6 Obnoxious Assumptions Hollywood Makes About Women
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...
Worrying About Being Fat When You're Not
"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:
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.
Getting Angry For No Reason
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.
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.
Conflicts Between Family And Six-Figure Job
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.
"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.
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.
I'm not going to get into whether women are competitive or not, that's a whole other can of worms. The point is that chick flick catfight movies like Bride Wars or, to a lesser degree, My Best Friend's Wedding, are banking on the fact that female audiences are going to cheer for the catfighters in the movie.
And whether you think women are catty bitches or not, this makes no sense. Non-competitive women would obviously be unable to identify at all, and most competitive backstabbing women still have enough social awareness to know it's not something to be proud of, and would cringe at having their worst traits magnified on the big screen.
That probably explains why Bride Wars saw a dramatic dropoff due to bad word of mouth after an already-weak opening weekend, since its entire basis was that best friends will turn on each other in an instant if some stupid female treasure like their "perfect wedding" is threatened in any way. Strangely, women did not flock to the movie shouting, "That's me! That's my life! It's funny because it's true!"
A Token Weakness
The problem with putting a character on the screen that a normal woman can identify with means that they'll have to be Hollywood fat (average sized) and Hollywood ugly (normal looking), and people don't pay ten bucks to go to a theater and see that business.
But if you make your lady character too perfect, nobody in the audience can identify with her. You can't compromise on the looks or the weight, obviously. You can't compromise by giving her a realistic job. She can't be a jerk, or the audience won't root for her. If you're doing one of those career vs. personal life plots, then her flaw is that she loves her career too much, so you got that cut out for you. Any other plot, the only option you've got left is to make her clumsy.
That's why pretty much all romantic comedy women are clumsy. Like Jessica Alba in Good Luck Chuck, Amy Adams in Leap Year, Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality... oh hell here's a montage.
It takes hard work and a good eye for human nature to be able to come up with flaws for your character that make them human and relatable, but don't drive away audience sympathy. Better to just go with "clumsy" and leave the afternoon open for cocaine.
Women Be Shopping
I don't care about the stereotype of women shopping. Women do like shopping - at least a lot more than men do - and a lot of women get excited about designer shoes or whatever. That's a big part of Sex and the City's success - they cater to an audience that's interested in Manolo Blahniks and uh... that's the only label I know. Anyway, there's a big audience that definitely cares about that stuff.
So as they moved from the success of the first movie to making Sex and the City 2, apparently they decided to just focus on the clothes, which turned out to be a mistake. Box office dropped to about 66% of the first movie and word of mouth was meh.
See, apparently the first movie, and the show, had at least some semblance of character development and some life lessons about friendship and love, even if it was delivered in that cheesy bullshit way that Sex and the City will do, whereas the second movie was half travelogue and half fashion show, and even series fans didn't feel like their favorite characters were moving through anything more than a series of outfits.
Apparently the fact that a character likes shopping isn't enough to get a female viewer to invest themselves in that character for, let's see... holy shit, that movie was 2 1/2 hours long? Yeah, bad idea.
They way they treat somewhat "accurate" stereotypes can be just as bad as their misses. Just because a lot of women identify with one thing doesn't mean you can just throw that one thing on some woman characters and wait for the money to start rolling in. I like chocolate and I find "that time of month" annoying but I'm not going to watch a lady eat chocolate and complain about Aunt Flo for 2 hours.
All that said, I suppose it's just a matter of time before this hits theaters: