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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Where Are the Women? The Diary of Teenage Girl

Defies the clichés with which women are treated onscreen by turning the tropes of exploitation into expressions of a woman’s ownership of her sexuality.

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: +25

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

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: +1

+1
Is there a female character with insignificant screen time in a position of authority? [why this matters]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: -10

-5
Is there a female character with significant screen time who bares her breasts (but doesn’t appear fully nude)? [why this matters]


-5
Is a woman introduced ass-first? [why this matters]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: -5

-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional or biological relationship with a child or children? [why this matters]

WILDCARD SCORE: +10

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

0
Normally I deduct 5 points for a film that romantically pairs a woman with a man old enough to be her father [why this matters]. I’m not doing that here for several reasons, even though the central relationship in the movie is between a 15-year-old girl and a 35-year-old man. This dynamic is typically the unthinking result of Hollywood’s general unwillingness to cast actresses above the age of 35 in romantic or sexual roles, which is how we end up with 60-year-old+ actors paired with women 20, 30, or 40 years younger than them. These pairings are usually treated onscreen as “normal” and nothing to be commented upon; there almost never a narrative or thematic purpose to the age difference, and it passes by unnoticed by everyone onscreen. And the issue that is problematic for women’s representation onscreen is the near-absence of women actors over a certain age in romantic roles. In the case of this film, however, the inappropriateness of the age difference is entirely the point. The fact that the girl is the protagonist, and not an adjunct to a man, is another mitigating factor. Also, while the characters may be separated by 20 years, the actors are not: Bel Powley is 23, and Alexander Skarsgård is 39, and even under my own rules, 16 years’ difference in age isn’t quite enough to earn the deduction of 5 points; I’ve been using 18 years difference between the actors’ own ages (as character ages aren’t usually mentioned) as the minimum to trip this criterion.
+10
I’m giving back the points deducted in the Male Gaze section for “a female character with significant screen time who bares her breasts” and “a woman introduced ass-first” because neither of these are about the female protagonist being treated like a decorative object for the viewing pleasure of the audience and everything about her claiming and enjoying her own body and her own sexuality for herself.

TOTAL SCORE: +21

IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? Yes (Marielle Heller) (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? Yes (Marielle Heller) (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: In many ways, this film defies the visual clichés with which girls and women are treated onscreen by taking the tropes of the exploitation of women and turning them into expressions of a woman’s ownership of herself and her sexuality. And narratively, it trashes, both overtly and implicitly, recurrent notions about the “appropriate” places for women (at a man’s side; on her knees in front of him) and reclaims those decisions as more properly belonging to a woman herself.


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

NOTE: This is not a “review” of The Diary of a Teenage Girl! 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 The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

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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posted in:
where are the women
  • bronxbee

    hmmm. somehow from the glowing review, i expected a higher score.

  • It’s still a very good score.

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