Weddings, Babies and Wine — What Screenwriters Think Women Are All About
Dissecting cinema’s shallow female characters
I hate starting a new movie, only to discover that its main female character is another one-dimensional, cardboard cutout shaped like a woman.
You know what kind I mean.
The kind that barely has any backstory or lines and is hypersexualized throughout most of the movie. You can tell from a mile away that she was either written by a man or for the pleasure of a male audience only.
In recent years there's indeed been an influx of movies featuring complex, multifaceted female characters - like Nomadland with Frances McDormand that won this year's Oscar for Best Picture.
Still, not everyone in the movie industry got the memo that perpetuating female stereotypes can be offensive, not really entertaining, and it negatively impacts the way our society views women.
Female characters are either sexy or basic
Since the beginning of cinematic history, female characters are under-represented and often restricted to 'the easy' categories.
There are the female characters who only exist to be hypersexualized; they are just props for the audience to drool over - like Megan Fox in Transformers or practically all of James Bond's 'girls'. They usually wear little to no clothing, and the movie camera is weirdly focused on their bodies.
Those are the 'Sexy Lamp' characters because you could basically replace them with a lamp, and the story wouldn't change one bit. And sure, there are some movies where it's men who are being hypersexualized (ahem, Magic Mike). But, still, it's four times more likely for women to be shown undressed in films than men.
In addition to the 'Sexy Lamp', one of the most frequently portrayed female characters in movies is the 'Basic Female'. This is where the weddings, babies, and wine stereotype comes in. She is, as the name suggests, basic in every single way except her looks. Because the producers still need to make sure people will watch the movie, and who would want to do that without a pretty face in it, right?
The 'Basic Female' is attractive, but she doesn't flaunt it or is particularly aware of it; we all know nothing spoils a perfectly good woman like self-confidence. And she usually has a bit of a backstory of her own - like planning her wedding since she was six years old. She might even get lucky and have some occupation, like working in a magazine, being a school teacher, or… working in a magazine. Seriously, why do they always work as journalists?
But her job or any ambitions that she might have are not her number one priority - that would be weddings and babies. And until Prince Charming comes along and rescues her from her mundane life, she tries to enjoy herself while sipping wine with her girlfriends and trying not to think too much about weddings and babies. Which admittedly can be challenging, seeing how other women in the movie are either getting married, pregnant, or are already married with babies and can finally consume large quantities of wine while nagging their annoyed husbands.
'Basic Females' can be found in various movies: dramas, horrors, and thrillers, but they are definitely the most common in the comedy genre - like most comedies starring Kate Hudson.
The parade of irrelevant female characters
And then there is a myriad of irrelevant female characters who usually exist just to fill the background and perpetuate even more sexist or racist stereotypes.
There are the asexual career women who have cold hearts and hate kids - just like Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada. There are the non-conventionally attractive women in glasses who live alone with a cat, psychotic ex-girlfriends, crazy Latinas, angry black women, and many more.
And lastly, there are the 'disposable' women who are only there to be kidnapped, raped, tortured, or murdered. Examples of this trope can be found in, for instance, the Taken movie series or Django Unchained. What is particularly problematic about this one is that even though both male and female characters are subjected to violence in movies, it is not near the same type of violence. Violence against women is often intentionally sexualized in a way that is supposed to make it 'exciting' for the male audience.
Even though the likes of Quentin Tarantino have been quick to dismiss the notion that violence on screen has any impact whatsoever on real life, some studies prove this assumption wrong. Cinematic portrayals of sexual violence against women can further contribute to its trivialization, especially if it's already trivialized on screen.
We need better representation of women in film
Women deserve to be portrayed as more than just uncomplicated, sexy, or plain creatures with two lines of dialogue but ten nudity scenes.
I'd really like to see more female characters whose priority isn't motherhood or domesticity, who don't exist solely for the male gaze, and most importantly - who aren't always white. The lack of representation of women of color in the cinema industry is another big yet often largely forgotten issue.
We need more female characters who come from diverse backgrounds and have complex backstories that we, women in real life, can actually relate to. And that doesn't mean to stop portraying married women with babies altogether, quite the contrary - I'd love to see more of their realistic representation.
Mothers who don't always look picture-perfect after having three kids. Mothers who don't have to pay the price for their work success. And mothers who don't overindulge in alcohol because their husband is a kid himself.
I know that slowly we're getting there, and I love to see it. But we're still years, or maybe even decades away, from complex female characters being the norm.
Hopefully, we'll get there sooner than later. And for now, I will personally stick to movies with actual strong and interesting female characters.
This story was originally published on Medium.