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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? The Danish Girl

Where Are the Women? The Danish Girl

It’s about a transgender woman, sure, but it’s ultimately little more than a showcase for a male actor to show off his range and be “brave.”

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: 0

+10
Is there a female character with significant screen time who grows, changes, and/or learns something over the course of the story? (for an ensemble cast, or a film with a male protagonist) [why this matters]


-10
Is there a woman who is mostly pretty awesome and perfect who is present to support a man improving himself? [why this matters]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: 0

[no significant representation of women in authority]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: -5

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

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: 0

[no issues]

WILDCARD SCORE: -6

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

+2
The film touches on some of the ways in which it was more difficult for a woman to be an artist in the 1920s, from a certain polite disdain from men in the field to the position of observer it can place a woman in. (One of the most astute lines in the film is when Alicia Vikander’s portraitist says to her male subject, when she notices that he is uncomfortable, “It’s hard for a man to be looked at by a woman.”)
-8
This is a movie supposedly all about defying gender norms… that fully and unquestioningly embraces the expression of gender norms as the very definition of gender, as if all it means to be a woman is to dress and walk and talk and comport oneself in a particular way.

TOTAL SCORE: -11

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

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? Yes (Lucinda Coxon) (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: On the surface, this would appear to be a great film for female representation: It’s about a transgender woman, and how often do we see that? Unfortunately, that woman is portrayed onscreen by a man. Combined with the film’s notion that being a woman is apparently all about wearing the “right” sort of clothes and being the “correct” sort of demure, this becomes little more than a showcase for a male actor to show off his range and be “brave.” Additionally, the most potentially interesting female character here is rendered as little more than the clichéd saintly, supportive wife. For a film about a person who defied societal norms, it relies on the standard Hollywood formula that doesn’t much care for women as real people. Either this film doesn’t really understand what being a woman means, or it doesn’t understand the women onscreen.


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

Click here for the ranking of 2015’s Oscar-nominated films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of The Danish 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 Danish 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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where are the women

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