603-BXE-DW: Nonfiction Writing
April 11th 2017
The Fake Representation of Women Rises
My hair goes flying back as I throw him to the ground. I leave him no time to take a breath before picking him back up and giving him a good punch in the face. He staggers back, leaving me the opportunity to advance and kick him in the chest. His back hits the wall. I’ve got him. I grab his throat and my foot mobilizes his hand against the wall. He drops the gun. He’s stuck. “Cat’s got your tongue.”, my perfectly red lips whisper in a sultry voice.
– (The Dark Knight Rises, 2012, Cat’s Got Your Tongue scene)
The cinema industry is full of female perfection models, such as Cat Woman. Sure, we have been doing progress, but we cannot deny the fact that these models still remain. How are women represented in cinema? More precisely, we’ll be taking a look at their physical representation and vocally passive representation, as well as how society interprets this information.
I remember watching The Dark Knight Rises when it first came out, and being fixated on Cat Woman. 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. Her suit was tight and black, which gave her the perfect body shape. She was independent and could fend for herself. During battles, she managed to use her full force while remaining elegant and sexy. Her extremely fitted suit never restrained any of her movements, and she somehow managed to accomplish all of this while wearing high heels. Fierce and strong yet still “ladylike”. How realistic! Cat Woman was basically a bunch of opposites combined together. Which is what we would call perfect, but is impossible in reality.
The industry seems to have two different stereotypical categories in which to place women: either as a nurturing mother or as a hypersexualized female. Cat Woman 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.
By repeatedly viewing these images, the young are affected in their socio-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 actors wore sexually revealing clothing and 9.4% got partially naked. 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. EXPAND.
One might think that women portrayed as superheroes, just as our Cat Woman, is uplifting. It is in a way, but to a certain extend. There is a flip side to it. Female superheroes tend to be hypersexualized and unlike what we might think, these characters reinforce stereotypical gender role beliefs instead of challenging them. 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. The result? The superheroines did not serve to empower women as 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. Just like what I did with Cat Woman. However, these characters have impossible body dimensions and do impossible actions, such as saving the world whilst in heels.
Just like what I wish I could do (I can’t even run in heels).
This next heroine, quite different than Cat Woman, may have been one of your childhood movies: Mulan. 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.
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. Actually, the movie is composed of 25% female words and 75% male words. These results come from The Pudding’s Film Dialogue study.
Mulan was most certainly not the only female character put in such a situation. The study showed that 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. An example is Pretty Woman. Its lead character is a woman, meaning she has the most dialogue. However, because of all the male supporting actors, the dialogue balanced out to being 52% male. After analysing the US Box Office’s top 2500 movies, the study discovered that only 22% of movies had a woman as the lead role. If women filled 2 of the top 3 leading roles, the number dropped to 18%. Comparatively, it was much easier for men to fill 2 of the 3 lead roles, as it happened 82% of the time.
Age also seemed to affect an actor or actress’ quantity of spoken words. For women, the quantity diminished as they got older, passing from 38% when in an age range of 22-31 years old to 20% when 42-65 years old. For men, it was the contrary. The numbers are practically inversed, as they passed from 20% to 39%. 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. Research from the University of Southern California 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 not changed since 1946! One would believe that since women are sparser on screen their characters would contain more value, however they are simply more erased unless being a sexual object. And objects, as we know, don’t talk much. EXPAND.
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. EXPAND.
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 dicscuss projects. During these dicsussions, she often heard insults said towards the female gender. The cinema industry is a very male dominated environment. 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. 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. 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? Are both worlds to blame? EXPAND.
If we know the messages sent out are the wrong ones, why do we keep going back towards them?
In all honesty, even though I know these images are all fiction and fake representation, I like to identify myself to them sometimes.
I believe it is one of everyone’s guilty pleasures.
The Dark Knight Rises. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros, 2012. Film.
Carpentier, Megan. “Why, in 2016, are women still (mostly) silent film starts?” the guardian. N.p. Web.
Dr L.Smith, Stacy / Allene Cook, Crystal. “Gender Stereotypes: An Analysis of Popular Films and TV.” N.p. Web.
Anderson, Hanah / Daniels, Matt. “Film Dialogue.” The Pudding. N.p. Web.
Zurko, Nicholas. “Gender Inequality in Film.” New York Film Academy. N.p. Web.
May, Cindi. “The Problem with Female Superheroes.” Scientific American. N.p. Web.
C.Hyde,Kirk. “Reflections of Gendered Expectations – Representation of Women in American Film.” N.p. Web.