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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? rating criteria (updated!)

wherewomen

These criteria were originally published on January 12, 2015, and now updated to include the modified and new criteria developed over the course of analyzing 295 films over the past 16 months. The “dead mother” issue has been slightly tweaked, and I’ve added a section about women cast as mothers to offspring they would have been too young to have given birth to. These tweaked and new criteria would not have altered any of the WATW ratings I’ve done, because they were taken into account in those ratings as Wildcard factors. But they cropped up often enough that I thought they deserved to be regular parts of the rating criteria.

It is my hope that others — critics, fans, teachers, and filmmakers themselves — will continue to use these criteria as a way to analyze how women are represented onscreen. Perhaps one day the representation of women will improve to the point where these criteria are no longer useful for their intended purpose.

See also:

• the ranking of 270 films released in 2015 in the US, Canada, and the UK, in both limited and wide release (including every wide-release North American film and most of the UK wide-release films), with links to each individual film’s rating
• the ranking of all films nominated for the 2014 Oscars (awarded in early 2015), with links to each individual film’s rating
• the ranking of all films nominated for the 2015 Oscars (awarded in early 2016), with links to each individual film’s rating

I crunched numbers on the 153 films that opened in wide release in the United States between December 25, 2014, and December 18, 2015. Get an introduction to this analysis here. You can examine a comprehensive spreadsheet of the details about these 153 films here.

Conclusions:

only 22% of 2015’s movies had female protagonists
best and worst representations of women on film in 2015 (and the average WATW score for the year)
critics are slightly more likely to rate a film highly if it represents women well
mainstream moviegoers are not turned off by films with female protagonists
movies that represent women well are just as likely to be profitable as movies that don’t, and are less risky as business propositions


BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: +0 -0

+25
Is there a female protagonist? [why this matters]
+5
Is she nonwhite? [why this matters]


-10
Could the protagonist have been female without significantly impacting the film as a whole? (for a film with a male protagonist) [why this matters]


+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]
+2
Is she nonwhite? [why this matters]
-5
Is she the only woman in an otherwise all-male ensemble? [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]


-10
Is there a manic pixie dream girl? [why this matters]


-10
Is there a straw feminist? [why this matters]


0
Does the film take place in a primarily all-male environment (ie, prison, historical military)? [why this matters]
-10
Did it need to? (points deducted if not) [why this matters]


[no significant representation of girls/women]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: +0 -0

+5
Is there a female character (either a protagonist or a supporting character with significant screen time) in a position of authority (politics, law, medicine, etc.)? [why this matters]
-5
Is her authority presented as having a negative impact on her life? [why this matters]
+2
Is she nonwhite? [why this matters]
+5
More than one (of any race)? [why this matters]


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


+10
Is there a female villain or antagonist? [why this matters]
-20
Is her villainy/badness defined primarily by her gender (ie, is it related to motherhood, or is it of a sexual nature)? [why this matters]


+2
Is there a woman whose role could easily have been played by a man? [why this matters]
+2
More than one? [why this matters]


-5
Is there a woman who is kidnapped (either onscreen or off) whose kidnap motivates a male protagonist? [why this matters]
-5
Is there a woman who is raped (either onscreen or off) whose rape motivates a male protagonist? [why this matters]
-5
Is there a woman who dies (either onscreen or off) whose death motivates a male protagonist? [why this matters]
-10
Is there more than one woman who is kidnapped and/or raped and/or killed in order to motivate a male protagonist? [why this matters]


[no significant representation of women in authority]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: +0 -0

-5
Is there a female character with significant screen time who dresses less appropriately for the environment than her male counterparts do? [why this matters]
-5
More than one? [why this matters]


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


-10
Is there a female character with significant screen time who appears fully nude? [why this matters]
-10
More than one? [why this matters]
+8
Does a man appear fully nude? (only for a film with full female nudity) [why this matters]
+8
More than one? [why this matters]


-10
Is there a scene set in a strip club for no good reason? [why this matters]


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


-5
Is a woman introduced by the camera crawling up her body (either front or back) from her feet to her head? [why this matters]


-5
Is a woman or women used as decorative objects/set dressing? [why this matters]
-10
Are one or more either a protagonist or significant supporting character? [why this matters]
-20
Is this a major recurring visual motif? [why this matters]
-5
Does this include breasts bouncing in slo-mo? [why this matters]
-5
Are the breasts bare? [why this matters]
-5
Does this include gratuitous “booty” shots? [why this matters]


[no issues]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: +0 -0

-5
Is femininity used as a joke (ie, a man crossdressing for humorous intent) in passing? [why this matters]
-20
In a way essential to the movie? [why this matters]


-5
Is there a female character whose primary goal is romantic (to get married, enter into a longterm relationship with a man, etc)? [why this matters]
+6
Is the object or potential object of her affection and attraction a woman or women? [why this matters]


-5
Is there a female character whose primary goal is to become a mother? [why this matters]


-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]


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


-3
Is a dead (or otherwise absent) mother mentioned? [why this matters]
+3
Is a dead (or otherwise absent) father also mentioned? [why this matters]
-3
Is a dead (or otherwise absent) wife mentioned (who is not also mentioned as a dead or absent mother)? [why this matters]
-3
Is more than one dead (or otherwise absent) mother or wife mentioned (that is, different women, not the same woman absent from multiple roles)? [why this matters]


-10
Does a man police or attempt to police a woman’s sexual agency? [why this matters]
+10
Is he rebuked for it, either directly (by a character onscreen) or indirectly (by how it is depicted)? [why this matters]


-10
Is there a female character who is sexually manipulated or abused by a male protagonist as a way to advance his story? [why this matters]


-5
Is a woman paired romantically with a man old enough to be her father? [why this matters]
-10
Or even her grandfather? [why this matters]


-5
Is a woman paired as a mother to biological offspring (either children or adult) she’s too young to have given birth to? [why this matters]
+5
Does her role (if mother to adult children) include significant flashbacks to a time when her offspring were still children, requiring that the role was cast with a young woman? [why this matters]
+2
Does her role (if mother to adult children) include insignificant flashbacks to a time when her offspring were still children, perhaps (but not necessarily) requiring that the role was cast with a young woman? [why this matters]
+5
Does the story deal, in either theme or plot, with the ramifications of motherhood at too young an age? [why this matters]


-10
Is there a hooker with a heart of gold? [why this matters]


[no issues]

WILDCARD SCORE: +0 -0

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

TEXT

No.

TOTAL SCORE: +0 -0

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

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

BOTTOM LINE: [some brief comments here]


NOTE: This is not a “review” of TITLE! 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 TITLE.

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


This project was launched by my generous Kickstarter supporters. You can support this work now by:

buying some Where Are the Women? merch
becoming a monthly or yearly subscriber of FlickFilospher.com
making a pledge at Patreon
• making a one-time donation via Paypal


posted in:
where are the women
  • amanohyo

    Thanks again for taking the time to do all of this! It’ll be interesting to see what the average score turns out to be. I really like the inclusion of the “why does this matter links” and the tabs for each group.

    Cosmetically speaking, the tabs aren’t as eye catching or inviting as they could be (yes, I see the irony of criticizing the appearance rather than the content). It also feels redundant to display the category name twice more below the tab. For example, below the “The Male Gaze” tab, one would read: “The Male Gaze… The Male Gaze Score.” If the selected tab was more prominent, there would be no need to remind the reader which section/score they were viewing.

    Similarly, the most important part of the score tab is your Bottom Line summary which gets somewhat lost below all of the information above it. I understand the desire to place the summary at the end, but if the director/screenwriter questions and the total score were moved below the “Bottom Line” section, it might flow a little better.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to the most important appearance related question: “How does it look on an iphone screen?” When it comes to content and overall structure though, everything sounds and looks great. Thank you for listening to all of our suggestions!

  • the tabs aren’t as eye catching or inviting as they could be

    That’s probably true, but as a nondesigner and nonprogramming, I’m stuck with the ready-made options available.

    It also feels redundant to display the category name twice more below the tab.

    I tried putting the full section names in the tabs, but it made them too long, turned a line, and was really ugly.

    But, I’m going to move the section scores up to the top of each tab, so as not to repeat the section name again.

    if the director/screenwriter questions and the total score were moved below the “Bottom Line” section, it might flow a little better.

    I’ll try that and see how it looks.

    Thanks again for all your input. It’s been most helpful.

  • Moving the total score necessitating moving the wildcard section, which now has its own tab.

  • Anna

    Your rating system seems to imply that the more masculine-identified a female character is, the more legitimate she is. There is nothing wrong with women being mothers, sex symbols, prostitutes, etc., because these roles are a reality for a lot of women. What matters more is the point of view taken about these characters. There are many ways to write female characters, and even nudity is not always a red flag when it’s done as part of a woman’s story and from her point of view. I love stories about women who are in compromised positions because of their gender, because there are too few stories about the reality of being a woman. Most women for instance are going to have some part of their lives compromised by their gender, and if some of those women become villains it’s going to be gender-specific. Taking away the specificity of gender takes way the reality of women’s lives, because we do NOT live in a gender-free vacuum.

  • There is nothing wrong with women being mothers, sex symbols, prostitutes, etc., because these roles are a reality for a lot of women.

    What matters is when women onscreen are only these things, and only in support of male protagonists. Which they most often are. That’s the problem.

  • Bluejay

    I don’t think you and MaryAnn disagree on this; her ratings system is more nuanced than it might seem at first glance. For an example of how it works in a film where a woman is (as you say) in a compromised position because of her gender, take a look at her “Where Are the Women?” analysis of Room.

    http://www.flickfilosopher.com/2015/10/where-are-the-women-room.html

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