Where Are the Women? Joy

Where Are the Women? Joy

Any story about a woman pursuing goals beyond love and motherhood is a positive turn. Minus a few points, however, for making fun of feminine tastes.


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]


[no issues]


Is femininity used as a joke (ie, a man crossdressing for humorous intent) in passing*? (*in this case, both a love of daytime soaps and over-the-top female dress are held up for ridicule) [why this matters]
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional or biological relationship with a child or children*? (*in this case, adult children) [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? Yes, one of two credited (Annie Mumolo) (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: Any story about a woman pursuing goals beyond love and motherhood is a turn for the better. This one does lose a few points, however, for making fun of peculiarly feminine tastes — for soap operas (via the female protagonist’s mother), for dressing in extremely feminine ways (via the HSN hosts whose look the female protagonist rebels against) — without even hinting for the reasons why women might be drawn to such things. Still, the film remains in overall positive territory when it comes to women’s representation.

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 Joy! 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 Joy.

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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Thu, Feb 04, 2016 9:10pm

for making fun of peculiarly feminine tastes — for soap operas…dressing in extremely feminine ways… —
without even hinting for the reasons why women might be drawn to such

I guess…
Thing is, I personally do mock that stuff. I mean, I don’t now, I have better things to do with my time; but, when I was younger, I actively mocked it and most definitely eschewed it and was contemptuous of anyone who wondered why I wouldn’t just go along to get along. I’m not sympathetic to it now, I just ignore it.

I always assumed that daytime tv watchers are drawn to that stuff due to isolation. I figured the isolation was the feminist issue, not the soap operas. The clothes, well, I don’t know how to deconstruct that stuff.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaSargenta
Fri, Feb 05, 2016 10:39pm

The problem isn’t the mocking per se, it’s that it exists in a context (the larger context of women’s representation on film) that doesn’t generally allow for women to be well-rounded people, or that doesn’t offer a wide variety of female experiences. If it did, it wouldn’t matter if some things that some women like are ridiculed, just as it doesn’t matter that some films ridicule some men, because that ridicule is but a tiny drop in a very wide ocean of men’s representation.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Aug 17, 2016 8:19pm

The female hosts tell us why they dress the way they do; to “make it in a man’s world”. Surely a clear and explicit explanation counts as a “hint”. They dress that way because it is part of their job (selling jewelry), at which they appear to be perfectly competent. I see no attempt to ridicule them, and no reason to.

One woman dressing differently from another scarcely counts as “ridicule”. When Joy chooses to reject the makeover and appear as herself, she is
making a smart decision, because she is not selling jewelry, she is
selling a mop. Joy is a housewife, she invents household products based on her experience with housework, she presents herself on TV dressed AS a housewife to market her products to other housewives. In this way she finds enormous success, and goes on to help other housewives find success in the same way. The whole point of the film, then, is to elevate a “particularly feminine” demographic (housewives) and their “particularly feminine” concerns (housework).

Which brings us to the soap opera. I don’t know what precise definition of “ridicule” you are using, but people are more likely than not to spoof things that they enjoy and respect. Soaps are no worse than any other form of serial entertainment. Nothing I saw on General Hospital way back in the day was anywhere near as blitheringly idiotic as, say, the final season of House, M.D.! If soaps are singled out for particular contempt by some people, it is ONLY because their target audience — housewives — are held in contempt. Clearly this film doesn’t feel that way about housewives, and this is reflected in their fictional soap opera.

The soaps in my day had a lot of targets for derision, with some plots that treated women in a nasty and regressive way. But there were also plots featuring strong, independent, three-dimensional, professional women at the center of their own stories that I simply couldn’t find anywhere else at the time. When the writers of this film wrote their soap opera spoof, they chose to make it the latter kind of story. A strong professional woman, in the center of her own story, pursuing goals other than romance, with a loyal female chum, and romance as only part of a full life. Isn’t it obvious why women in general and Joy’s mother in particular would be attracted to a story like that? Why does that need to be explained? Yes, its very, very silly. But who cares? Feminism doesn’t need to be dead serious all the time.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Louisa
Thu, Aug 18, 2016 11:46am

No, of course feminism does not need be serious all the time. But I don’t see any feminism in the way the soap opera stuff is treated here. I also don’t see any appreciation for the fine line women have to walk to “make it in a man’s world.” I do see a depiction of a woman who rejects what all those other women do in order to make it in a man’s world… and *that’s* not feminist.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Aug 19, 2016 1:31am

The soap opera IS feminism; it passes the Bechdel Test and earns 35 points on the WotW scale in its very first scene. Its about independent women overcoming adversity in a man’s world, and loyal female friendship. That is exactly the sort of story which you insist women want and need more of. If the mom was watching a series of cheesy kung fu movies with that same plot, you wouldn’t have a problem.

I dunno how many American soaps from this period you have watched, but I promise you they were nothing like this 90 percent of the time. The screenwriters chose to present soap operas as empowering feminist fantasy instead of the regressive anti-feminist garbage that it often was in reality. That is a deliberate choice on their part. Clearly their point is that the mother feels defeated by life, and is seeking vicarious feminist empowerment through her soap operas. Did you actually not get that, or did you just not find it feminist?

And it is not un-feminist to dress differently from other women. It is not un-feminist to use different sales tactics from other women. It is not mockery of other women to dress, or act, or sell stuff in a different way than they do. It just isn’t. Women are allowed to be different from each other, and filmmakers are allowed to make movies about women who are different from each other.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Louisa
Fri, Aug 19, 2016 5:17pm

it is not un-feminist to dress differently from other women

No, of course it isn’t. Of course women are allowed to be different from one another. But I do have a problem with *how* that is depicted here.

We are going to have to agree to disagree on the soap-opera stuff.