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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? It Follows

WATWitfollows

The female protagonist, in the course of being punished for having sex, is haunted by a spectre who sometimes appears as a naked or half-naked woman…

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: +25

+25
Is there a female protagonist? [why this matters]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: 0

[no significant representation of women in authority]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: -25

-5
Is a woman or women used as decorative objects/set dressing? [why this matters]
-20
Is this a major recurring visual motif? [why this matters]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: -5

-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional and/or sexual relationship with a man or men? [why this matters]

WILDCARD SCORE: 0

Is there anything either positive or negative in the film’s representation of women not already accounted for here? (points will vary)

No.

TOTAL SCORE: -5

IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: Yes, the protagonist is female… but her story is all about her being punished for having sex, via a haunting by a spectre who appears in various human guises, several of them women in varying degrees of nakedness for no reason but horrifying titillation. (One naked man is glimpsed so far in the distance and so briefly that he might as well not be naked, and appears to have been shoehorned in only to, perhaps, deflect criticism of the gratuitous recurring female nudity in this film.)


Click here for the ongoing ranking of 2015’s films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of It Follows! It is simply an examination of how well or how poorly it represents women. (A movie that represents women well can still be a terrible film; a movie that represents women poorly can still be a great film.) Read my review of It Follows.

See the full rating criteria. (Criteria that do not apply to this film have been deleted in this rating for maximum readability.)


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  • Sam

    Shouldn’t this film get +8 to its score for this part of the male gaze criteria:

    Does a man appear fully nude? (only for a film with full female nudity)

    He’s in the distance but he’s still fully nude, and he’s hardly inconspicuous standing on top of that roof. It’s a fairly lingering shot as well.

    I like this whole device, the criteria seem well thought-out and it’s good framework for discussing the content of a film. FWIW I didn’t have any major issues with the depictions of gender in It Follows, the only thing that was a little disappointing is that the love interest guy kind of takes over at the end, both in terms of planning and action.

    That should probably be a minus for “agency”, which has a score of 0, but the poor film gets -25 for women as decorative set objects, which really seems unfair — the principal antagonist and villain is hardly a “decorative set object”.

    EDIT: I take issue with this: “One naked man is glimpsed so far in the distance and so briefly that he might as well not be naked, and appears to have been shoehorned in only to, perhaps, deflect criticism of the gratuitous recurring female nudity in this film.” I don’t think it’s fair to second-guess the filmmakers in this way. It just seems like you’re trying to avoid rigorously applying your own criteria. If the score comes out “wrong”, either you need to adjust your metrics or maybe the film isn’t as bad in its representation of women as you initially thought.

  • I saw this movie on a big screen, and the only indication that the man on the roof is naked is the dark patch of (presumably) pubic hair we glimpse the brief second he is onscreen.

    Meanwhile, women are fully naked in closeup.

    Try again.

  • Sam

    Surely the main indication that he’s naked is that he isn’t wearing any clothes? Your “presumably” suggests that you think it’s conceivable he had some kind of dark triangular cloth glued to his crotch or something, but I don’t think most viewers would have had any ambiguity about it.

    I could understand your reservations if, say, it was only a split second glimpse of a character getting out of the shower, or if it was a shot from behind or something. The fact is that one of the most striking and memorable images in the film is of full frontal male nudity, and it should qualify under your criteria.

    I don’t think you should apply your criteria in this selective way. It would be more interesting in a way if it came out +3 and your “bottom line” indicated that, despite the result, you still felt it had major shortcomings. Or iron the score out in your “wild card” section.

  • There’s a difference between a naked man glimpsed in the distance and a naked woman walking right at the camera. I’m sure you can see this.

  • There’s a difference between a naked man glimpsed in the distance and a naked woman walking right at the camera. I’m sure you can see this.

  • Sam

    Sure — but the difference is of degree and not of kind. If you want to make those judgements perhaps your scorecard should be on a sliding scale, and that way you wouldn’t have to pick between +8 and 0.

  • exh10 .

    Actually, it seems to me that in most of those 1980’s horror films the guys who were having sex were also killed….. I’m not really sure why we assume that sends a “selective message to women about having sex”, or why we write off the male characters also being killed as “insignificant”….. I guess if you’re determined to see things in a certain way, then you will see them that way. But it does lead to kind of exaggerated and distorted views.

  • Yup, there was never such a thing as the female virgin who was somehow immune from getting killed.

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