Monday, December 8, 2008

Stereotypical Roles of Women in Films

Films reflect and reinforce the dominant ideology, and this applies to how women are shown in films. Although roughly half of the population is female, they are underrepresented in films. Most leads are men. Also compounded with this issue of underrepresentation is how the women are shown, cast stereotypically in traditional roles.
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.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Women Directors

Talent, considered by people in the Hollywood film industry, is considered to have two groups of people: the actors, and the directors. Just as is the case in the acting community, there is an inequality between the genders for directors as well. Unfortunately, the difference is only exacerbated at the director level.
Of the roughly 13,400 members of the Directors Guild of America only 22 percent are women, and only about 7 percent are actual women directors. The rest are people such as the directing team, the assistant directors, and unit production managers.
No woman has ever won an Academy Award for best director, and only three have ever even been nominated. These three women include: Lena Wertmuller in 1975, Jane Campion in 1993, and Sofia Coppola in 2003. There has also never been a woman winner for the top honor of the Director’s Guild, although six women have been nominated.
There is even a stigma of speech, where directors who happen to not be the majority are automatically referred to as “women directors”. The male counterparts are not called “men directors”, they are just directors.
Even positions in studios are making more progress than directors, with Sony Pictures Entertainment, DreamWorks, and Paramount having women in high rankings. It is kind of ironic, in that these powerful women have the opportunity to fund more films for women directors, and choose not to. Not-surprisingly, the three aforementioned women did not comment in the sources that I used for this blog. This choice to deny funding may be due to the fact that the majority of films lose money, and even more films are just never made. According to Soares of the Alternative Film Guide, Hollywood is targeting a young male audience and women would not be thought of as having the required touch to pull in that crowd. Studios want the safe bet, and for right now, that is going with well-known male directors, and keeping yet another aspect of sexism in Hollywood alive.

Associated Press. “Female directors remain a rarity in Hollywood.” 2007

Soares, Andre. “The Paucity of Female Directors in Hollywood.” Alternative Film Guide. 2008.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sexism, Strength, and Dominance: Masculinity in Disney Films

As sexism is a two-way street, I have decided this week to focus on what Hollywood, and in particular children's movies, are telling boys and men. Disney movies have been around for a long time, and are one of the most popular sources of movie entertainment for young children.
Forgetting that women are often times left feeling that their place is in the kitchen after a Disney film, as they now owe the love of their life after he heroically rescued them from imminent peril, Disney films may also affect how boys are growing up.
Almost all Disney movies revolve around a heterosexual love plot, and tell young boys how to interact with women- they should view them as objects of pleasure (even if not in a sexual way). The men are seen as strong, glorifying chiseled abs, a barrel chest and huge arms; a body image that is often hard to attain. The masculinity of the characters is defined by how strong they are, and unwillingness to fight is seen as pitiful.
This image, the video says, often leaves boys feeling physically inadequate and emotionally detached. They are told that strength, dominance, and sexism define who they are as masculine beings, but that leaves out the caring, compassion, and vulnerability that women are supposed to possess.
Having a movie define what children should grow up to be sort of takes away the positive self image and freedom to choose how to feel and behave in certain situations. It is as if Disney movies are telling boys that their only option is to grow up to be a soldier, an emotionless fighter who only cares about a woman because how else would the cooking and cleaning get done?
This image that we are passing on to our children needs to change, and that has to start with adults, as they are the ones creating the movies that show these negative gender portrayals that are shaping the future of children’s lives.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Central Figure: Britney Spears

This week, I have decided to focus on a central figure for portraying the negative image of women in Hollywood: Britney Spears. Yes, I have mentioned her in other posts, but she has had so much drama, and the media focuses hate on her so often that she is always worth mentioning.
Not only is the media focused on her singing career, but also her drug and alcohol abuse, her sanity, her mothering skills, her shopping habits, her court appearances, her rehab, her family drama with mom and dad, her sister's life, her boyfriends, her ex-husband, and everything else imaginable. She has been loved, hated, scrutinized, and everything else imaginable.
When Spears was the epitome of the good, virginized, pop-singing teen the country was behind her, and she was a role-model for young girls everywhere. In my mind, when this changed was after she was known to have broken up with Justin Timberlake. Since then, the media, as far as magazines, tabloids and scandalous news sources like E! have torn apart every aspect of Spears' life.
Yes, Spears made some poor decisions as a mother, like holding her daughter on her lap while driving, but let’s not pretend that Spears is the only mother to make a critical error in judgment. The only reason that the country even knows about it is because the paparazzi are following her around.
Yes, Spears chose a man as her husband who seemed to only want to advance his own career.
Yes, Spears drank too much, and did some crazy things, and went to rehab several times.
But, why is this the public's business. Spears did sign on to become a celebrity, but to what extent do we as a society need to air all of the dirty laundry of a human being. To what degree does Spears' mothering skills and husband choices influence her ability to be a singer.
We as a society made Spears into the celebrity that she is, and we made her into the bad-role model that she now is by focusing on her negative aspects, and showing them to the entire world. If we had not shown those aspects and exploited Spears' life to the extent that we have, Spears could still be the role-model she once was.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Celebrity Pregnancy

On MSNBC several of the stories in the Entertainment section have to do with celebrities who either want to get pregnant or already have children. This has been a very hot topic in Hollywood for the past couple of years, and the public seems to never tire of it. I will discuss this topic further in a later blog, but will focus on a different topic within it. This blog post is focused on the invasion of privacy that these women experience, and how the media is focusing on topics that may not be the most important.
Christina Applegate was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of this year, and had to have a double mastectomy. The story instead focuses on how she wants to become a mother with her rocker boyfriend. Applegate is a cancer survivor, which is deserving of praise and should be revered.
Another story about celebrity motherhood is about Jennifer Aniston, and how there are rumors going around that she is pregnant. The story talks about how Aniston has denied these rumors, and how stories expressing rumors about Aniston’s life seem to surface whenever a big story about Pitt and Jolie is also in circulation. The idea that Aniston’s publicity depends on Pitt’s is sad, and the media should not make up rumors about Aniston’s pregnancy status so that she can be in the news. Making things up is not being on team Aniston.
Another story focuses on how Nicole Kidman does not want any more kids any time soon, but that she thinks that it would be a good idea for Katie Holmes to have another baby. Kidman should not have any say in Holmes’ child rearing choices, and the media should not endorse one celebrity saying that another should get pregnant.
In the last story featured today, Michelle Monaghan, who starred in “Eagle Eye,” had a baby girl and named her Willow. The story is extremely short, and is the only story that just reports on the facts, like when the baby was born and how the couple met. There was no editorializing in the stories, and no rumors about the actress.
I feel that these women are being exploited by the media just for a story. The media is focusing on rumors and does not seem to be concerned with the important issues, like Applegate’s survival, or Aniston’s career, or even how Katie Holmes is doing. Instead, they would rather talk about rumors of pregnancy, or what some celebrities might hope for in the future.

Links to these articles: - Monaghan story - Aniston story - Applegate story - Kidman/ Holmes story

This is just a disclaimer

My last blog post was not exactly on topic. Yes, it had to do with gender, and yes it was in the media. But, it was not focused in Hollywood.
One might argue that this election made celebrities out of all of the candidates, but especially focused on the women, Clinton and Palin (we are ignoring Obama right now).
So, the topic got me heated and I decided to post that blog. It was also harder to find a video link for my specific topic, and I already knew of this video.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sexism Sells- But We're Not Buying It

Sexism Sells was created by the Women’s Media Center so that the public could become aware of the portrayal of women in the news media. This negative portrayal is exhibited through many news shows and sources. The video provides several clips of male, and sometimes female, news anchors and contributors talking about Hillary Clinton and other women in a negative way. Interspersed are quotes from powerful women throughout history, speaking on how being in the female gender has affected their lives. The stigmatization of women is pressing in their quotes, and shows that this issue is not in the past, no matter how much it is being ignored.
The main focus of the attack is on how the news media portrayed Hillary Clinton during her reach for Democratic Party ticket nominee. Obviously, the video is outdated, but it is interesting to think about whether or not this video had any impact on the race against Obama. Of course, this is almost impossible to measure at this point.
The news media, although many times presented as a neutral source of information, is incredibly slanted, in this case as a sexist source. In the clips provided, Clinton is portrayed as a nagging bitchy wife, who has no experience and needs her husband’s permission to get things done. This might sound strange, but Hillary probably had to make some decisions on her own while she was in Congress.
It is funny, and by funny I mean disgusting, in reading the responses to this video that many men were upset. Most of the responses bordered on misogyny, and the message was simple: women are not in control and have no power because they are not working hard enough; if women want to get ahead they have to try harder. These responses, though the responders probably do not think this, are the message that the video is aimed at. If women are referred to as “hos” and “bitches” and the focus is on their cleavage and their hair care, than their experience and expertise is side-lined.
In no way am I saying that Obama stole the election from Clinton, but that the media portrayed Clinton as a heinous woman, and chose to focus more on her gender than on any of her other qualifications.