A few years ago, I might not have clicked on this link.
I backed away from conversation whenever the word “feminism” popped up. I was implicitly taught by society that the word “feminism” was like a swear word. The second “f-word,” if you will. Despite being raised by a mother who valued female empowerment and inheriting those values from her, I did not self-identify as a feminist. Then, a couple years ago I took a Gender Communication class and I realized…I was indeed a feminist. I just hadn’t realized. The reason I had not identified as such until then was due to my construal of the word “feminist.” My previous definition was deeply rooted in what society had chosen to let me believe a feminist was: a bra-burning, man-hating, entitled woman with a chip on her shoulder. I thought since I did not behave that way, I must not be a feminist. What it took me far too long to realize was that this is miles away from the heart of feminism.
The desire for equal treatment based on the fact that I am a human being and the belief that things can and should get better.
Just simply that. Equality. Not only from a legal standpoint, but from a more deeply rooted sociological standpoint, which is where the real battle lies.
I imagine some of you shaking your heads as you read, thinking that this is now a moot point, that feminism has already accomplished what it set out to do. Women have the vote. We have jobs and families (and at the same time! Yee-gads! Who’da thunk?) But the sad truth is, sexism and the belief that women are the “losers” in society whereas men are the “winners” is far from dead.
I used to believe that sexism was a thing of the past but have been forced to rethink this mindset. I have heard some amazingly sexist things from the old and young, males and females alike, often hidden behind the guise of a “joke.” Sexism used to be blatant, but like a sickness exposed to antibiotics, it has morphed and evolved into a much more subtle version in twisted desire for survival, making it harder to combat. Females are now expected to laugh at “ironic” sexist jokes or risk being labeled a “bitch” who simply doesn’t understand humor. It’s all in good fun, we’re told, and we must simply play along.
One instance of a sexist mindset stands firm in my mind. A young female acquaintance of mine argued that women should not be leaders in churches or co-ed bible study groups because their experiences could not apply to men’s lives and the men would not get anything out of listening to a woman speak in this setting. This young woman did not raise her voice or get angry, but she genuinely believed this to be reality and could not be convinced otherwise.
If we’re following that train of thought and accepting it as a reality, then men have nothing of value to say to me, either. The American male experience does not encompass all past and present experiences of human existence; same with a female experience. We all have something to say to each other–age, occupation, and gender aside. This mindset serves no logical purpose other than an updated way of silencing women.
And nowhere is equality for women (or lack thereof) more obvious and on display than in the media. Oh yes, women are present and accounted for. But think of the last movie you watched with a prominent female character and ask yourself these questions:
- How many women were present in the movie or tv show? More than one? How big of a role did this woman play in the overall plot? Getting kidnapped and rescued by a male lead does not count.
- Did the female’s role and actions in the context of the movie center around a romantic relationship with a male?
- Did a female speak to another female about something other than her relationship with a male, such as her hopes, dreams, goals, and life in general?
- Was the female sexualized and objectified by others in the movie or TV show? That is, did those around her constantly make comments about her appearance or sexuality instead of her actions or personality? Flip flop gender roles. Would the comments about appearance or sexuality sound strange or out of place if she were male?
What camera angles did the director choose to use when she was onscreen? Did these angles (downward angled cleavage shots, upskirt shots, etc.) emphasize her sexuality or were they neutral?
By reducing a female character in a movie to her appearance and her relationship with a man, we silence her, and simultaneously, all females. A well-written female is an endangered species that has never had the privilege to be at the top of the food chain; they are elusive aliens to Hollywood writers and cannot be adequately captured onscreen.
In a series of blog posts, I will look at some strong female characters and the movies they were in. In the context of these posts, the definition of “strong” character does not refer to physical strength or even mental strength. I define “strong” as strongly written, strongly acted, and above all: real. Could this woman be someone I would know in real life? Does she have strength, flaws, and a life of her own? Does she propel the plot forward? Is she relatable? Most importantly, does she impact me in some semi-long term way? A “strong” female character does not necessarily have to be infallible or perfect, but she should speak to something inside of us, like a mirror reflecting part of ourselves, instead of being a glorified piece of scenery.
I want to hear from you (both males and females!): what female characters in movies and TV do you believe to be strong (not necessarily perfect) characters and why? Which female characters did you look up to as a child and why? Who do you look up to now? Which female characters inspire you?