Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Over-sexualized, Over-simplified, Headless Women of Hollywood

When I was young, my family got me addicted to online gaming. It started with Runescape, and then my older brothers found World of Warcraft. My family was hooked, we LOVED how nice the graphics looked, and spent way more time online than I care to admit. I was 11 and I didn't have the same gaming skills as the rest of my family. I died constantly, and after a few weeks, my eldest brother had enough. He told my dad he didn't want to play when I was online anymore because they had to wait for me to revive and constantly try to heal me. 
World of Warcraft Bloodfist Armor Male and Female
Being the precocious child I was I immediately chimed in, "It's not my fault I always die! My armor just isn't as good so I get damaged quicker!" They didn't understand. "No! Look!" I said, "YOUR armor covers your WHOLE body. Mine only covers a little bit. That's why I die. I get cut up way more and it makes my health go faster!" My dad and my brothers burst into laughter. I obviously didn't get it, but no one would explain why they were laughing, or why I was wrong. This was my first experience with female characters being hyper-sexualized. I realized something was different, I just didn't know why. As I've grown up and learned more, I realize now the only reason the two sets of Armor are different is because players want a sexy female character. The stats for the armor is exactly the same, and the item is the same regardless. The only difference is when you put it on, one is designed to look sexy, the other is designed to look like something that would protect your vital body parts in a battle. For the most part, this is how all games are designed. Female characters are sexy, male characters are more practically designed. 

Now I realize how different male and female characters are treated in media. It's interesting to see how many female characters are either a sex object or a character with no substance. Media has gotten to the point where there are tests to see if the female characters have any worth. The Bechdel test requires a story to have (1)at least two women in it, with names, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The Mako Mori test requires a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story. Only 58% of films pass the Bechdel test. Interestingly enough I've never run into any male equivalent tests. Despite our population being 50% male and 50% female, there's a discrepancy between how males and females are portrayed. Which is not always a bad thing, but is an example of how something is missing. For me, it's hard to find a relatable female in media. Many female characters fall into stereotypical tropes like the hot bimbo or unattractive nerd. It's hard to find characters that are smart and attractive.  Even our "feminist princesses" wear metal bikinis while chained up to space slugs, or end up in relationships.  

The problem is that, sometimes, even before we're introduced to a character and know anything about them they're already sexualized. Recently, I was introduced to the concept of "The Headless Women of Hollywood". In a lot of media advertisements, the women are sexualized. Many movie posters are created using pictures of women's bodies, without showing their faces.Without the titles of the films, I wouldn't ever be able to guess what the movie is about. Based on this poster for "The Comebacks" I'd guess the movie is about a girl playing football. (Spoiler Alert! It's not.)  So why create a poster designed this way? Because the movie is a male comedy, and the add is created to draw the attention of guys. This kind of advertisement is used even in Chick flicks like "John Tucker Must Die" so hyper-sexuality is an all around deal. I'm not saying there's no strong, smart women in media; I'm just saying it's easier to find a strong, smart man. 

Discussion Questions:
1. Can you name a movie that passes the Bechdel Test?
2. Can you name a movie that passes the Mako Mori Test?
3. Do you think there is a problem with how women are portrayed in media? 

1 comment:

  1. Finding a movie that passed the Bechdel test was fairly easy. For example, the recently acclaimed movie 'Hidden Figures' definitely passes the test. The movie is about three brilliant African-American women at NASA who served as the brains behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

    Finding a movie that passes the Mako Mori test was bit more difficult...most of the movies that came to mind were way older (like 'Sister Act 1 & 2'), so I tried to find a more recent movie and all I could come up with was 'Pitch Perfect'.

    It's clear that female representation in movies is valued at relationships, i.e. the Bechdel test - having two women talk to each other without mentioning a man. More movies need to pass the Mako Mori test because I believe the importance of female independence, especially in movies, shouldn't be understated. More women need to be represented and also stand alone, in their characters, in action and/or sci-fi movies. Women's strength and independence is way more important than how many women they talk to.