Blog Post #1: Male Fantasy, Female Nightmare

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*Picture from “ashleygriffinofficial.blogspot.com”

In her essay, ‘The Image of Women in Film,” Sharon Smith discusses the problematic portrayals of women in film.  According to Smith, women are most often presented as pretty playthings to satisfy the desires of the male hero.  The central mission of female characters is almost exclusively tied to finding a male love interest.  Written by males, women are either frigid shrews, frustrated by repression, or sexually savvy, bodacious babes.  The shrews, inevitably, are “saved” by the suave charm of the virile male lead.

Sexuality in men is applauded; their conquests seen as badges of erotic esteem, while pleasure in women is deemed unnatural.   Females who enjoy sex are commonly depicted as femme fatales—vixens whose beauty poses obstacles to the morals and mission of the protagonist who is, of course, male.  Think of films like Carrie.  After reaching puberty, the girl’s powers manifest in horrific ways, leading to the destruction of the student body.   Or Bedazzled, in which the devil is played by bombshell Elizabeth Hurley.  Sexual potency becomes a recipe for evil.  Then think of films like Wedding Crashers.  The protagonists are depicted as likable, fun-loving buddies, who are well-intentioned despite their promiscuous playboy ways.

With women on the screen, intellect and individuality are subservient to fulfilling fantasies of heterosexual men—an observation made more troubling when one recognizes real world parallels.  There are men who, indeed, grow to view women as sexual objects rather than flesh and blood beings who deserve equal representation in the political, business, and domestic sphere.

Smith believes:  “Films use all their powers of persuasion to reinforce—not the status quo, but some mythical Golden Age when men were men and women were girls” (17).  This is where we disagree.  She believes film representations are more grounded in fantasy than real world roles.  I, however, believe it is the norm—the “status quo”—for women to be expected to rely on appearance to advance in society.  I believe it is the “status quo” that fuels a culture in which rape is trivialized and glamorized; that women are deemed ditzy inferiors incapable of political prowess and business expertise.  Films are more than just fantasies; they are social scripts.  This provides a dangerous challenge.  For how are we to overcome this cycle?  Merely adding female filmmakers to the mix won’t suffice since women, too, are brainwashed by sexist ideology canonized in motion pictures.

The problem is not that women are presented sexually; it’s that they are ONLY presented sexually.  Men, contrastingly, are shown in a variety of lights, highlighting a diverse, more complete human experience.  Women in film are designed by male filmmakers to bring their fantasies to light.  Until we have women representing uniquely female fantasies, the same tired tropes are bound to appear again and again and again.  Like Smith, I believe studying females in the field is instrumental in providing models.  But effective change, I believe, is impossible without massive action on the part of female viewers and creators alike.

Source: Smith, Sharon. “The Image of Women in Film: Some Suggestions for Future  

          Research.” Ed. Sue Thornham. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. New York: New York

          UP, 1999. 14 – 19. Print.

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4 comments

  1. First and foremost, I love how you integrated the links into your analysis. It was very intriguing to click them and find the hidden gems that exemplified your points. Going off your disagreement with Smith, I believe the only way to overcome the harsh realities of the “status quo” is through educating the average man and woman about how women are only represented sexually on film. It could be a simple educational video or a full blown college credit class; anything can help. The average citizen needs a shocking paradigm shift that will allow them to realize how degrading film is to women.

  2. I really like the point you make in your final paragraph about how women being presented as sexual is not the problem, but how the problem is that it is the only way they are being presented in film. I believe it really highlights the inequality taking place in modern cinema because in the films in which women are presented sexually they are considered slutty. However, when men are presented in the same why they are not only applauded, but become more desirable to women. I think the example you give with the movie Wedding Crashers is a perfect example of this double standard. In the movie, the two main characters are idolized by their peers by the amount of women they are able to sleep with that they meet at weddings. Before you presented the film as an example, I thought of the women as slutty and trashy, but regarded the male characters as charming. Why? They were doing the same exact thing as the men. Why are only the women being looked down upon? I think this is why Smith believes the stereotype of women in film as such a problem because it is intern shaping our own personal views of society. I like how you incorporated female viewers into the solution because it is not just the filmmakers that can make the change. Their needs to be a greater demand for films in which the females are shown in a more diverse light.

  3. It’s interesting to examine the different manifestations of that sexual objectification. The sexual intrigue of the femme fatale is very different from the childlike sexual innocence of the “prize” or damsel in distress. The broad spectrum of sexual stereotypes manifests itself in a variety of archetypal characters. The question becomes: how do storytellers in the modern era of film overcome these stereotypes while still utilizing characters and motifs that will be familiar to and relevant for current audiences?

  4. I definitely have to agree with the points you made in your blog! I think that they’re stereotyped into two extremes. Females must be sub servant and inferior to men or must add onto the male lead’s character. I think that modern society’s job now is to change this status quo. Women not only deserve to be represented better, but they should be represented as humans. Not objects. I also really enjoyed that you placed links in your blog to relating sites. It was really cool!

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