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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Where Are the Women? Fifty Shades of Grey


Woman as a passive sexual object of a man, depicted via a male gaze: it’s everything that is wrong with how Hollywood represents women onscreen.


Is there a female protagonist? [why this matters]


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


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

Is a woman or women used as decorative objects/set dressing? [why this matters]
Are one or more either a protagonist or significant supporting character? [why this matters]
Is this a major recurring visual motif? [why this matters]


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]

Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional or biological relationship with a child or children*? [why this matters] (*in this case, adult children)


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

The film presents as romantic and desirable a man who polices a woman’s food and drink, is unreasonably jealous, stalks, and engages in other controlling and abusive actions. There is absolutely no criticism of his behavior in either the text or the subtext; to the contrary, his behavior is depicted as an appropriately masculine and sexy way to treat a woman, behavior that she secretly desires and for which she will reward him with sex.


IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? Yes (Sam Taylor-Johnson) (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? Yes (Kelly Marcel) (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: Take one docile female protagonist, render her as a passive sexual object of a man, depict her with a male gaze that is weirdly inappropriate for the intended female audience, and you have in one tidy package everything that is wrong with how Hollywood represents 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 Fifty Shades of Grey! 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 Fifty Shades of Grey.

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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