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You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby: Women Making Blockbusters

Recent successful films with women leads tend to either resort to the stereotypical (e.g., The HelpThe Twilight Saga) or require women to act like men (e.g., Bridesmaids and The Hunger Games). In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores this second type of film.

One of the biggest films of 2011 and Judd Apatow’s highest grossing U.S.-film to date is BridesmaidsThe Hunger Games just opened,  and had the third highest grossing opening weekend ever.

Bridesmaids Hunger Games

Both films have female protagonists and were written by women.  In both cases, the protagonist stretches the portrayal of women on film, while at the same time, making men’s movies (i.e., films that include generous amounts of potty-humor or violence) with women in the roles normally reserved for men.

Is this what my feminist foremothers had in mind? Is this equality? Using a feminist theoretical perspective in sociology generally means that women are understood to be treated as a minority group in a society (or subordinate to men) and men and masculinity are privileged. Sadly, there have been several recent examples of women’s subordination to men in the United States in just the last month (e.g., Congress’ all-male birth control panelRush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a slut). I think this is the first semester that I have not had to convince my students that women are treated as subordinate in America. Good job, America, for making that lecture easier.

Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy Bridesmaids. It was incredibly refreshing to watch a film with multiple female characters that actually had substance and the women were not just there as sexual objects for the male characters or their mothers, but the humor was male-centered–jokes about bodily fluids and drunkenness on par with The Hangover.

I have not seen or read The Hunger Games, but to my understanding, the book and film are quite violent. (I will eventually read the books and perhaps watch the movies. My screen time with violent films is quite limited with a three-year-old daughter.)

I’m not sure we’ve come that far if what sells big is still plotlines for men with women in the roles instead. Equality does not mean women should act like men in order to be treated as equals. Women are free to act like men if they choose, but other options should be just as acceptable beyond a few proscribed roles (sex object, mom, sister, casual girlfriend, manic pixie dream girl). And movies stretching the portrayals of womanhood in film should not just resort to casting women in the roles normally filled by men. Film should take women seriously as women.

Dig Deeper:

  1. List all of the movies you have watched in the last month. How many starred women? How were the women portrayed? Did they challenge stereotypes?
  2. What is feminist theory? How can you apply a feminist perspective to movie plots?
  3. Does the fact that women are making and staring in blockbuster films mean that women have “come along way”? Why or why not?
  4. With a partner, rewrite the story line of a blockbuster film you are familiar with so that women are not portrayed in stereotypical ways. How successful do you think this film would be compared to the original?