James Kwak, Women and Media

Films have always tricked the audience into thinking that women are supposed to be these perfect creatures who are supposed to look and act a certain way to live comfortably in the world. There are three aspects of women that have always concentrated on, sex appeal, appearance, and personality. Most of the time, you’ll see women who are physically attractive and sensual in films for the mere purpose of satisfying the desires of the libido. Even in more dominant roles where the women have more power and are the main protagonist, it’s a requirement that they show off their bodies and act in a way that’s appealing to the males watching them. If a woman loses what media defined as her beauty, then they would either toss her away or cover her up with makeup or airbrush her images so she’s nothing but a shadow of her old self. A pattern among these particular women are their attitude, most females who achieve the headline in a film are usually very stoic, tough, and cool. Among male stars, you see a variety of attitudes, funny, angry, sad, murderous, but with women it seems that they need to be robots to achieve any type of recognition. If they’re not robots, then most of the time women are regulated to being sidekicks or simply background eye candy. As sidekicks, they’re assigned the task of giving purpose to the male, through means of arousing them or by playing the role of the kidnapped. Women have always been subjected to be these sex kittens for the male gaze to mentally undress and ravage; this is usually achieved through elegance, grace, or simple nudity. The female actors of this generation have particularly taken to showing off their sex appeal by exposing much of their body through skimpy or no clothing at all. In the past, it was enough for a woman to wear elegant clothing and ooze an aura of confidence and pure sexuality that captured the attention of everyone in the room. Nowadays, that simply isn’t enough to satisfy the need that the audiences have to see women exposed. When someone first sees a woman, they don’t see

James Kwak, Women and Media

them as a person rather as a thing made up of separate parts; if even a single part is somehow off to them, that woman will be classified as wrong and simply ignored and thrown away. People argue that the raw sexuality of a woman is needed to capture the audience’s attention, that showing off their breasts, midriff, and ass are actual good things. But most of the time it’s simply done in a tasteless way where the person is suddenly wearing these provocative clothes that do nothing to help the scene. It’s become a norm that if you’re not willing to shake parts of your body then the female role would be cast to someone who would, forcing the actress to decide what is more important, pride or money. It’s ridiculous to think that despite how far film has evolved in many aspects, one of the things that’s changed for women is that they are now forced to wear clothing that at times border on stupid and ridiculous simply for pleasure and entertainment of men. One prime example that comes to mind is the infamous scene in “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,” where Princess Leia wears a slave girl outfit in the form of a Metal Golden Bikini. This scene was highly irrelevant to the plot of the movie, but was put in because fans could not tell that the actress Carrie Fisher was a woman due to the long dresses she wore; what’s interesting is that instead of deciding to make more feminine clothing for the actress to wear they immediately came up with the idea of a two-piece bikini for her to be paraded around in. Women are given the illusion of power through starring and co-starring roles, where they play the strong confident woman who does what she wants and is sure of who she is. Contradictory evidence is becoming more obvious that film doesn’t care about a woman’s acting skill or the characters they play rather in the shapes and curves of their body. People who feel threatened by a woman in control and self confident are usually quick to label her as a feminist or lesbian. They are usually represented as crabby, ill tempered, and quick to judge until the

James Kwak, Women and Media

moment they get a significant other in their life, then they are brought up as happy and a joy to be around. In films where the woman is in control, they are usually forced to objectify themselves by walking around in a near nude state for the majority of the film or act in a manner unbefitting the role they’re playing. This is a way for films to show that even if the women are strong and in control, in reality they’re still not superior to men and are only there for people to look at their bodies. “Sin City” has a multitude of strong young women who appear to hold power, are level headed, and know exactly who they are and what their purpose is, yet they feel the need to walk around in clothing that arouses exactly the wrong type of response their attitudes are trying to achieve. Susan Storm in “Fantastic Four” and Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider” are both strong and independent women who would do anything to protect those they love, yet there are scenes in both movies where the key females appear completely nude, in ways that don’t progress the plot but simply there for the pleasure of the male gaze. Besides revealing clothing, it’s becoming a must for women who wish to feel sexy to wear thongs or lingerie underwear. This is to further illustrate that for a women to garner any type of attention, they must fully illustrate their willingness to show off their private areas. Even with all the advancements women have made in film, the first thing people will always look at is their body; it shows that film will always be a step behind the times even when given the chance to progress and move forward, the media seems to force them to take several steps backwards. Not only do media objectify and glorify women as these sex objects, but it always tricks people into thinking that the perfect woman must also look like models. There is rarely an instance when a female protagonist is not this bombshell of a woman who can turn heads and cause eyes to pop out. This has been a problem that has plagued film since its beginning, rarely has a woman who hasn’t been beautiful been placed in a role that presents them in an appealing

James Kwak, Women and Media

and provocative role. In film, women are expected to be thin, beautiful and well endowed, but even the women who fit these requirements are criticized because of an obscure flaw that would have gone unnoticed by the average viewer. Women who don’t meet these requirements are degraded through verbal and at times physical abuse, and they are made to feel as if they aren’t even human beings but merely things that don’t even deserve to exist. Media presents us with what is supposed to be the perfect woman, yet even they are quick to judge and reject when given the opportunity. The standards for women are so ridiculously high that nothing short of Aphrodite would appease critics, and even then there’s a near guarantee that they would find something wrong with her. There have been many examples of women endangering their lives in order to better fit how society wants them to look; anorexia to deal with problems concerning weight, plastic surgery to change how their body looks altogether, and dangerous cosmetic products to fix face issues. Breast implants in particular have been designated as a positive thing in many films, displaying that bigger breasts make everybody happy without showing the negative aspects such as the implants deflating or rupturing thus requiring multiple surgeries or serious infections like toxic shock syndrome that can be fatal. Despite the fact that there have been films and documentaries regarding the consequences of these acts, the pressures of the media keep many to continue these acts regardless of the consequences. Pamela Anderson is perhaps the most well known person in terms of having changed how her body looks, supposedly getting breast operations six times. Despite the fact that she was a very beautiful woman, she continued to augment her body several times to better conform to what is desirable to men. Another expectation of women is to dress in a manner befitting of someone who’s looked at by millions, men on the other hand can dress like slobs or thugs and still be respected and

James Kwak, Women and Media

looked up. For women, they need to dress in tight clothing that show off their figure and curves to garner the right type of attention; if they don’t then the media will jump on them like hounds and criticize everything they are. Even when acting and talking with confidence and a sense of self worth, if they aren’t wearing the right clothing, they’ll be ripped apart until they feel like everything they’ve done hasn’t been worth a dime. The saying, “the clothes make the man” can fit in perfectly with many situations that film deals with; ironically this phrase affects women more than it does men. It’s interesting when classifying women who attempt to fit in by wearing certain clothes; women who wear short skirts and tank tops are deemed as sluts, baggy clothes make them tomboys, and professional looking women are lesbians. However, in scenes at the beach or swimming pool, it’s alright for women to wear swimming suits that reveal every inch of their body without being judged. The perfect figure isn’t the only thing that’s needed for women to succeed in films; they also need a glamorized face that’s covered in makeup to hide any blemish. Roles for “normal” looking women are usually regulated as the social outcasts, psychopaths, or the butt of personal jokes. In movies, where the norms are treated as outcasts, the film goes about telling the audience that looking average is wrong, that every person must have the looks and figure of a supermodel or be deemed as freaks. It’s similar to the story of the ugly duckling that was cruelly insulted and degraded by the others but is suddenly accepted when he turns into this beautiful and majestic swan. “Pretty Women” and “Miss Congeniality” are films that focus around women who transform themselves through clothing and makeup and go through attitude changes when they are treated and looked at differently by the people around them. As soon as someone, no matter who, declares that you’re no longer beautiful in their eyes, it’s openly discussed that the woman should do whatever is necessary to alleviate the problem. There are so many wrong

James Kwak, Women and Media

messages being told to us by the media, but because of the control they seem to have over the general public and the pressure they inflict on us, it’s hard to fight against it when everyone around you would treat you as if you’re the problem. Over the years, women have always been regulated to the same roles in films despite the fact that so many more doors have been open for them. There may be several different roles that have been made available for women but still to this day, women who are seductresses and bitches or damsels in distress are the ones used most frequently. Recently, women have been given more diverse roles that separate them from their stereotypical past but even these roles are still underlined with the fact that they always need help from someone usually a male. It shows that even after they’ve been given power and strength, they still need help to truly succeed in their roles. “Alien,” released in 1979 set the stage for action movies that has a woman as the main protagonist, this film portrayed a woman who was strong, confident, and wasn’t afraid to kick ass. Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver set the stage for all the strong women we see as protagonists in modern day films as the very first to do so. The genre that has changed the most for women are horror films, whereas before it used to be the men who beat the horrible monster in the end and saved the day, leaving the women to be rescued, it is becoming increasingly common to see a woman enter that role and become the heroine that survives at the ending credits. “Scream,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” and “The Chainsaw Massacre” are all films that embody the strong female character who manages to defeat the main villain and live to tell the tale, even though those same monsters in horror movies tend to come back in sequels. In movies where the setting takes place in an education institution, it’s usually the women who are the bitches and instigates all the problems that are caused. These films portray women as manipulative and don’t care about anything but

James Kwak, Women and Media

their own needs. The reasons given are usually revenge, jealousy for various reasons, or insecurity that their power and influence over the public will grow weaker. “Cruel Intentions” is such a film where the main female antagonist manipulates everyone around her in order to get revenge on her ex-boyfriend by corrupting his current girlfriend, who is innocent and sheltered, and getting her to sleep with as many men as possible. This is a common theme to showcase that women, not all but most are secretly manipulative, paranoid, and jealous to the point where they will turn into monsters to make sure that nothing disturbs their perfect world. Throughout the generations, damsels in distress have been the one aspect in female roles that have never changed. These women are usually there for the sole purpose of giving men a reason for existing. Most of the time, they are kidnapped thus forcing the man to be given renewed invigoration to act however there are cases where rape and death are also used as motivation. So many films have used the damsel in distress plots but the most famous case has to be “James Bond” where there is always a female who needs rescuing from the dashing Agent 007. Even in the latest reincarnation of the series, the female secret agent who is supposed to have training and be strong is kidnapped and used as bait to capture James Bond. Although there are many women who have been given roles that portray them as a leader, strong and power, the majority of females are delegated to being man’s right hand, only there to given encouragement and meaning to the male. Realistic films that show women to be independent and self confident are often labeled to be supporting feminism and are negatively looked at. One film that comes to mind is “Juno,” where the main female is willing to go through her pregnancy by herself without the need of a man by her side. Some critics immediately labeled Juno as a feminist due to her being a confident and intelligent young woman. However, this film immediately separated itself from the usual pack of female orientated movies by allowing the woman to be herself instead of

James Kwak, Women and Media

someone who society wants her to be; several people praised its uniqueness and garnered it much positive attention. This shows that films like “Juno” are so rare because everyone was mentioning that it was a breath of fresh air, and proves that films like this can do well without the need to show near nudity, supermodel looking women, or stereotypical roles. A disturbingly common feature in movies where the women has the starring role is the way they act. Many times, they come off as a stoic, calm, and tough individual who has the personality of a rock. While their male counterparts are allowed the freedom of having a multitude of personalities, the only way the film industry will allow a woman the privilege of being the protagonist is to make them robots. It can also mean that a woman must always be on their guard because there will always be an insecure man who wants to usurp their power and threaten everything they’ve worked for. Being charming and charismatic could be shown as a sign of weakness and open up the door for an overbearing male to take over what power she’s managed to obtain so far. There are many cases where a man sees a strong woman in charge and feels the need to tame her, so to speak, to show off that he can seduce any woman he wishes. This usually opens up a possible violent outburst if the female responds in a negative fashion often ending up in physical abuse, rape, and/or murder. More often than not, fear takes over these once strong women and turns them into weak creatures that are afraid to do anything without a man telling them what to do. One role that has gone through a drastic change is that of the housewife. Before the housewife used to represent a loving wife and mother who was pretty much loyal and obedient to the family, and expected to take care of the household chores. In films nowadays, women are seen as using this stereotype to live a secret double life of sexual activity because people don’t presume that the meek housewife would be capable of such acts. Middle age women are

James Kwak, Women and Media

represented by a group of sexually active women who have grown bored of their life as a family woman and go out and have affairs with younger men in hopes of recapturing their youth. This new genre of sexual representation is further illustrated by the introduction of the MILF, which stands for Mother I’d Like to Fuck. This term describes a sexually attractive older female, generally between 35 and 50 in age and does not necessarily have to be an actual mother. This coin was popularized in the iconic film “American Idol,” but has been around the internet for years before. Women have come a long way in film, yet they will always suffer the limitation that media and society itself has place on them. They will mostly be looked upon as sex objects or helpless damsels in distress by the male gaze, often ending up in a big mess for the woman herself. It seems that no matter what women do to make themselves acceptable in the eyes of the media, there will always be something that groups them into a negative class. Traditionally, women have been used as decoration to further elevate the status of the man but given the progress that women have made and are continuing to make in today’s world, there might come a day when woman can act as themselves in films without feeling the pressures of what media expects them to be.

James Kwak, Women and Media

Final Paper Bibliography: http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_sex.cfm http://filmtvindustry.suite101.com/article.cfm/women_in_film http://www.helium.com/knowledge/44156-the-female-as-a-sexual-object-in-male-orientedcinema http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/22/entertainment/main5409814.shtml http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1499536/the_female_as_a_sexual_object_in_male.htm l?cat=9 http://org-cannes2009.rfi.fr/en/content/20090512-sexist-Cannes-eyecandy-isabelle-huppertwomen-freckles-movies

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