Sunday, May 4, 2014

Women in Television and Film: Beyond the Bechdel Test.

It is a struggle to find quality female characters on television and in film today. With the massive trend of superhero movies over the past decade, we need to ask why there hasn't been a single film headed by a female superhero, and why there is nary a woman in sight in the plans for the new Star Wars film. Men outnumber women 3 to 1 in film (unchanged since the 60s), and women make up only 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors in major motion pictures.

On the television front, the extremely popular HBO franchise Game of Thrones prominently displays violence against women, even going so far as to change the source material to add more rape. It seems that the creators of these shows believe that more violence against women will bring more viewers. And unsurprisingly, they are right.

The new movies that try to focus on female characters seem not to know what to do with them. The Other Woman one would think might have some promise, and people flocked to the theaters to watch a movie about women (wow who would have thought!) bonding over getting revenge on a man who is using them, but it fails to deliver the charm of the First Wives Club, a similar but far better executed film made in the 90s. Even in a film with a main female cast, the writers seemed not to know how to fill the time when they weren't talking about the man they had in common. Can Hollywood move beyond cliches to try and appeal to women, or is Bridesmades the best it will get?

There is also the troubling issue of less representation, more sexual violence in media and video games, increasing sex segregation from childhood, and easy access to pornography breeding a generation of young men who do not see women as anything more than a tool for their personal fulfillment rather than a person with their own needs. This is the sort of thing we need to be tackling with more diverse representations of women in television and film. We need to teach our children that women are full human beings.

It is not enough just to have women in a movie. It is not enough just to have two women speak to each other about something other than a man, but when films are even failing this simple test it is a quite distressing phenomenon. We need more women directing films. We need more women producing television shows. We need more women of color in all areas of media. If this happened we might see more diverse representations of women in which the characters aren't killed off for character development for men, and where rape and violence aren't used as cheap plot devices or jokes. It's time to not only meet the test, but to go even further.

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