There are a lot of thoughts about the differences between how men and women are portrayed in film, thereby creating a lot of discussion about how we interpret these representations. It’s one of the discussions relating to feminism I adore because many people are very switched on with regards to the topic and very ready to speak about it. However, there are some thoughts I’ve heard frequently that make me cringe quite a lot. It is the label “not a feminist” that sparks a plethora of thoughts, some written in this post.
Someone told me that both they and their friend did not see Mia from La La Land as a “feminist” character. And here lies my problem with the use of the word feminist (who knew I’d ever have an issue with the word?!). Society is deciding there is a fixed definition of the female representation of a “feminist”, and therefore who is “good” for feminism. *Sighs.* Accidentally, well-informed people are oppressing women and, by extension, the representations of women in film.
Society has decided that a brilliant male character in film can be funny or humourless; sensitive or insensitive; kickbutt or timid; confident or shy. We will, as an audience, accept them. However, a representative (and therefore “feminist”) female in film should only be the attributes society deems as positive and important. To be a good representation of a “feminist,” a woman must be strong, intelligent and inspiring. Below is how I believe film defines these characteristics, for the sake of this post, specifically considering A Good Feminist Depiction.
Strong = Physically and emotionally resilient.
Intelligent = An outrageously capable intellect that transcends the usual definition and allows for characters to logically beat any sum or situation.
Inspiring = A winner; a character who only overcomes obstacles; someone who is never defeated.
With these ridiculously restrictive definitions fuelling our opinions, we only consider female characters to be groundbreaking in the field of film if they abide by these. Film, here, acts as another social force telling women how they must act, what they must say and who they must be. Meanwhile, brilliant female characters are being left behind. In film, who’s ahead? Men. And we can’t expect this to change without re-writing these expectations.
I watched a video where it was explained that female characters just need to be like all of our favourite male characters. That’s all we are asking for. And this is potentially the most eye-opening thing I’ve heard someone say. Our female characters in film need to be intelligent and arrogant (not necessarily modest) like Tony Stark and Sherlock Holmes. They need to be heroic and damaged like James Bond. They need to be funny and foolish like Inspector Jacques Clouseau. They don’t need to be all of the above; they don’t need to be outstanding characters that are so “perfect” we can’t relate to them. They need to be a few “good” things and a few “bad” things, just like the rest of us. Mia is ambitious and scared- she’s REALISTIC. She’s complex and a contradiction. She’s human. She’s brilliant. She’s a credit to the film industry.
My friend told me Mia cannot be a feminist character because she doesn’t progress like Seb does. And here we see society, once again pitching a female against a male and deciding a gender must win. Even then – regardless of gender – Mia and Seb are fighting different battles, leading different storylines and – shock -, being different people. Here is how I think “strong”, “intelligent” and “inspirational” should be defined.
Strong = Breakable.
Intelligent = Gets it wrong sometimes… or, frequently.
Inspirational = Normal.
Although men are better represented than woman, of course men are not even nearly wholly represented in film. In both perceiving and representing women better, one of our many starting points is to also better represent men. Historically, a perfect man can be flawed, but to be a credible woman, females must be perfect. Polished; pristine; likeable; absolutely unattainable. In representing ALL men with a variety of diverse male characters, the public will see that women in film should not be the kind of perfect society expects. Through representing the diverse characters and storylines the world looks upon, as an audience, we will finally see all characters as “feminist.”
~ Kat ~