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Where are the admirable women of TV and movies?

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As a husband and father of a daughter, Caleb wonders what inspiration the current movie and TV treadmill offers to women...

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For centuries, male-dominated society has made heroes out of kings and knights, and pushed women off to the side, being forced into either the role of damsel-in-distress or witch or seductress. Their place in the world was either to be saved by men or to torment them, so that we are left with libraries filled with fairy tales and legends that reinforce the idea that it is the man’s place to save the world and protect the fair maidens from evil. While some stories snuck past where women played a greater role than that of victim or villain, it wasn’t until recent years that modern storytellers started to update these ancient tales to feature the ladies in a much more favorable light, often taking charge and being more than the fainting young girl of yesteryear.

Unfortunately, what has been passed off as strong role models for our little girls fall short of the mark. First we have the snarky smart asses that do little more than run their mouths and emasculate men at every turn. They want everyone within earshot to understand beyond any reasonable doubt that they do not need any man’s help, and they take great relish in insulting men at every turn. We are to believe that they are strong, independent women, but they come off more like a spoiled rich socialite whining about how the world is unfair. As teens, they’re usually portrayed as either bookworms or popular kids, while as adults, they’re professionals in whatever field they’ve chosen, and are almost always alone, but successful.

Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil franchiseAnd to make matters worse, movie studios typically put them in stories where, in the end, they wind up with the man despite all of their protestations. These films give young women conflicting messages about who they should be, and then tell them that deep down, every woman just wants to be loved, and that their lives aren’t complete until they find someone to grow old with. I would like to believe that womankind as a whole would be insulted by characters such as these, and yet, they still seem to be the go-to model for writers.

At the other end of the spectrum are the kick-ass girls. While some can truly be the sort of women our young girls can look up to, most are no more – as my feminist friends have explained – than the male fantasy incarnate. Alice in the Resident Evil movies is one such example of this character, as are the ladies in Sucker Punch. Where male writers are trying to write strong women that young girls can look up to and emulate, they actually do little more than infuse their creations with their own fantasies of that they want in a woman: well-built, gun–toting or sword wielding, and usually scantily clad. While I take no issue with the characters in the setting of a film (accepting full well that I’m simply a man that likes to watch half naked women kick ass), they aren’t the type of women I would want my own daughter to emulate.

"It would seem that while the female of the species may indeed be deadlier than the male, they aren’t nearly as potent when sensibly dressed"

Princess LeiaThe realm of sci-fi/fantasy has provided a few strong females that women can look up to, though. Princess Leia is the sort of gal any dad would be proud to have as his daughter (so long as you overlook the whole “making out with her brother” thing). Star Trek’s Uhura is another example of a woman in a professional capacity who can hold her own, although she never really got to shine as much in the original series as she did in the films. Gwen Cooper stands up and fights with a hero like Captain Jack Harkness on Torchwood, and can even stand up to him when the occasion calls for it. Even comic book writers have attempted to create characters that could inspire young women to strive to be more, but over time, they even became caricatures playing up to the male ideal, fighting the forces of evil in high heals and little clothing. It would seem that while the female of the species may indeed be deadlier than the male, they aren’t nearly as potent when sensibly dressed.

Torchwood's Gwen CooperSo looking at all of this, one might ask why there isn’t an outlet for stories specifically written for women so that they might not have to endure the burgeoning sexism in media. Well, there is, but it’s just as flawed as the rest of them. Lifetime and Oxygen are two cable stations dedicated to programming for women. Oxygen typically airs reality shows, television programs, and chick flicks, while Lifetime and their spin-off station Lifetime Movie Channel fill much of their programming time with original movies that speak to women and give them characters they can relate to. Having seen some of these movies, I have to wonder why anyone would invest their time in them.

Lifetime Movie NetworkThe movies are typically of the same formula, featuring a lead character who is some sort of victim through circumstances outside of their control. Some of the films are based on true stories, but they all seem to have the same message, which is that men are nothing but liars and cheaters, and that they have no agenda than to keep women in their place, be it through abuse or affairs. The lead tries legal action, but is usually told – by men – that there’s nothing that can be done, and when they have finally accepted their fate, it is only by the intervention of another woman that they find their recourse. While this seems like an over-simplification, it is indeed how many of these “inspirational” films are put together, and they do little more than to show women that men are evil and out to get them. Instead of presenting a character that is truly an inspiration for women, they victimize them, making them martyrs for the cause.

Raising a daughter is terrifying enough in this day and age, let alone knowing that society isn’t exactly throwing acceptable role models at them. Living in the age of Twilight, young girls have few really inspirational characters to instill the ideas of strength, virtue, and common sense in them. I’m glad my wife and I are there for our daughter, but even then, I see what she watches, and I do my best to guide her. But for many, the media shapes how they will turn out, and given the options there, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I now challenge writers out there to create female characters that young ladies can look up to. Because the fate of society rests on their shoulders.


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Comments 

 
#1 great article Richard Cosgrove 2011-04-15 17:25
Really enjoyed this article Caleb, particularly as I am step-dad to a sixteen year old girl who thankfully seems to be absorbing my (hopefully) good advice (not to mention my love of horror movies!) . This kind of article is what makes me proud to be part of the Shadowlocked family :-)
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#2 Thanks! Caleb Leland 2011-04-21 23:32
High praise, Richard! And keep that love of horror going! It's good for developing minds!
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