Guest Post: Male Bias in Movies

Saturday, 23rd May 2009 at 8:00 UTC 2 comments

OK, I’m planning to start a regular-ish Saturday guest slot for people making what I consider good points on issues around Gender and Feminism. I don’t write very well on the subject, and wish I did, but also, its an area I wish people talked positively about more often. This weeks guest is Helen, talking about a simple test of women’s roles in films and whether they manage more than just a supporting, romantic/sexual attraction add-on.

Gender relations is a rather tricky kettle of fish. In a previous note, I talked about the Bechdel Test which is a very simple measure of whether women are properly represented in films…

A film passes the Bechdel test if…

  1. It has two or more women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something other than a man.

One of the reasons this is quite a satisfying measure is that it is so simple and yet so many films fail. After writing the original post, I saw both the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the Fantastic Four. LoEG had one female character. The Fantastic Four had about three female characters, none of whom spoke to each other (to be fair there was a near miss at the end, in which two women got a drink together but didn’t actually say anything before the camera angle changed). The Da Vinci Code only just passed, in the last ten minutes of the film, and had four female characters (only one named) to its myriad male characters.

God knows why I watched the Da Vinci Code, but I was disappointed by the other two. I wasn’t exactly expecting brilliance but I like superhero films and I know plenty of women who do. Why then, are we so underrepresented in the cast, relegated to the one stock "girl" character and/or love interest?

It’s also something found in kids’ movies and TV. Not all of them to be fair – of Disney movies, Jungle Book, Bambi, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Pirates of the Caribbean (all the trilogy), The Lion King, Aladdin, all fail. But Beauty and the Beast (I think. If you count tea pots), The Little Mermaid (there’s a maid who talks at Ariel while she’s bathing) and Cinderella pass. Feel free to add your own examples of failures and passes.

Perhaps this apparent discrepancy is down to style of film. All the failed Disney films mentioned have an element of the "buddy" story, two (sometimes three) guys, on a journey of discovery. With Jungle Book, it’s Mowgli, Baloo, and Bagheera. In Bambi, it’s Bambi and Thumper (and Flower, of course!). Toy Story it’s Woody and Buzz. In Pirates, Jack and Will. In the Lion King, Simba, Timon and Pumbaa. In Aladdin, it’s Aladdin and the Genie. And of course, Abu. It’s a time-honoured tradition. Best pals, have fun, beat the bad guy, one of them gets the girl. There are hundreds of movies with this template, even the Muppet Movie starts with Kermit and Fozzie on a roadtrip.

And it makes me wonder what the female equivalent of this is. Thelma and Louise, obviously. Mamma Mia certainly comes close, being about one woman and her daughter, both of whom have two best friends with whom they can sing Abba songs. And both characters get the guy (not the same one, obviously) while their friends are humorous and supportive in the background.

It also makes me wonder what it is that means that in all these various movies where one guy "roadtrips" or equivalent, that a woman so rarely comes along. Is it to prevent inevitable romance? (One thing I will say for the Da Vinci Code is that I was pleased that the two main characters managed to grow merely a warm friendship through all the trials they suffered together.)

Is it because the idea of women roadtripping seems inherently wrong? Perhaps, alas, here’s the rub. In old tales there are always wandering knights, and wandering minstrels, while women were staying put having babies. True, there are the occasional tales where women climb up glass mountains wearing iron shoes (there are always iron shoes for some reason) but it’s only in the course of true love. Even poor Jane Eyre fled from Thornfield to avoid damaging her chastity and not out of any spirit of adventure.

So maybe my conclusion has to be we women, and anyone else who feels underrepresented by the film industry (LGBTQI people and people from ethnic minorities, step this way) should all stop watching silly male buddy movies, loose the bonds of our oppression and go on one big roadtrip. Who needs movies when we have real life?

Let’s ride into the sunset!

(Does anyone here have a car?)

This post originally appeared on Facebook, but you can find it reposted on her blog here.

T’s and C’s: You send me the post or a link to it, I copy and paste it across to my blog. Please supply a name to be posted under (pseudonyms are fine), or state a desire for anonymity, and tell me whether or not to link back to an original post/your blog. Posts do not have to already have appeared on a blog, or indeed online, must be substantially your own work, and broadly fit the Feminism/Gender theme.


Entry filed under: Culture, Gender, Guest, Media, Women.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Anna  |  Saturday, 23rd May 2009 at 19:19 UTC

    Good post! I’ve become more consciously aware of how films present the vast majority of women as thin, conventionally attractive and preferably blonde and I know that this is falsification, but it takes the Bechdel rule to make me remember that conversation between women in films is either non-existant or frequently based either around men or on the tropes of female rivalry and jealousy. It’s almost bizzare how everyday conversations between women about work, politics, art, whatever are so rare on film.

    And, actually, thinking about it, most of my favourite (stereotypically studenty indie) films totally fail the test. ‘Being John Malkovich, Spirited Away and all the Studio Ghibli films I’ve seen pass. Most of the rest don’t.

    Also, there was a thread on Racialcious a while ago about what a race version of the Bechdel test would look like, it’s pretty interesting.

  • 2. tiggs  |  Monday, 1st June 2009 at 9:11 UTC

    Yay! The new Star Trek film passes the Bechdel Test.




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