‘Women on film? Either naked or dead. Both is better’ – The gospel according to an unnamed producer in a conversation with Mel Gibson. Well. I don’t claim to be a feminist, nor do I usually act like one. I want doors held open for me, I enjoy the occasional cake baking session and I like a tidy house. Such a comment, however, could flare up the urge to burn a bra in the most traditional of housewives. How dare this ‘un-named producer’ (anonymous for fear of a law suit, I’m sure) reduce women in film to naked corpses?! This is the 21st Century, and surely his opinion has to be a one off… right?
Wrong. The belittling and stereotyping of women has been present throughout history, in and out of cinema, and just because some laws have changed, it doesn’t mean theflawsin thinking, have. So perhaps this particular breed of chauvinist is alone in his extremity (though is he… ?), but cinema has proved time and time again that it feels a lot more comfortable keeping women in unthreatening, love-fuelled and semi-naked (dead or alive) roles. Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to the cinema of the past.
Consider releases in recent years. Ignoring the obvious like Letters to Juliet and Valentine’s Day where the focus is love and the women are pathetic, even in films like Salt, Black Swan and The Reader, this idea of an ‘unthreatening’ woman is enforced; Jolie’s character in Salt turns out to be good in the end – not a threat as, for a brief, shining moment, she may have been. Portman struggles to find the dark within in Black Swan, which, although promoted throughout as being necessary, is actually shown to be her downfall, and Winslet won her Oscar for being naked and unshaven in The Reader. In a time where female unemployment figures are at a high and women are feeling less than inspired, where are the Sigourney Weavers and their Big Guns to keep us hopeful? I want to see women who can survive without men, know how to handle their finances, and can knock someone out if need be. Where are the actresses willing to be these female role models, and why are they happy to play the stereotypes?
Perhaps cynicism has a lot to do with my take on the matter. I could quite as easily write an article about men and ask ‘why aren’t there more films with men as house husbands and love thirsty cowards?’ However the answer to that would be the same as the answer to my previous female questions; because stereotypes are a fact of life. We recognise them, we can relate to them and no matter how hard we’re forced to argue the point in a politically correct fashion, we know that they hold a lot of truth to them.
Women are fascinated by love. There, I said it. And so it’s no surprise that so many rom-coms and romantic dramas with lovesick heroines are churned out of the studios – that’s life. But just as stereotypes can be true, they are also not exclusive and this is why I’m yearning for some more empowering female roles. Yes, a lot of us can create magic in the kitchen. Yes, many of us crave a husband and children and yes a lot of us worry about looking old. But, just because we can make a mean pie, want love and fear wrinkles, it doesn’t mean we can’t be as strong, powerful or brave as the best of men, and it certainly doesn’t mean that all we’re good for on the big screen is being naked or dead. When it comes to seeing what we can really do on screen, neither is better.