Women in Media
March 5, 2020
TV shows and movies are a significant part of our lives, and they can even shape the person we become. After all, it is rare to find someone who did not have a fictional character who they admired and wished to be like. We admire these characters as we can relate to them and wish to overcome the challenges in our lives- just as they do. With the 21st century’s ever rising awareness of social issues, many expect to see a change in how women are portrayed in movies and TV shows. Traditionally, the protagonist of this media would be a straight white male, and a woman would be, at the very best, his sidekick. Sadly, it is quite difficult to name any female characters that are part of the main cast who are not typecast as love interests. This resulted in outrage as women were being portrayed as nothing but a potential partner, who needed a man to take care of her. Currently, inequality between males and females is among the most discussed topics. Thus, there is an increasing demand to see women in leading roles.
This has resulted in Hollywood trying its best to meet the demand, and so the trope of the strong independent women is the newest cash cow. There is nothing wrong with doing what the public wants to see: it is the entertainment industry after all. What makes such media so disgusting however is not the concept itself, but how it is executed. In a world where doing the most insignificant things, such as saying that we live in a bad society will gain one so much support, it is not that hard to label a movie as being “a revolutionary statement that single-handedly destroyed the patriarchy”.
Instead of being brainless love interests, women are now portrayed as Mary Sues who can do no wrong. This is also a problem, as neither of these characters are anywhere near realistic. Humans are complex beings, who have flaws and make mistakes that they learn from which allows them to grow. By showing these women as having no flaws whatsoever, apart from some “cute” defects, a negative message is sent yet again. Some of the best examples of such “flaws” include: low self confidence, clumsiness, having a bad memory, and more. These characters are one dimensional, and are a product of lazy writing. However, there are sometimes genuine flaws with the character. These are not dealt with properly. Often, they are not shown as something to be fixed via life lessons and/or a solid ass kicking, but as something to be celebrated. This blocks character development, as nothing is different with the character in the end. Compare and contrast Thor and Captain Marvel, both super strong protagonists that started out as being extremely arrogant. In Thor’s case, his arrogance is his downfall, and he has to pick himself off the ground without his powers, teaching him humility and allowing him to earn his powers back. Captain Marvel began the movie arrogant, saved the world, and ended it arrogant.
Personal relationships have unsurprisingly been thrown to the back seat when writing the storyline. After all, if the main character herself has no personality whatsoever, we shouldn’t expect much of any other character. Often, there are just enough moments between the main character and her female friend to say “Girl Power”. Otherwise, the friend serves as comedic relief and a personal Wikipedia. And of course, no boyfriends. This is a bit more forgivable: not everyone is in a relationship, nor are they interested in one. If it’s already established that the character has strong connections that she can rely on, there is absolutely no need for a romantic partner. However, if there are no friends to rely on, and the partner is poorly written to the point of having toxic characteristics, then there is again, a problem.
People need friends, and main characters are no exception. Interactions with people they trust is often the best way to make audiences like a character more, as a “pet the dog” moment. Such scenes reveal the emotional side of characters, allow for character development, but most importantly, humanize them. Not including such moments is a marvelous failure made by screenwriters and directors. The world may be ending, all of her family has been killed in front of her, and her friends have been kidnapped, but the biggest outburst shown is a lot of crying, and back to normal while looking flawless the next scene. For example, look at Scarlett Witch. After her brother, Pietro, was shot and killed, she had a mental breakdown. It was very clear that she had been severely affected by this incident, and fans were left wondering how this would affect her character in later movies. There was absolutely no sign of grieving the next movie. She seemed to have completely forgotten that she had a brother in the first place.
Furthermore, women are written as men, by men. There are simple differences in how women act, think, etc. compared to men which cannot be accurately replicated by a male writer. What ends up happening particularly with female superheroes or any action based film is that their greatest strength is physical. Physical strength, of course, is not to be underestimated, particularly if your job involves any sort of physical threat. Captain Marvel is perhaps the biggest offender. Women are simply different compared to men. There are other types of strength, such as emotional strength, compassion, and more. Portraying physical strength as the chief strength of women doesn’t send a particularly good nor accurate message.
Media should not be written by men, for money, but by women, for women.