Women in Film: A Feminist's Take

Women making many sandwiches for man

Image by user Pink Ponk via Flickr.

-Riley Stevenson

I’m a feminist.

Say that most places and you’ll receive an up-and-down stare, a scoff, or worse, be asked to justify your identity.

“But you don’t have hairy armpits!”

“Where’s your megaphone?”

“So, you hate men?”

I value my personal hygiene, think I sound like Darth Vader on a megaphone, and very much love men. But yes, I’m still a feminist.

Now, before you return to your Facebook page or stumble onto a new cat video, bear with me.

I should probably clarify that this feminist thing is new for me. A couple of months ago, I used “trick” as a term of endearment and started many of my sentences with “I’m not a feminist, but . . . .”

However, on the first day of spring term, everything changed. I was in a class called Gender, Media, and Diversity class, when my professor asked the class, “Who here is a feminist?”

I slouched down in my chair, rolled my eyes, and waited for short-haired, sweaty, raging women to raise their hands. To my surprise, more than half the class’ hands shot straight in the air (they weren’t sweaty and raging), leaving me looking like an idiot.

But how could this be? I care about equality and women’s rights, but a feminist? That’s absurd.

So, with the help of my friends, I devised a checklist to see if I passed the feminist test. And you can too, America.

1. Do you believe in equality and social justice?
2. Do you believe women should be paid just as much as men for the same work?
3. Do you need a man to make you happy?
4. A woman’s place is not in the kitchen. Agreed?
5. Women can enjoy sex without being called a slut, skank, or whore. Am I right or am I right?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, congratulations! Let me be the first to welcome you to the world of feminism: where women are classy, sassy, and not the slightest bit hairy. But if we wanted to be, that’s fine too.

Now that you’ve entered this super exclusive club, you might begin to see things differently. I don’t speak for feminists or the trees; I speak for me and say that I have begun to re-evaluate the way in which I watch movies, read books, and interact with friends since coming out as a feminist.

I was recently introduced to the Bechdel Test—a quiz used to evaluate the movies we watch. Here’s how it works: when watching a movie, ask yourself:

1. Does this movie have at least two women in it whose names we know?
2. Do the women talk to each other?
3. Do they talk to each other about something besides men?

You would be surprised at the number of movies that fail this test, including: The Social Network, the original Star Wars Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, Shrek, Ghostbusters, Pirates of the Caribbean, Austin Powers, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I would continue on, but don’t want to depress you too much.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, a feminist or not, is it too much to ask for movies that have a female presence that doesn’t revolve around men?

In 2010, only six of the top 50 grossing films were women-centric, and women comprised 9 percent of all directors, according to the Center for Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State University. In the words of Keenan from Saturday Night Live, “What’s up with that?”

Without strong female leads, young girls will grow up thinking our only career options in life are being damsels in distress, sex-deprived secretaries, and scandalous stay-at-home moms.

Because of this, I would like to recognize the dynamic trio who has made great strides for women in film and television: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph. From Saturday Night Live to Bridesmaids, these three women have transformed femininity. No longer is it taboo to be outspoken, independent, or enjoy potty humor (the rumors are wrong: women poop).

In Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, she has a particularly poignant section that describes the impossibility of living up to the images displayed in film, advertisements, and television.

She writes, “Now every girl is expected to have…

– Caucasian blue eyes
– Full Spanish lips
– A classic button nose
– Hairless Asian skin with a California tan
-A Jamaican dance hall ass
-Long Swedish legs
-Small Japanese feet
-The abs of a lesbian gym owner
-The hips of a nine-year-old boy
-The arms of Michelle Obama
-And doll tits”

Books largely influence images of femininity as well. When looking at three popular franchises of our time, Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, the female leads of each series speak volumes about womanhood. Although at times women may curl up in the fetal position after being left by their boyfriends/partners/significant others as Bella does in Twilight, we learn from characters like Hermione and Katniss that our happiness is not dependent on our relationship status. If Hermione were to meet Bella, I have a strong feeling she would say, “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.”

I idolize Hermione for many reasons. For one, her idea of a romantic statement is, “Ron . . . you are the most insensitive wart I have ever had the misfortune to meet.”

If Hermiones ran the world, we would all live happily ever after. But not in a castle after being rescued by our knights in shining armor. We would be doing the rescuing, thank you very much.

For those who doubt women’s capabilities to rule the world, an indigenous matriarchal community in southeast Mexico, Juchitan de Zaragoza, proves you wrong. In this town of 66,000, women are outgoing, run the economy, and do the catcalling. Women say they prefer to be alone than with a lazy man and being a single mother is respectable. Residents describe a society with little malnutrition, emigration, and intolerance. Could this system work on a large scale? Maybe, maybe not. But the world could use some change.

The purpose of this article is not to initiate a widespread conversion to feminism, but to take a moment to question the portrayal of women in the media, to challenge the way women present themselves, and to ensure that if you’re ever asked ,“Are you a feminist or something?” you don’t roll your eyes like I did.


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