As many Aussies do over the holiday period, I went to the movies to watch some trash. I had a particular film in mind so I went to the website of the local cinema. As per usual every single movie advertisement featured men or male characters front and centre, with long lists of male actors names covering the poster and a few token females thrown in. The only exception to this was the poster advertising the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. On the poster for this movie there is a young woman, stripped to her waist. A man is standing behind her with his arm clenched over her breasts as if she is his possession. This year, as with every other year, women’s role as owned possessions is made crystal clear in Hollywood.
On New Years Eve I had the fortune to be invited to a feminist friends house and we welcomed in the new year in fervent discussion. I was discussing with her the above situation and she said something brilliant which clicked everything in place in my mind in relation to the way that women are depicted in malestream movies. She was talking about the Smurfs movie and how shocked she was that something so misogynist could be made in 2011! Her analysis was that every male smurf had a distinct personality which set him apart from the other smurfs and set the tone of their character. But when it comes to the token female smurf, her gender *is* her personality. (conversation with J, 1/1/12)
This insight hits the nail on the head for so much of film/literature analysis. It is also the reason why most movies being made nowadays only ever seem to have one female character, and why those token female characters are SO. FUCKING. BORING. Men who write female characters in movies mistake gender for character and personality. And women’s gender is our sexy, thin, beautiful, alluring sexxxxy sexiness. Sexy sexiness is our gender and hence our personality. There can only be one character whose gender is her personality or the film would have no traction as many/all of the characters would be the same.
Children’s movies like the Smurfs are especially bad at perpetuating gender as personality misogyny. A recent blog post by Margot Magowan, Girls gone missing: kids’movie posters in 2011, highlights the pervasive trend in kids movies of centering heavily on male characters and having little to no female presence in them at all. She also points out the importance of the poster images as reference points of our near total erasure. The fact is that men see women as having no distinct character or personality. We cannot have equal representation in movies where men are centralised, as our gender erases our potential as interesting characters.
What is worse is that this understanding that women’s gender is our personality permeates society as a whole and men interact with women as if we are our gender. A recent facebook conversation I observed involved a woman advertising a room in her house to let. A male ‘friend’ of hers asked, “Do you come with the room?” Another male ‘friend’ chimed in, “only if you make her.” Voila. So neatly these men reduced this young woman’s character and personality down to rapeable object.
If we are depicted as our gender, as sexy sex, as objects, as possessions, then men will continue to interact with us as if we are our gender and not as full human beings with personalities and characters that should have nothing at all to do with our gender. As long as women are shown as cardboard caricatures of what men wish us to be like we will never have realistic and diverse representations of what it means to be female. We are so much more than what we are depicted as.