People complain all the time about the way women are depicted in Hollywood, but it's usually about female characters that are only there for men to have sex with or want to have sex with, or that walk around doing improbable action poses in skintight suits with 6 inch heels.
That's annoying, but at least it makes sense. They're pandering to men, or they're sexist, or whatever. What's really, really annoying is when Hollywood writers go, "Okay, sorry, gals, Leia's metal bikini was just for the guys, now here's a little something for you!" and they throw out a romantic comedy with a main character that is just like you, ladies!
Only these "everywoman" traits they try to throw on the character are awful or fake or both. Traits like...
"But all women are like that," you might think. Aren't we always going on about body image and the fashion industry and how we all think we're supposed to be stick thin, when we're healthy the way we are?
Well, yeah, that's a common problem. And sure, most ladies would find it a relatable experience to see a lady onscreen trying to squeeze into her jeans after she gained some weight. But not when that lady is Julia Roberts and looks like this:
One of the many reasons Eat Pray Love is stupid.
Most of us aren't going to react like, "Hey, that's me! She's me! That totally happens to me!" We're going to be like, "What size do you have to move up to now? Zero?"
It's like if they didn't bother to make any CG changes to Chris Evans in Captain America for his scrawny "before" scenes and he was just sitting around in his rippling muscles, complaining about how he wishes he was strong enough to beat up bullies.
It's like having Toni Collette play "the fat sister," as she did in In Her Shoes.
Look at that fat whale. It totally rings true when she frets about her weight. Look, I totally get it that nobody wants to see actual fat people on a screen for two hours and Hollywood has to trot out skinny actresses because that's what the audience wants. But write them some skinny-person parts, then. Don't have them look average-sized female viewers in the eye and basically say, "I know what you're going through! I'm just like you!" That's just silly.
Even a character as cool as 30 Rock's Liz Lemon can be obsessed with food, eating to deal with all kinds of stressful situations, which we can identify with, but after pigging out, she ends up looking like Tina Fey, which is a little harder to identify with.
I'm not saying women don't get angry for no good reason sometimes. Everybody does. I'm saying that the fact that a female character is hostile to a man right off the bat, without him having done anything bad, is apparently supposed to make us go, "Yes! She's strong and independent!" and sympathize with her, instead of wondering what her problem is.
Like in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Robin Hood drops in on Maid Marian, knocking on the door, waiting politely, and all that. Despite knowing him from childhood, and having a chance to let her servant grill him, she just sets up an ambush and attacks him with a mask on. Of course she loses.
Once Robin unmasks her, he lets her go immediately, upon which she kicks him in the balls.
In this scene, they were obviously trying to prove she's a "strong woman" who can take care of herself, and apparently a "strong woman" is someone who is inexplicably hostile and has poor impulse control.
Similarly, in Daredevil, Ben Affleck is following Jennifer Garner down a city street hoping to get her name, so she hides and ambushes him, and after some small talk, she starts trying to beat the shit out of someone who, as far as she knows, is an ordinary blind man. It turns out he's a superhero of course, and can hold his own, but she doesn't know that. She just knows that some slightly smarmy blind guy is hitting on her, and apparently kung fu is the appropriate level of response.
The list goes on. In The Last Song, Miley Cyrus is a snarky sourpuss to some guy that didn't apologize sincerely enough for bumping her. In Love Happens, Jennifer Aniston pretends to be deaf to blow off Harvey Dent with some rude (and poorly executed) sign language.
There's two reasons for this. One is just lazy writing. They can't think of a reason, so they just leave it as is, call it a day, and go do cocaine.
The other is that this is really how the writers see women. Their only picture of a "tough" woman is of a bitchy militant feminist who will scream at you for saying "Congressman" instead of "Congressperson." Tough women never have sensible reasons for getting upset (like being automatically denied a promotion because "you'll probably want to have babies in a few years"), but are just paranoid against men. But all the other women seem to rally behind them when they make a scene, so general anti-male paranoia must be what women admire.
"Did you just say hi to me? RAPIST! RAPIST!!!"
These very well might be the guys that ogle women at the gym and get yelled at for it, and then tell stories later about how they were minding their own business at the gym and one of those oversensitive women that "sees rapists everywhere" threw a fit for no reason. So when it's time to pander to the female audience, they write a character based on what the lady at the gym looks like through their eyes (irrationally hostile towards a nice guy), expecting women to cheer for her like they supported the gym lady.
But it doesn't work like that. Most women, when they see another woman react to a man who says, "Hi, my name is Pete," by punching him in the balls, tend to stare in horror rather than whooping in sister solidarity. If this turns out to be a pattern, we're more inclined to suggest counseling than to admire her independence.
The work-family conflict is a very real issue in a lot of women's lives, and a lot of romantic comedies try to address it by giving us a female character that's so driven in her career that she doesn't have time to find love, and the movie helps her discover what's really important in life... finding a man. While that take-home message is full of its own problems, even the basic premise is flawed.
Look at the jobs these women have. Sandra Bullock in The Proposal is a publishing executive. Kristin Bell is a curator at the Guggenheim for When In Rome. Kate Hudson plays a fictional women's magazine columnist in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days. Meg Ryan is an advertising exec in Kate and Leopold. Catherine Zeta-Jones is a head chef in No Reservations. See a theme here? These are dream jobs.
"I'm an architect-slash-antique-art-expert, just like you!"
"Why would a woman be so wrapped up in her career that she neglects romance and family relationships?" the writers ask, and the conclusion they come to is that the only case where this could happen was if the career was some exciting, high-level dream job. Because how could some 9-to-5 clock-punching office job tempt you away from your social life?
Hollywood glosses over this more than almost anything else, but some of us work at jobs because we need the money. Women don't work just to get out of the house and do something fun. The conflict isn't between our fascinating project at our architectural firm and our kid's Little League game. It's between going to the kid's Little League game and being able to pay for the kid to stay in Little League.
Oh, or, uh, ballet or something, if it's a boy.
When someone's working ridiculous hours to the point they can't go out and meet people, it's possible they're doing it because of a burning ambition to get ahead and make partner someday, but it's even more likely they're doing it to pay the exorbitant rent on the fancy Manhattan apartments so many of these movie characters have, or just pay off their student loans.
There's a lot of ways to make a female character relatable as she struggles to balance her career and her personal life, but giving her some kind of hobby-like superjob she doesn't even need sure doesn't help.