Women films were popular in the 1930s and early 1940s, when women were shown as wanting to gain independence from their families, and trying to experience true romantic love. In this sort of film the woman was the central character. These were often melodramas, where the woman would eventually have to sacrifice her career for love, or vice versa. This showed women that although they could want to both work and have love, that it was not entirely possible. Also during this time women were shown as “sex goddesses” who were sensual and manipulated men. Actresses that fit this stereotype are Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.
In the 1940s the production code, a way of censoring movies to make them more appropriate, kept the sexuality of women out of many films. At this time, women were shown as competitors to men in the workplace, such as many Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn films.
Sexuality reemerged in the 1950s, when women were shown as blatantly sexual and seductive threats, such as Lana Turner or Ava Gardner, or as innocent and wholesome, like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Marilyn Monroe slightly bridged this gap, as she was often depicted as both seductive and innocent.
More recently, the status of women in films has been declining, and the stereotypes have only been increasing. Women are shown in adventure films as sex objects, like “Star Wars” or “Dirty Harry,” if they are shown at all. In crime films women are often the victims, like in “Psycho,” and they are often times terrorized before they are killed. And then there are the androgynous roles, where women do not appear to be sexual in any way, such as “Alien,” “Lara Croft,” or as in the “Terminator.” These are supposed to be the “strong” women, showing viewers that women cannot be both strong and sexual, without posing a threat.
This stereotyping of women’s roles in films is nothing new, and will not go away unless women, who make up half of the film audience, voice their opinions of what types of films, and what types of leading ladies they want to watch.