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Female role models and the movies

By: Dee-Ann Schwanke

  |  Posted: Saturday, Dec 07, 2013 06:00 am

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Seen any good movies lately? Thereís a new rating system that might make you think twice about the next movie you watch.

The ďBechdel Test," originally developed by Liz Wallace and popularized by comic artist Alison Bechdel in 1985, tests if a movie has (1) at least two women who, (2) talk to each other (3) about something other than men. The test has evolved slightly since then, in that the women characters must have names, and that their conversations need to last at least 60 seconds.

While the test has circulated for the last three decades in various arenas, it hit the news recently when four independent Swedish cinemas began using it to rate their films. It is currently being discussed around the world and has brought to light the gender inequities in most movies' narrative.

The reality is that most films are about men. Women contribute little to the development of the story and are there simply as eye candy, to provide the back-story, or to support the man either as a romantic interest or as a sexy sidekick.

Limited character development is another by-product of this problem. Women in movies are either absent or one-dimensional, and most often not vital to the story line. Think about some of your favourite movies or those currently in theatres. Women are seldom cast in lead roles and when they do appear in secondary roles, just being a woman is character enough. Trying to identify their traits is difficult at best and rather than being invested with good substance, they inevitably end up as theatrical mirrors of the real heroes in the story. Often they become dull stereotypes that are tiresome and annoying. No wonder why Hollywood might not want more of them. One silly girl is enough.

Unfortunately the movies have stubbornly stuck to stereotypes that are half a century old. Generation D (digital) is not being told outright that women are inferior or they exist only for men, but they are being provided few examples of strong women on the big screen. Female protagonists with important jobs to do who have female friends or foes simply donít exist.

Am I suggesting boycotting movies that donít pass the test? No. That would be impractical. But I do think, however, that we need to talk about it. We should be intelligent observers of what we see. Do women really act this way? Are they really that shallow and solely interested in men? I donít think so.

Boys and girls need to see female leaders modelling strength, integrity, courage, and heroism. Mainstream media, however, fails to provide this to them. Young women need to dream how they might fit into this world, as heroines, yet movies are virtually devoid of successful, dynamic, interesting women who exist for their own right.

While the Bechdel test is not a perfect measure of Hollywoodís narrow portrayal of women in the movies, it does give us something to think about besides who looked best in tight leather pants while drop-kicking some male member of the Russian mafia.

Dee-Ann Schwanke is a masters student in international management.


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