Recently in my mass communication class, my teacher informed us of the controversy concerning the underrepresentation of minority groups in film. One way to test whether a movie accurately depicts the demographics of society today, for women in particular, is the Bechdel test. According to tvtropes.org, the Bechdel test asks three questions when analyzing a movie:
- Does the film include at least two named women?
- Do the women have at least one conversation?
- Does that conversation include subjects other than men?
Surprisingly, many movies do not pass this simple test. According to the YouTube page Feminist Frequency, “Shrek”, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, “The Princess Bride” and “The Dark Knight” are just a few popular movies that fail the Bechdel test.
A few people in my class explained that the purpose of movies is to entertain audiences, not to bring up social issues that need to be addressed. To further that point, students said there were movies made for male audiences, like action movies, which did not require many female roles. Additionally, there were movies made for female audiences, such as romantic comedies, which, likewise, don’t need males. However, this statement could not be more inaccurate, as chick flicks tend to revolve around men.
Unlike movies intended for male audiences, movies designed to attract women center on the opposite sex. For instance, in a Huffington Post article, several linguists showed how male characters do most of the talking in Disney princess movies. Thus, from the beginning of a young girl’s life, she is taught through film that she is expected to care more about men than women. On the other hand, according to a BBC article comedies that or more likely to be favored by men critics included movies such as “Animal House,” which may have included women, but definitely did not focus on them.
Why is it that women are constantly treated by the media as people who cannot be intrigued or entertained by anything other than men? According to E! News, several aspects of our lives are shaped by the media, especially popular films. So how does such an emphasis on men in media catered to women affect the targeted female audience? Essentially, women are groomed to believe the only way to make friends or interesting conversation is to discuss their love lives. However, women’s lives consist of being CEOs, teachers and waitresses; real-life women of the 21st century have more to talk about than a cute guy they saw in passing.
The lack of plots focusing on women for the sake of women correlates with the underrepresentation of female leads. According to Vox, Hollywood has chosen to keep women out of the spotlight for fear that the more lucrative male audience wouldn’t be as entertained by a female protagonist. While these stereotypes are slowly changing with movies such as “The Hunger Games” and “Wonder Woman,” the lack of women in lead acting roles and directing jobs in Hollywood contributes to entertainment for women being reliant on men.
With the recent #MeToo Movement and other feminist initiatives arguing for equal pay and an end to the glass ceiling, leading industries such as the film industry should work to create a realistic image of women. Instead of being stuck in the past and pushing women to the sidelines, movies can bring in a new era of equality by promoting a new generation of women who want to celebrate their womanhood without the ingrained idea that their value comes from men.
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