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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.