The social movement called feminism
and the presence of women in cinema is growing ever more prevalent. Women’s rights, female expression, and
dominance is on the rise throughout cinema.
Although this is not a new development, the strive for leading women in
the film industry has been a long time coming and is continuing with the
stubbornness and sexism of Hollywood and other film studios. Basically those who follow feminist film
theory aim to bring equality between men and women within the film industry all
while criticizing the inequalities and sexism within the industry, especially
In the 1960s and 70s, the Feminist Film
theory was born from the second wave feminism and women’s studies. Feminist film theory was primarily focused around
the sociological theory and functions of female characters throughout cinema. Feminist critiques were also exploring the typical
stereotypes that are regularly shown in films and television as well as the
amount of screen time women and their characters were given in film. In 1973, British feminist film theorist Laura
Mulvey became a great influence after writing her essay, ‘Visual Pleasure and
Narrative Cinema’. Her ideals expressed
in her essay completely challenged classical Hollywood cinema’s portrayal of
women, especially the “male gaze” (Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975)
The term “Male Gaze” was coined by
feminist film critic Laura Mulvey, in her essay in 1975. This concept is often defined as cinema’s
repeated positioning of women as objects coded for strong visual and erotic
impact (Brian L. Ott, 2014).
Often the camera will linger over the curves of a woman’s body for an
extended period of time. For example, in
the first installment of the Transformer
movies, Megan Fox’s character pops the hood of the car and examines the
motor. As she carries on with her
dialogue, the camera portrays the eyes of Shia LaBeouf’s character as he checks
her out. Another great example would be
in the movie Grown Ups. Although this movie is a comedy and is full
of satire and exaggerations, one key scene stands out. The daughter of Rob Schneider’s character is
also working on a car and as she pops the hood open, hot air rushes up and
blows her loose clothing. In
slow-motion, the camera pans from her shoulders to her waist, focusing on the
exposed skin of her stomach. All of the
other male characters, young and old, are completely memorized by her and
continue to gawk at her body as she is bent over the car. Both of these female characters are wearing
impractically skimpy clothing; short-shorts and a tight crop-top.
Using cameras to focus on the female
body is also incorporated in video games.
Video game developers have made it so that the butt of the female
character is typically right at the center of the screen throughout the whole
game. The butt is the main focus and
pivoting point of the camera for third person games. Even during cutscenes during the game, the
butt is in almost all of the shots including the female. If the butt is not at the center of the
screen, the character’s outfit can emphasize the figure of the character. The game designers seem to not be able to
help themselves but to continuously put a woman’s butt right at the forefront
of the viewer’s sight.
contrast to how women’s butts are emphasized, men’s butts are often hidden from
view. Common ways men’s butts are hidden
are by not allowing the camera to tilt far enough to show past the character’s
waistline, or an over-the-shoulder shot is also used (feministfrequency, 2016). Another solution is to simply include a cape
or long coat to the character. When
there is a game that has a male butt in display, there is no definition or
emphasis, especially not to the extent of female’s butts.
acts are typically derived from a masculine and heterosexual point of view,
mainly for the viewing pleasure of primarily male audiences. Feminist film theorists often link this
practice to scopophilia, the sexual pleasure derived from looking. Scopophilia is often compared to voyeurism as
well (J. Childers, 1995).
The Male Gaze is used to a great extent in advertising. Women are portrayed in an over sexualized
manner to gain the attention of viewers in attempt to sell a product. Examples of these instances are the
Hardee’s/Carl Jr.’s burger commercials, cologne advertisements, and many other
Not only are women depicted as
sexual object existing only for the viewing pleasures of men, female characters
are also typically portrayed as inferior or submissive to their male characters
within films and television. Classical
Hollywood cinema stereotypically contains strong, powerful, brave, masculine
protagonists who drive the plot of the story.
At the same time classical Hollywood cinema normally depicts their
female characters as weak, frightened, “damsels in distress” whose sole purpose
is to be seen and saved as a trophy, a goal, for the male protagonist (David Bordwell, 1985). This concept is often portrayed in fantasy
movies of knights and princesses, for example, but also exists in other
genres. When it comes to sex or romantic
embraces, it is considered normal for the male characters to dominate the
female, and she is to succumb to his masculinity and fall for his heroism. When a strong lead female role is finally
produced in film or television, her character is often needlessly and overly
sexualized. Some great examples of this
would include Scarlett Johansson’s Marvel character Black Widow, every “Bond
girl” in every James Bond movie, and probably one of the most infamous
instances is Carrie Fisher’s “slave Leia” in The Return of the Jedi.
over sexualizations do not only exist in film and advertisements, but also in
the realm of video games. A large amount
of criticism goes to the iconic ‘Tomb Raider’ franchise. The character Lara Croft is obviously built
for the viewing pleasure with her large breasts, hourglass figure, and skimpy
outfits. When the film was released, it
received much of the same backlash for her depiction. Filmmakers had a chance to focus and explore
more of the intelligence and athletic side of the adventurer, but instead cast
Angelina Jolie and made her wear a skin-tight top and short-shorts similar to
the video game character. Jolie
certainly has the acting chops to pull off a female action hero but she was
relegated to eye candy for the film (Strum, 2016).
recent developments of the franchise, there have been a successful change in
depiction of the fictional character, Lara Croft. In the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider, Lara is given a more human and athletic physique. Gone are cartoonish exaggerations of large
breasts and hourglass figure. Game
developers also ditched the skimpy outfits from the previous games and gave the
character clothes that fit the plot and covered far more skin. They also made an attempt to focus more on the
character development of her younger and less secure self (Pinchefsky, 2013).
In the beginning of the game, she feels guilty about killing a
deer. But, sadly, it did not take long
for the game to quickly toss her internal conflict away and jump right into the
violence of killing enemies with an assortment of firearms and other weapons.
until the last few years, movies directed by when have not been making anywhere
near as much money at the box office as movies directed by men during the
opening weekend. The top grossing movie
of 2000 was Mission Impossible II,
which made over 57 million dollars and was directed by John Woo (2000 Domestic Groves, 2017). The top grossing female directed movie was Love & Basketball. Being directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood,
this film made only just over eight million dollars (IMDB, 2000). The film Love
& Basketball was ranked as number 79 out of the top 100 highest
grossing films of 2000 (2000 Domestic Groves, 2017). A possible reasoning behind this dilemma is
the fact that there are far fewer women directing than men. On the top 100 grossing films of 2016, women
represented only four percent of the directors (Lauzen, 2017).
big factor as to why movies involving female characters and or directors is
distribution, or lack thereof. During
film festivals, more male directed films get picked up by major studios than
female directed films. 70.2 percent of
successful female-directed films which premiered at the Sundance film festival
between 2002 and 2014 picked up a deal from a small independent firm (Child, 2015). That means only about 30 percent of female
directed films are available to major studios.
It pretty much goes without saying that independent firms come nowhere
close to major studios when it comes to distribution and promoting movies. But when it comes to male directed films, it
is nearly split evenly between major studios and smaller firms (Child, 2015).
only do female directed movies make less money than their male competitors, but
films with female protagonists make less money than films with male
protagonists. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider made a whopping 47.7 million dollars during
its opening weekend and was directed by Simon West (IMDB, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, 2016). The sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, directed by Jan de
Bont, made only 21.7 million dollars, not even half of its predecessor (IMDB, 2017). But when compared to another iconic treasure
hunter, ‘Indiana Jones’, the Tomb Raider
movies came nowhere close to the fourth installment. Upon its opening weekend, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal
Skull grossed an incredible 126.9 million dollars (IMDB, Idiana Jones: Kingdom of Crystal Skull, 2016). This male centered film alone made almost
twice as much money than both of the female movies combined, and both Tomb Raider movies were directed by men.
not only struggle with being taken serious, but women are considered as a risk
whether or not they have the experience to direct a good movie. This is most likely caused by a great deal of
sexism against women by men already working in the industry of cinema. We all know women have suffered and have been
held back by men throughout history, especially in the United States. Women did not get the right to vote until
1920. Men have always dominated society
first and have constantly made it difficult or near impossible for women to
make progress in their lives.
in cinema, whether it is directors, actresses, producers, etc., were not
getting their much-deserved spotlight. Rarely
did a female movie get the needed attention it earned. Still fewer in numbers of employees, a movie
has finally been made that could be the focal turning point for women in film,
especially Hollywood. This great movie
came out mid-2017 and is infamously known as, Wonder Woman. Although this
is the third installment of the recent DC Comics movies, following Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel., Wonder Woman made an astounding 412.5 million dollars in the United
States (IMDB, Wonder Woman, 2017). This left Batman
v. Superman in the dust with 330 million and Man of Steel with only 291 million dollars (IMDB, Man of Steel / Dawn of Justice, 2017).
only was Wonder Woman a female lead
movie, obviously, but it was also directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins (IMDB, Wonder Woman, 2017). With the success of this movie, Patty has
become the highest grossing female director.
She is also the first female director of a superhero movie. This goes to show that women can take the
lead in making films. Women are proving
they know what they’re doing and they do it good. This film definitely has become incredibly inspirational
for women worldwide, especially for those who wish to pursue a career in film
making. The character Wonder Woman has
been an inspiring role model for many females of all ages since appearing in
comics back in the 1940s. With the
success of the recent film, her persona will continue to live on and thrive for
many more years to come.
choice for the actress to portray Wonder Woman (Diana) could not have been a
better decision. Gal Gadot is an
incredible woman and fits the role perfectly.
The fact that she served in the Israel Defense Force for two years as a
combat trainer makes her all the more badass (Bird, 2017). This completely suits the whole Amazon
warrior her character is to be. Also
watching a superhero kick the crap out of some Nazis is always fun.
the Amazonian warriors depicted in the film do not wear full body armor and
show some skin, the Male Gaze does not run rampant through the film. There is one scene with a full body reveal,
but this is not done in a sexual manner or to act as eye-candy. This scene was a heroic slow-motion strut as
she begins her attack through No-Man’s Land, deflecting bullets with her
gauntlets and leading the charge against the enemy. I wonder if her taking over and dominating
through No-Man’s Land is a metaphor for the rise of women’s influence and power
in the world.
gender stereotypes are referenced often throughout the film. Some of the main stereotypes are the roles
men and women play in society. Because
Wonder Woman comes from a society of fierce warriors completely isolated from
the rest of the world, she is confused how women do not fight and it is up to
the men to make decisions and enter battle.
There is even the differing definition of the role of a secretary. To us it is just a job, but to her it is
called slavery. There is one particular
scene where the roles of women are discussed quite briefly. While Diana tries on outfits, to look less
conspicuous, she asks how a woman is supposed to fight in the outfit. The secretary stated that women do not fight
but use their principles, especially if they intend to get the vote. Even after finally picking an outfit after
numerous attempts, she begins to make her way with sword and shield in
hand. Although this is a normal thing
for her gender, as defined by her culture and way of life, the viewer can
clearly see the reactions from bystanders gazing in confusion and murmuring to
themselves. Even though the murmuring is
inaudible to the listener, the viewer can imagine the thought being similar to,
“Why does she have a sword?”, “Women do not fight.”, “She must be mad.” Not long after the outfit shopping scene,
Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor are ambushed in an alley and immediately Steve
puts Diana behind him, once again reinforcing the “men fight” and “I’ll protect
you” stereotype as portrayed in Classic Hollywood Cinema. But what immediately follows is Diana doing
most of the fighting, taking on more than one guy at a time. Untouched and unharmed, Wonder Woman, both
the character and the film, rebel against typical stereotypical roles of the
two genders. Directly following the
alley fight, Steve and Diana go to inform a general about certain intel. Steve tells Diana to wait outside a room full
of established men of authority, but once again she does what she feels is
right and enters anyways. Soon all of
the men notice her presence, as she is the only woman in the room. Steve is ushered to get her to leave because
in their society, gender rules dictate that a woman does not belong in the
Council Chambers to discuss in the matters of men. This obviously reinforces the times in which
society acted during the wars.
gender roles are also mentioned in the beginning of the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie.
After completing a training exercise, Lara takes a shower, which did
nothing but appeal to the visual desire of the straight male viewers and was
completely unnecessary as she had stated what she was going to do right
beforehand. After hoping out of the
shower wrapped in a towel, her butler stands by with an outfit in hand. She insists that he is being funny and
rejects the outfit. He states he is
trying to turn her into a lady. Lara
then drops the towel as she walks away.
The butler then says that a lady should be modest. She agrees by repeating the statement in a
tone that indicates she does not identify as a “lady” or a woman of a primp and
proper society. The whole scene can be
considered as trying to appeal to both male and female members of the
audience. At the same time, the film
exposes parts of her body for the attention of the male viewer, but the film
also tries to explore her rebellious and adventurous attitude. Expose her physical character all while
exposing her mental and emotional character.
definitely is a large gap when it comes to the numbers of female employees
working in cinema compared to their male coworkers and competitors. On the top 250 grossing films of 2016, women
comprised three percent of composers (Lauzen, 2017).
That is such a tiny amount it’s almost unbelievable. Within the top 100 grossing films of 2016,
women represented only 19 percent of producers and three percent of
cinematographers as well (Lauzen, 2017).
These ridiculously low numbers are outrageous. With numbers like these, it is easy to see how
women do not get much say in the cinema industry, and if they do get a role
with any authority they are dwarfed by the enormous number of male
filmmakers. It’s definitely hard to
understand that some people probably believe there are enough women in the film
industry. This drastic gap in numbers is
astounding to say the least. There is
one simple solution than is not being taken that would help balance the realm
more women. Not only should major and
minor studios hire more women, but also hire people of different races and
backgrounds. A study by the Bunche
Center for African American Studies at UCLA indicate that films with a diverse
cast enjoy the highest median global box office and the highest median return
on an investment (UCLA, 2017). If Hollywood and other films studios are as
corrupted as they may seem to be, it would be logical to hire a far more
diverse work force based on that study.
If more women were employed behind the cameras, the concept of the Male
Gaze existing in movies will slowly diminish.
Then there will be less time focused on the bodies as objects and more
effort would be put into storytelling and plot structure to, hopefully, make up
for the lack of pointless visual stimuli.
One can only hope that the great example of Wonder Woman’s success would lead to progress and integration in
the workforce of cinema. Film studios
need to take notice of the examples laid out before them and listen to what
women have to say.
not-so-humble beginnings, women have slowly and continuously taken steps
further into equality in the cinematic industry. More women are needed in the industry to weed
out the sexist pigs running the show, especially behind the scenes. The world needs to see women more as human
beings rather than visual objects only to be seen and not heard. This not only applies to film, but to video
games and advertisements. With results
of both financial outcomes and cultural influence, having more women in
filmmaking are continuously proving that they can keep up, compete, and even
dominate over their male filmmakers.
These female directors should be dinning with the big dogs, they’ve
earned it. But everything is always
easier said than done. Although there is
much more progress still to be made, women are evermore inching closer and
closer to ending the reign of sexism in cinema and create equality for those
working in the industry worldwide. Surely
the steps to incorporate more women into cinema will be taken in the near
future and hopefully are being taken in the present. Although, time will tell if progress is made,
we, the viewers, filmmakers, studio executives need to take our own steps into
helping cinema improve.
is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” – Sarah Conner, Terminator franchise.