A long time ago in a recently-post-college world far far away, my friend Jessica and I endeavored to write a body-image blog. We didn’t have time to keep it up, so it’s been closed, but I realized a lot of good material got hidden away when we did that. Here’s one of those pieces, with some updates.
Director Elena Rossini had an interesting guest post over at The Beheld about women in movies and how their characters so often relate to their relationships instead of their individual accomplishments. She challenged herself and her readers to find a character who met all of these criteria:
- Protagonist of the TV show/film
- Over the age of 30
- Holds an important job and is successful at it
- Her physical appearance is peripheral to the story (and she can’t use her sex appeal to get what she wants)
- Her romantic/personal relationships are peripheral to the story
- The TV show/film takes place in “the real world” (not a sci-fi universe)
- She has to be alive by the end of the film
It was, sadly, a difficult challenge. Some great characters, like Captain Janeway from “Voyager” and Rita Vrataski from “Edge of Tomorrow,” don’t count because their shows/movies are sci-fi. There’s “Alphas,” which has two well-developed female characters whose relationships are side plots, but neither of them are over 30 and their jobs are not very clearly defined. And there’s Donna Noble – over 30, likeable (usually), with minimal romance and an unconventional physical appearance – but who doesn’t have an important job, isn’t the protagonist, and (spoilers?) basically dies. Oh, and sci-fi.
I fully support her inclusion of CJ from “The West Wing,” though, for obvious reasons:
Commenters brought up lots of interesting ideas, like which formats allow for more rounded female protagonists (ie. plot-driven shows like “Fringe”) and the subjectivity over the role a female character’s relationship plays in her life. Some viewers may think a character values a relationship more highly that other viewers do, and it all depends on their own personal experience.
Also? I have a major problem with her exclusion of sci-fi. Science fiction has always served as a commentary on our culture, whether it’s to criticize it or show it where it could go. Does that make Uhura, Zoe from “Firefly,” Ripley, or Sarah-Jane Smith from all eras of “Doctor Who” any less valid or inspiring?
With that in mind, I’m adding Ellie Sattler from “Jurassic Park.” She’s a talented grad student personally invited to give her scientific opinion on the very science-fictiony park. By the third movie (did anyone else even see that? because I kind of love it), she’s reduced to the background, married with a child and presumably through with her archaeology career. But she talks to Sam Neill about dinosaurs, not boys, so at least that holds up.
The gals at Beauty Redefined have a related post in which Geena Davis talks about research she’s supporting regarding the way women are portrayed in G-rated films and its impact on young girls. Some of the figures are pretty scary, like the fact that for every female character, there are three male characters. There’s been progress, like Pixar’s first female-led movie (“Brave”), groundbreaking comedies like “Bridesmaids,” and the upcoming all-female remake of “Ghostbusters,” but all it takes is a quick scan of upcoming trailers to know that there’s still much work to be done.
Who else can you guys think of to meet Rossini’s criteria? And what’s the deal with women in kid’s movies/shows? Is their portrayal as damaging as everyone says, and if so, how do we reverse it?