603-BXE-DW: Nonfiction Writing
May 5th 2017
Women: Hollywood’s Favorite Accessory
I remember watching The Dark Knight Rises when it first came out, and being fixated on Catwoman. I just had to imagine myself as her. Her hair always stayed groomed, her red lipstick always remained on and she talked in a soft sultry voice. During battles, she managed to use her full force while remaining elegant and sexy. Her extremely fitted suit gave her the perfect body shape and never seemed to restrain any of her movements. Somehow, she managed to accomplish all of this while wearing high heels. Fierce and strong yet still “ladylike”. How realistic! Catwoman was basically a bunch of opposites combined together. Which is what we would call perfect, but is impossible in reality.
Hollywood seems to have two different stereotypical categories in which to place women: either as a nurturing mother or as a hypersexualized female. Catwoman falls in the latter category, since hypersexualized is described as being “an overemphasis on attractiveness and sexuality by way of clothing […] and body proportions […]” by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and Crystal Allene Cook. These two women conducted a study analyzing 100 of the top grossing movies per rating category in North America between 1990 and 2006. Surprisingly, the G-Rated movies included more hypersexualized females than the R-rated movies. Keeping in mind that G-rated movies can be viewed by a larger audience, including young ones, we realize that these movies have more impact on society as a whole.
Repeatedly viewing these images affects children in their emotional development. An analysis of the top 500 films between 2007 and 2012 showed that 28.8% of actresses wore sexually revealing clothing and that 26.6% got partially naked. Comparatively, 7% of male actors wore sexually revealing clothing and 9.4% got partially naked. Girls are then more affected than boys are, since we see much more female nudity than male nudity on screen. We may not think that these representations would have much of an impact, but they actually do. Even though we consciously try to ignore these images, knowing they are fake, we subconsciously absorb them. This is harmful to us, especially girls since they are more exposed to these hypersexualized and perfect representations. Girls tend to start disliking their bodies and who they are, since they cannot reach the unattainable standards they are shown. This negative mindset can also lead to behavioral problems that are related to weight, such as anorexia or bulimia.
One might think that women portrayed as superheroes, just as Catwoman, is uplifting. It is in a way, but to a certain extent. There is a flip side to it. Unlike what we might think, these characters lower women’s self-esteem and confidence instead of uplifting it. Pennel and Behm-Morawitz conducted an experiment on female college students to study the effects of female superheroes. They made the students watch a 13 minute video montage of scenes containing heroines from the X-Men movies and answer a series of questions afterwards. These questions were about gender role beliefs, body image and self-objectification. However, many other questions about cinema were included to hide the true intentions of the study. The result? The superheroines did not serve to empower women. The student’s egalitarian views between the sexes did not improve, but they observed a drop in body esteem after the viewing. This can be explained by the viewers admiring the power and status of superheroines and wanting to be like them.
A heroine that you’ve probably admired as a child is Mulan. The movie Mulan was released in 1998. It tells the story of a girl, Mulan, who takes her father’s place in the Chinese military and helps fight against an enemy invasion. To accomplish this, she must pretend to be a man. Her dragon friend Mushu is always at her side, even when she falls in love with a handsome captain. Thankfully, Mulan isn’t shown in a hypersexualized manner. However, we must remember that she must dress as a man to hide her identity…
Mulan sounds like one tough cookie, and she is! However, there is a certain detail that you may not have realized as a child, or even now: she talks less than Mushu. The movie is named after her, is about her and she is the main character, however the girl speaks less than her male friend. Surprisingly, Mushu had 50% more words than Mulan with a score of 4594 words compared to Mulan’s 3028 words (Anderson and Daniels, The Pudding’s Film Dialogue). When Mulan first meets Mushu, he puts on a grand show: his shadow is cast on a rock surrounded by flames and he speaks very flatteringly about himself. Mulan simply gazes at the show. She doesn’t say much:. she asks “Who are you?”, says “My ancestors sent me a little lizard to help me?” and finally “You’re, hum, tiny.” In between these few sentences, Mushu fills up the time with his own blabbering.
Mulan was most certainly not the only female character to be put in such a situation. 22 out of 30 Disney movies (including Pixar) had a majority of male dialogue. Even romantic comedies, which are considered ”chick flicks” were in average 58% male dialogue. You might think that “chick flicks” are all about “girly things” like shopping and hanging out between girl friends, but even in these movies men take up most of the place. Meaning, if the movie is mostly made up of male dialogue, it is usually because of the high quantity of male supporting actors. It was discovered that only 18% of movies had women filling 2 of the top 3 leading roles. Comparatively, it was much easier for men to fill those spots, as it happened 82% of the time. Think about it, the majority of movies that we know have a larger quantity of male characters in them. (Anderson and Daniels, The Pudding’s Film Dialogue)
Age also seemed to affect an actor or actress’ quantity of spoken words. Men gain more words as they age whereas women lose words as they age. This could mean that as women lose their attractiveness they also lose their voice. Saddly, society equates aging to a loss of beauty. Research shows that for every 1 woman who speaks, there are 3 men speaking. It also shows that crowd shots are made up of only 17% women, a ratio that has stayed the same since 1946! How is it possible that this ratio has not changed for the past 71 years? (Carpentier, the guardian) One would believe that since women are sparser on screen their characters would contain more value, like a rare piece of fine jewellery. However they are simply more erased unless being a sexual object. And objects, as we know, don’t talk much.
The movie industry keeps feeding us these ideas that we love to gobble up, without thinking twice about it. But as my mother always said: “You are what you eat.”. So is Hollywood the one feeding us these false gender concepts or are we the ones giving them our orders? After all, a study done on the top 500 films between 2007 and 2012 shows that women bought half of the movie tickets sold in the US. However, The MPAA declared that the top 5 grossing films of 2014 in the US/Canada were: Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Lego Movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1. The first four movies attracted a majority of male viewers, whereas The Hunger Games attracted a mostly female audience. 57% of its box office revenue came from women. This could signify that women are gradually showing more support for movies containing a woman as lead role.
Saddly, Hollywood tends to spend more money on male-led movies. I had the chance to speak with Myriam Rafla, teacher in Cinema & Communications at Dawson College but also part of the board of directors at SODEC. She believes that the movie industry is “completely tied into the culture of financing, which is dominated by the patriarchal male demographics […]”. When she worked for funding agencies, Rafla sat in many meetings to disccuss projects. During these discussions, she often heard insults said towards the female gender. Some would judge women by their physique or talk about the gender in a very demeaning way.
The cinema industry is a very male dominated environment, behind and in front of the camera. Hence, Myriam Rafla believes that the first step to change gendered stereotypes from appearing on screen is by having more women work behind the camera. She says that “If it’s not happening in [the] room or on the page, it will never change on screen.”, which makes sense. If those working behind the scenes don’t try to include more women in the scripts and have them represented realistically, it won’t ever happen on screen. It was found that the number of female characters increased by 10.6% when a woman was directing and that it increased by 8.7% when a female screenwriter took part (New York Film Academy Blog). Currently, Rafla and her coworkers at SODEC are trying to create new policies to incite more women into applying and receiving financing. It’s a small step in the right direction.
In the mean time, major cinema industries such as Hollywood keep producing movies containing female characters that are hypersexualized or generally silent. Who’s fault is it? The industry? The audiences? Both?
I’m not trying to point Hollywood by the finger. The objectification of women has existed for a very long time and can be found in many art forms such as paintings, dance and sculpture. However, Hollywood did hop into the bandwagon. After World War 2, society’s views started to shift as there was an economic boom. People tasted the joy of life once again and America was seen as the land of the plenty. This economic boom led to the birth of the famous “American Dream”: the perfect family who lived happily in a suburban home and a husband who would come back from work to a table full of food and a loving housewife (Kirk, 32-33). The woman was always depicted as a housewife perfectly content of staying at home, doing chores and taking care of the children. All the while, she was always shown as well dressed and pampered-looking.
This perfect scenario overrode any other one on the market, showing just how much people adhered to the idea. But just as the name says, it was and still is, only a dream.
In all honesty, even though I know these images are all fiction and fake representation, I like to identify myself to them sometimes. Who doesn’t enjoy the idea of being perfect?
I believe it is one of everyone’s guilty pleasures.