Belief of knowing the boundaries and crossing them in terms of having equal representations between men and women should be the norm within society. Many films and novels portray gender the way society wants them to be portrayed, or thinks that’s the way they should be. The representations of male and female roles within the media has forever been a contrasting and controversial subject in regard to equal opportunities. Dating all the way back to 1945 when film was fairly newly introduced, up until todays modern and contemporary films (2017), I will be examining the conventional and challenging gender roles displayed throughout the years in particular films. Influential and acclaimed films such as Mildred Pierce, the James Bond franchise, along with others, will all be taken into consideration in analysing any changes in equality presented within the gender roles, and if these representations have changed over time.
A literature review of the representations of gender roles within film.
This section of the research will explore and review key aspects and concepts of significant findings related to specific representations of gender roles and equality within film over time. These findings within this literature review will be an essential component to the exploration of gender equality in film, allowing a detailed and rationalised analysis and understanding of the thesis by incorporating relevant information and reliable sources to create a complete and conclusive evaluation.
For years, popular actresses who have been discontented with playing the roles of devoted wives or as hyper-sexualised objects have felt a powerful desire towards the rise of more recognised and leading roles for women within film. Authors Dockterman ; D’Addario state how “it’s not just an issue of character depth; it’s one of sheer volume. Among last year’s 100 top-grossing films, 12 featured female protagonists. Of all the speaking characters, only 30% were women” (Dockterman et al, 2015, p. 46). However, the top-grossing movies over the past two decades did feature female characters without involving the discussion of men to any extent, therefore, this should persuade Hollywood to introduce more equality in regard to main roles within film as these movies have also generated huge profits in contrast to their low budgets. Furthermore, particular television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Orange is the New Black, have proved that there is a massive amount of interest from committed audiences towards predominantly female based narratives (Dockterman, E., D’Addario, D. 2015).
Dockterman and D’Addario also explain how the roles of women in film should be considered more seriously, other than predominantly being assigned to the more meaningless and insignificant roles. Unequally to their male co-stars, females have essentially not been appointed to represent main character roles that have the most influence and relevance to the narrative.
There has been much concern over the portrayals of male and female roles within popular G-rated films, with arguments suggesting that the sexes are not equally represented, often presenting female characters in a passive and traditional light and these particular films frequently get criticised for unsubtly stereotyping women. Smith et al. (2008) also states that males within the top 101 grossing box office films released from 1990 to 2005 have “outnumbered females by a ratio of 2.57 to 1. This imbalance has not changed over the last fifteen years”. Smith supports how the female roles within film have typically been associated with being unemployed mothers who are a part of a committed relationship. In comparison to males, women are also more likely to be presented as just “smart, good, and beautiful” objects. (Smith, S; et al. 2008).
Elizabeth Hills (1999) explains a relevant contrasting perspective to the representations of gender over recent years in comparison to earlier years within film. Hills argues that “action heroines constructed in Hollywood today are smarter, tougher and better equipped than both the traditional heroines of the action genre and many of their contemporary male counterparts, female action heroes are a new breed of protagonists in action genre films”. The argument that female roles within film have developed and become more balanced with the leading and fundamental roles that males customarily portray is further supported by Hills – “aggressive, heroic and transformative characters transgress both cinematic genre codes and cultural gender codes which position female characters as the passive, immobile and peripheral characters of Hollywood action cinema.” (p. 38). These dynamic characters create positive and fascinating prospects surrounding the flexibility of gender identities and the transformation of popular cinematic representations of women. (MORE EXAMPLES)
The initial idea of ‘male gaze’ was firstly introduced by Laura Mulvey and analysed within her findings titled ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. The male gaze theory is recognised as a hyper-masculine attitude towards the sexual objectification of female characters within film. Mulvey’s studies refer to “feminist psychoanalytic, and film theory to examine the male-dominated view of women in cinema”. Mulvey also focuses on how filmmakers deliberately use the camera to represent women in a sexual light for a man’s pleasure and to gain more male attention. The camera “turns a woman into an object to be looked at and fixated on in a sexual way” (CITATION). The way a scene is shot can enhance and exaggerate the sexual nature of a woman within a scene by specifically focusing on seductive positioning along with the curves of her body. Mulvey highlights that the act of ‘looking’ is a key aspect of the male gaze, pointing out how the scenario “most often involves the man ‘looking’ and the female being looked at” (Caffrey, 2015). – (USE DIRECT QUOTE FROM LAURA MULVEY – 1989 visual and other pleasures)
Within the James Bond franchise, James Bond himself is portrayed as the ideal perception of masculinity – handsome, brave and sophisticated. Therefore, female characters within the Bond films should theoretically represent the perfect interpretation of femininity. However, the ‘perfect woman’ that is being portrayed, particularly from the Sean Connery films, implies that women should be sexy, submissive and provocative.
The writers of the James Bond franchise deliberately chose these women to be “explicitly younger than Bond, often in their twenties, and known to conform to a particular type of beauty” (Allman, 2015). The sensual and erotic characteristics of the ‘Bond girls’ have been consistent throughout the majority of the films. Presenting them with names such as ‘Pussy Galore’ and ‘Honey Ryder’ whilst hyper-sexualising many of the empowering and talented women that have represented this particular character role indicates the lack of equality between the genders.
In more recent Bond films however, Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond has seemed to evolve and become more ‘modernised’. Eva Green’s portrayal of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale brought a different approach to the ‘Bond Girl’ role. “It’s possible to see small steps of progression, as we see Vesper not nearly as sexualised as other Bond girls that have gone before her”. The narrative also has more of a “21st century feel” that made Vesper’s character stand out, regardless of the gender. Bond presented to being more matched in skill with his female agents and vulnerable to love, creates a more realistic and less offensive image of the male characters, showing the advancements of equality between the two genders in regard to character roles within the James Bond films (Allman, 2015). (MAYBE FIND ADDITIONAL FROM ALLMAN ON BOND)
Additionally, in terms of supporting the advancements of gender equality within film, The Hunger Games is praised on the writer’s approach of how the main character is that of a feminist heroine (Seltzer, 2011). Taking into consideration the heavy conventions of the male gaze that’s associated with Hollywood’s representation of women, the contrasting narrative and visuals within The Hunger Games challenges the male gaze and patriarchal modes of representation to establish a developing change in female roles as action heroes. Pollitt (2012) states that “Katniss is a rare thing in pop fiction: a complex female character with courage, brains, and a quest of her own” (p. 10). The Hunger Games recognises and defends a feminist awareness as opposed to blockbuster Hollywood films, like the James Bond franchise.
The second instalment to The Hunger Games trilogy, ‘Catching Fire’ (2013), was Hollywood’s top-grossing film in 2013. The movie features Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old female protagonist who is the winner of the yearly occurring death sport called the Hunger Games and the commander of a developing rebellion. Katniss can be used to confirm how this character represents the evolving portrayals of women in film. However, specific studies have proposed that promoting a film featuring an attractive yet brave and threatening female protagonist could both challenge and support gender stereotypes (Greenwood, 2007, Taylor ; Setters, 2011). Additionally, particular studies show how there has been an increase in delinquent behaviour among American teenaged girls, which may be linked to “glorified portrayals of girls and women in movies and on television as increasingly violent but still sexy” (Goodkind et al, 2009. p. 893). This suggests that female characters are becoming more dominant, relevant and influential more than ever before within film narratives, supporting the advancements of equality in female character roles. However, the words “but still sexy” still show a sense of objectification towards women, highlighting that women are still represented as the unrealistic image of perfection – which should be a necessity to their role.
In Mildred Pierce (1945), a particular scene within the film shows Mildred being let go from Mildred’s Incorporated by her male business partners as she embezzles funds from her share of the business to keep her daughter, Veda, in luxury. Despite her mother’s devotion towards her, Veda selfishly hates her mother due to how she smells of grease and cooks for a living (Jurca, 2002, p. 44). However, for Mildred, her priority as a parent still depends on providing everything that Veda desires.
Mildred’s success as a businesswoman does not correlate with her as a mother figure. The film is not expressing that Mildred’s failure as a mother to her children is penalised by the destruction of her business, Mildred Pierce attempts to illustrate that the relationship between women and the market economy does correspond – “because business is so obvious and necessary, it is what women do.” (Jurca, 2002, p. 31).
Wonder woman (2017) reinforces how film casting has come a long way since the mid 1900’s. Film makers casted Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress and model, to play the role of Wonder Woman to challenge typical sexist Hollywood conventions (Williams, 2017). Online blogger, Sarah Gibson, states how as the film progresses, Wonder Woman’s character is slowly but surely “liberating the superhero genre from decades of ridiculous sexism, appearing to do the impossible for women: Lead without becoming unlikeable” (2017).
However, the way Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) is shown wearing minimal skintight clothing raises the question to just how far from Hollywood’s ‘typical sexism’ this film has gone. During a scene within the film, Diana walks into a room, even dressed in a plain grey suit with a bowler hat opposed to her favoured sensual leotard, men go silent and stare. One male’s response to this is “I’m both frightened and aroused” as she shows off her fighting skills (Cauterucci, 2017). Although this seems demeaning towards the female character, it can also be interpreted in a positive way to support gender equality. Gibson (2017) explains that the male’s response is “a reflective reference to the fact that sometimes, women being both strong and sexy is hard for men to comprehend”. She continues to argue that “it’s an acknowledgment that this is a protagonist who combines force and beauty, claiming the right to be both tender and tenacious”. Additionally, however, Wonder Woman is a half-god, half-mortal super-creature. Yet, throughout the majority of the film, she is presented with revealing and provocative clothing and “when she arrives in London to put a stop to the war to end all wars, she instinctively obeys a handsome meathead who has no skills apart from moderate decisiveness and pretty eyes” (Williams, 2017).
To conclude, there is a vast amount of exploration into the subject matter surrounding representations of male and female character roles within film over the course of time along with the contrasting debates associated. Each piece of literature creates a different viewpoint and allows different aspects of the subject to be explored in further detail with each film. Creating comparisons between each of these films to how gender roles are portrayed will allow for a clear and decisive conclusion as they are from different eras of cinema. Controversial arguments over the specific films presented within the thesis all provide a variation of interesting perspectives that all contribute to the evaluation of whether an improvement towards equality between genders has somewhat been achieved throughout castings over time, or if there is still a long way to go in order to accomplish this.
In order to determine the equality between male and female character roles in film over time, I will be collecting secondary information from academic journals along with conducting qualitative textual analysis of various films. The films involved in the study will range from 1945 to 2017 to be able to gather a detailed and broad analysis of any advancements to gender representations between these years. As previously mentioned, the texts that will be analysed will primarily be Mildred Pierce (1945), Wonder Woman (2017), Goldfinger (1964), and ‘The Hunger Games’ film series. This method will allow for deeper and more in-depth exploration towards the advancements of gender equality within film in by comparing specific films in order to “determine patterns in the data that add or extend the theory application, or enrich and refine the theoretical framework” (Mills et al, 2010). I will also apply discourse analysis and ethnomethodology to the films discussed in attempt to discover and expose stereotypical ideologies of men and women through particular terminology used within dialogue and non-verbal communications between characters. Although gender equality within film seems to be becoming more visible through time, there still remain aspects that are controversial to how film represents gender equality which questions just how far the balance has really progressed, which is why studying this area is important.
There will be a focus on both the stylistic textual analysis of the films, along with a comparative consideration how the filmmakers have used cinematic devices to emphasize specific tones and connotations of male and female characters within the individual narratives. This perceptive approach will be used to present insights into each film independently as well as their relation to each other. Comparative examinations of this kind are a conventional technique that is common within relation to adaptation studies (Cahir, 2006).
An exploration into the representation of the female character roles in film: a discourse analysis and comparison of Mildred Pierce (1945) and ‘The Hunger Games’.
Mildred Pierce (1945) is a film directed by Michael Curtiz which features a common housewife, Mildred, as the main role. Within the film, Mildred is confronted by situations that force her to make disgraceful and unpleasant choices that disproves her lady likeness. Women in the 1940’s were stereotyped as housewives judged by their husbands and society. Morrison (1998) presents this gender ideology combined with the concept of discipline to how a ‘good mother’ was to stay at home, be strict with the children in order not to spoil them. Furthermore, the representation of women was to also keep the family in a balanced and loving state by cooking and cleaning whilst showing her husband love and affection.
Jeanine Basinger (1993, p. 20) states how women in films during the 1940’s had to make crucial decisions within the narrative which invariably went wrong regardless the choice she made. At the beginning of the film, Mildred made the choice to detach herself from her husband and take on the role as a working woman leading to her success through hard work – which would be inconceivable during the 1940’s.
The narrative of a typical film of the female genre generally consisted of a ‘from rags to riches’ storyline (Basinger, 1993. p. 8). Mildred started from the bottom and eventually managed to prosper with owning her own restaurant chain which allowed her to provide for her daughter all whilst dating an elegantly attractive heir. However, being a woman in this era, Mildred could not have both. Therefore, once again, she is forced to make a choice – one or the other. Although Mildred has overcome the financial struggle of being a single parent by becoming an accomplished business woman, she gradually becomes the main cause of the deterioration of her family, losing her daughters, and eventually losing her business. She is left with nothing.
Morrison (1998) expressed the ideology of how Mildred’s character is represented as a bad mother due to how she challenges the conventional ‘stay at home housewife’ role of women in the 1940’s after she took the responsibilities of both a provider, and a mother after she separated from her first husband, Brett, forcing her to work outside of the home.
Mildred Pierce is a compelling movie which enabled the representations of women to be considered with the idea of creating equality between male and female roles, in regard to business, and also in the home. Mildred Pierce uses the female lead to establish a captivating sense of romance, misfortune and drama within the narrative which can even be related to by the modern woman.
Whilst the gender ideologies that are portrayed in typical Hollywood movies are generally unimaginative and restricted, the increasing appearance of female protagonists within action films could possibly create the opportunity to confront and challenge these perceptions. Narrated from the perspective Katniss Everdeen, the first ‘Hunger Games’ film involves the Capitol of Panem demanding two youthful representatives to compete in ‘The Hunger Games’. The competition forces the participants to fight to the death in order to gain control of the Capitol. The film achieved an enormous popularity with teenaged girls and young women, giving The Hunger Games the title of being an “intergenerational female sensation” by some (Petersen, 2012. p. 53). Hills (1999) argues: “Action heroines constructed in Hollywood today are smarter, tougher and better equipped than both the traditional heroines of the action genre and many of their contemporary male counterparts, female action heroes are a new breed of protagonists in action genre films. Aggressive, heroic and transformative characters transgress both cinematic genre codes and cultural gender codes which position female characters as the passive, immobile and peripheral characters of Hollywood action cinema” (p. 38).
This statement supports the portrayal of the main character within The Hunger Games, Katniss, a 16 year old girl who is commanded to partake in the ‘games’. The film represents Katniss as the creation of a unique and contemporary class of female heroines that presents power, emotion and bravery to challenge traditional degrading representations of female characters that have previously been displayed through stereotypes. Katniss disassociates the conventional masculinity approaches connected to the action genre, allowing the audience to perceive the film through an opposing female point of view.
During the first scene of the film, Katniss displays the defiance to ‘male dominance’ as she is shown crossing the district border limits. Taking no consideration of the boundaries, she makes her way into the woods and holds a position to explore, and this is where she establishes a resistance to the idea of the male gaze. A series of shots, previous to Katniss breaching the border, cut back and forth between Katniss and her District, distinctly showing her observing the other members of her district. This shows Katniss’s character establishing control of the literal gaze of the camera early on within the film. These reaction-shots are said to “move the narrative forward, instructing the viewer on how to interpret the action on the screen. In this way, the reaction-shot assigns power and privilege to a particular point of view” (Gibson & Wolske, 2011. p. 84). The camera work within The Hunger Games focuses on telling the narrative through the perspective of the female protagonist, disregarding the common and expected male gaze approach that’s stereotypically associated with the action genre, inviting the audience to interpret the story through the viewpoint of the main character, Katniss.
Women are generally scripted to be conflicting and unrefined towards one other as a result of media’s depictions of woman’s friendships, therefore, the friendships that have been formed between the female characters in The Hunger Games proves to be greatly significant in the attempts to challenge some conventional traits of femininity presented in film. These particular friendships that are formed and presented throughout the narrative of the film disregards patriarchal scripts and allows the progression of the ‘female gaze’ promoting the experiences and different aspects of female character roles.
Katniss also creates a friendship with the male representative from her District, Peeta. She forms then uses her relationship with Peeta in order to gain gratification from viewers of the games, with her own selfish intentions in mind to obtain power for herself. The audience are encouraged to take sides with Katniss’s character and gain fulfilment from her rebellious actions towards her interest in Peeta romantically, as she uses this opportunity to get further in the Game. During the end scene of the film, Katniss verifies her tactics to win the game as she tells Peeta they should both “try to forget” the unrequited love that was not shared from her perspective. The overall focus of the narrative that surrounds the female protagonist’s actions rather than typically concentrating on sexualisation of the character is argued to be more attractive and engaging for women viewers (Cooper, 2000, p.284). The Hunger Games uses certain unconventional elements for the audience to connect with a gaze that resists patriarchy and encourages female power.
Contrary to Mildred Pierce considering the equality between male and female, The Hunger Games seems to favour and promote femininity as a more dominant gender, defying common ideologies that popularise the opposite. The film uses the female protagonist, Katniss, to create an engaging theme of bravery, rebellion and physical power within the storyline in which modern women can engage with and use as inspiration.
Both Mildred Pierce and The Hunger Games present the main female character roles in interesting ways. Mildred Pierce along with Katniss Everdeen as protagonists challenge the typical diminishing stereotypes towards women in different ways, displaying strength, bravery and strong will in each. Mildred uses benevolent determination and compassion to dismiss patriarchal views and the hardships she must overcome to provide for her children as a mother. Although, within The Hunger Games, Katniss’s character represents female power by proving to be far superior to the male characters portrayed in the film. The physical strength she exhibits through violence, along with her clever use of tactics by manipulating Peeta in order to win the Hunger Games dismisses any suggestions of male dominance. Both of these films create representations of women that contrast the classic way in which Hollywood portray femininity within film. Romero & Margolis (2008) argue how classic Hollywood films have produced various stereotypes of particular genders, creating false perceptions and completely unrealistic, unfair traits between them both. In regard to the representations constructed of women in Hollywood movies, the authors explain: “Classic Hollywood cinema has never been kind to women … Women have been treated as desired objects of the male gaze, cast in stereotyped parts, good and bad women, good and bad mothers, sinners or saints. Cinema does not represent women – it creates them. These creations provide audiences with gendered experiences of a racialised, social order built on equality, masculinity, and violence”.
An exploration of gender representations in film: a discourse analysis and comparison of Goldfinger (1964) and Wonder Woman (2017).
Gender within the James Bond films has consistently been a controversial aspect throughout the franchise, whether it’d be promoting hyper-sexualised ‘bond girls’ that objectify women, or creating unrealistic perceptions and expectations that has lasted through generations of how a man should conduct himself. Bond has classically been characterised by his many intimate relationships with beautiful women, potentially in order to display the ‘maleness’ of the Secret Service.
The motion picture version of Goldfinger (1964) boldly uses sexual objectification when presenting the women featured within the film, ultimately flowing directly into the permissive ‘male gaze’. The female characters are widely referred to as ‘Bond girls’ and perform as visual reminders to the established gender norms in society and are usually assigned names that exhibit derogatory sexual connotations, such as ‘Pussy Galore’ in Goldfinger, and ‘Honey Ryder’ within Dr. No (1962). During the midpoint of Goldfinger, Bond dominates Pussy Galore by playfully fighting in the hay after her attempt at addressing him for his assertive behaviour when following her into a barn. Bond wins the battle for power when he tackles Galore to the ground and settles his dominance with a forceful kiss. Regardless of the doubt at first, women eventually find Bond irresistible and find their “true” femininity when they finally “succumbed to his charms” (Comentale, 2005, p. 43). The character of James Bond in the early films (played by Sean Connery) seemed to epitomise a “suave seductiveness, a boyish indifference to sentimental feelings, and a competent, even brutal efficiency around women” (p. 43). Additionally, many of the Bond films “famously feature silhouettes of naked or semi-clad women in their opening musical sequences (…) and some of the most famous lines are packed with sexual innuendo” (Hastings, 2008). In Goldfinger, Bond seductively tells Jill Masterson, played by Shirley Eaton, that “something big’s come up”.