Where Are the Women? Birdman


It’s rare that a film makes it this explicit that women are little more than supporting characters in a man’s story.


[no significant representation of girls/women]


Is there a female character with insignificant screen time in a position of authority? [why this matters]
Is there a woman whose role could easily have been played by a man? [why this matters]
More than one? [why this matters]


[no issues]


Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional and/or sexual relationship with a man or men? [why this matters]
Is a woman paired romantically with a man old enough to be her father? [why this matters]


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



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

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

BOTTOM LINE: It’s rare that a film makes it this explicit — this much a part of the actual text — that women are little more than supporting characters in a man’s story. One woman actually says, when asked how she knows a man (who turns out to be her husband), “We share a vagina,” as if it belongs as much to him as it does to her.

Click here for the ranking of 2014’s Oscar-nominated films for female representation.

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

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

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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Paul Wartenberg
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 3:47am

I think male gaze happens in the movie, there’s a scene of women kissing each other in an odd gratuitous reason, Emma Stone walking about in tank tops most of the time…

reply to  Paul Wartenberg
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 7:59am

You have a point there. However, wouldn’t this be balanced out by Michael Keaton walking around in his underpants – even though it is mainly done for comedic effect? I would think even a middle-aged guy could qualify as female gaze material in MaryAnn’s system… But let her be the judge of that.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jan_Willem
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 10:05am

The question isn’t whether I find Keaton attractive, but how female nudity is generally treated on film — in the larger cinematic environment — versus how male nudity is treated. As you note, it’s generally comedic, as it is here (and it certainly isn’t actually nudity: Keaton is no more nude than a woman in a bikini would be; less so, even). It’s also nowhere near as prevalent. So male nudity doesn’t generally balance out female nudity (except in the one specific potential case I’ve included in the full criteria, when both women *and* men are fully naked onscreen, and even that doesn’t fully balance out).

A movie doesn’t get bonus points for male nudity on its own in other words. See *Maps to the Stars,* for instance, which features a sex scene in which a man is completely nude but neither of the two women in the scene are. I mean, obviously, they *are* nude, but they are shot more discreetly: none of their naughty bits are on display like his are. But that film gets no bonus points for that.

I’d love to see that film has changed so much in five years that all this will have to reconsidered.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Paul Wartenberg
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 10:00am

The male gaze happens in almost every movie. The question is, how gratuitous is it? Neither of those examples rose to that, I thought. (The kiss is rebuffed, for instance. It’s not a sexy moment.)

Paul Wartenberg
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 2:45pm

I’d also consider the use of the female actresses as fantasy totems, especially Natalie Gold as a fantasy figure during the “dream sequence” of the play monologuing among the stags (METAPHOR!). There is no nudity in it, but the presentation is eroticized…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Paul Wartenberg
Wed, Feb 25, 2015 9:48pm

I didn’t read it that way, but it’s a valid interpretation.