholic, and boy-crazy. Is any real woman this one dimensional or stereotypical? No, of course not. Unfortunately however, Penny is like most female characters on television. Here we can clearly see the gap between real women and the women of Hollywood. We desperately need more women behind the scenes, writing roles that accurately depict women, and we need more women directing movies that don’t alienate or hyper-sexualize them.
It’s also important to support movies and shows with great female characters. As Geena Davis, an actress from movies such as Beetlejuice, Thelma & Louise, and A League of Their Own, said in the documentary Miss Representation, “All of Hollywood is run on one assumption: That women will watch stories about men, but men won’t watch stories about women. It is a horrible indictment of our society of we assume that one half of our population is just not interested in the other half.” Of course, this is wildly untrue. Think of The Hunger Games or Bridesmaids, both of which featured strong female characters and made astronomical sums at the box office.
One great way to determine if a movie represents women well is the Bechdel Test, developed by Alison Bechdel. To pass this test, a movie must have at least two female characters who interact with each other and talk to each other about something other than men and relationships. It’s important to note that just because a movie passes the Bechdel Test does not mean it does not portray a sexist message in some way. However, it is a great start to have multiple women conversing about something that is not male-centric. Normally, movies that pass the test have more well-rounded female characters with above average depth. Sadly, about half of all movies produced and made in Hollywood fail the Bechdel Test. Think about that. That means that about half of all movies either don’t have more than one female character and/or the women don’t talk to each other about anything but men (or talk to each other at all). Some of the most popular movies of all time fail this test, such as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Avatar, The Social Network, The Original Star Wars Trilogy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, The Shawshank Redemption, Inception, and Pulp Fiction. In an astounding amount of hit movies and franchises, there is little to no female presence.
It’s time for a change in Hollywood. Women are 51% of the population in America but only 16% of protagonists in film. See the problem? There is a huge and unjust misrepresentation of women in the media. To support a change, go out and see films or watch shows in which female characters are realistic and non-stereotypical. If you're a film maker or writer, especially at Emerson, write strong female characters. If you’re a woman, be a director or producer. And regardless of your gender, support women who want to work in Hollywood, because their voices and perspectives are what will change the future of film.
Megan Kay is a freshman Writing For Film and Television major who is obsessed with all things feminism, fashion, and pop culture.