Where Are the Women? rating criteria explained (updated!)

Backup material for my Where Are the Women rating criteria, 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.

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)
• the ranking of all films nominated for the 2015 Oscars (awarded in early 2016)

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

+25
Is there a female protagonist?

The best example of how poorly girls and women are represented in film is how few movies feature female protagonists. It is essential when trying to improve that representation that we get more movies in which it is a girl or a woman — instead of the usual boy or man — who is at the center of a story, who is given the chance to have personal, spiritual, and/or physical adventure during which she learns something about herself, acts as the driving force in her own life, and comes out on the other end having grown or changed as a person (or, in the case of the antihero, stubbornly clinging to her misery or asshole-ishness). Even the dumbest action movie with the lunkheadest hero is still about a guy’s journey… and the situation for female protagonists is so dire that even a slew of dumb action movies with lunkheaded female heroes will be an improvement. So mega points are awarded for a female protagonist.

+5
Is she nonwhite?

Women of color are even more poorly represented in film than white women, hence a few extra points for a female WOC protagonist.

It has been suggested that I award additional points for a female character cast in a colorblind role, and that I deduct points if a female character could have been a POC without impacting the story. But addressing the issue of the representation of people of color (men and women, boys and girls) is most properly dealt with in a separate project like this one devoted to the topic. Also, as a white person, I don’t feel qualified to make such judgments; I simply do not have the perspective such decisions would demand.

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

Filmmakers frequently default to creating stories about male characters, either unconsciously or by direction of Hollywood studios, who often hold an unreasonable and unsupportable presumption that movies about girls and women don’t sell tickets. But unless a protagonist is required by the story to do or experience something uniquely male — father a child; suffer from testicular cancer or male pattern baldness — there is almost no reason why that protagonist cannot be female. The few examples of scripts written for male leads that ended up as movies with female leads without any meaningful alteration in their stories — Alien; Salt — demonstrate that gender-swapping even action roles is possible, and results in kickass movies. Even placing female characters into roles that may once have been or still are almost exclusively male, such as the military, can result in stories that shake up clichés in well-trodden genres. The presence of a female character in a nontraditional role could also work as fantasy or wish-fulfillment for audiences in the same way that men doing outrageous or ridiculous things in movies can: Indiana Jones was not a realistic depiction of an archaeologist anyway, and Biblical artifacts with supernatural powers do not actually exist, so would it really have been a stretch to cast a female Indy? Of course not.

There is the perception in our pop culture that stories about men have universal appeal and speak to universal human needs, desires, and fears, while stories about women appeal only to women and speak only to women. This is because we too often see movies about men performing the full spectrum of human experiences while we see women doing only “women’s” things (caring for men and children; keeping house; etc.). More female protagonists in genderblind roles would begin to counter that nonsensical belief.

+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)

Even a film with a male protagonist can still acknowledge that women are people with hopes and dreams and lives of their own, so a few points for that. A film centered on a boy or man does not necessarily have to relegate women to thankless roles in which they do nothing but encourage and support men in their journeys and adventures.

+2
Is she nonwhite?

See above about the even more appalling lack of women of color in film.

-5
Is she the only woman in an otherwise all-male ensemble?

A strong supporting female character is great… but not if she’s a token girl. Films that are about “teams” — see: many action movies — often treat women as if they are a “type” of person. A team that consists of a (male) leader, a (male) grunt, a (male) nerd, a (male) wiseass, and a woman is infuriating for how it suggests that her gender is the defining quality of her humanity in a way that the same does not apply to the men.

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

Think of Trinity in The Matrix and Wyldstyle in The Lego Movie. They have all the qualities that supposedly define the Chosen One in their mythic scenarios. They should be the heroes of their stories… and yet they must stand aside while a newcomer fuckup guy gets all the glory. Not cool.

Of course, characters who are already awesome and perfect don’t always make the best protagonists: a character needs some room to grow and change to make for an interesting story. But characters like Trinity and Wyldstyle appear to be an attempt to acknowledge the lack of “strong” female characters onscreen while still falling back into problematic depictions of women as unsuitable for driving stories, suitable only for supporting men as they drive stories.

See also the problems with the manic pixie dream girl.

-10
Is there a manic pixie dream girl?

Similar to the awesome and perfect girl, but more applicable to romantic comedies and dramedies. MPDGs are problematic because they tie into notions of women as responsible for helping men grow into romantic adulthood, and also of women as people who do not need any help on their own in that respect.

As with the awesome and perfect girl, the prevalence of the MPDG and the lack of the gender-swapped opposite (there are no manic pixie dream guys who escort womenchildren into acceptable adulthood with their kooky antics) might appear to be positive depictions of women: “Hey, women are totally cool and have it all together, and only men are the screwups.” But this denies women their full humanity: women are not perfect but are flawed, messed-up human beings, just like men, who also need support in their journeys toward unfucked-upness.

-10
Is there a straw feminist?

Does the film contain a character (either male or female, though most likely to be female) who espouses stereotypically “feminist” attitudes only so that those attitudes can be knocked down? (Think: a romantic comedy with a “best friend” character who puts down all men and disparages romance — which aren’t feminist stances at all! — only so that the female lead can prove her wrong by marrying the man of her dreams.) Not cool.

0
Does the film take place in a primarily all-male environment (ie, prison, historical military)?

There are legitimate stories to be told that do not include any female characters at all; a film will not lose points for that. But see below.

-10
Did it need to? (points deducted if not)

But not all stories that are cast as “male only” actually need to be. Many war stories, for example, are set in environments that should feature women, such as in civilian roles. There are very few spaces in the world that entirely exclude women in any and all capacities.


FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY

+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.)?

When girls and women (and boys and men!) fail to see women doing the full range of jobs humans do, they get a limited idea about the options open to them. I’ve even had male readers complain that they don’t want to see more women in movies because they don’t want to see all that girlie stuff ruining their movies. This suggests that those men are not even able to conceive of women doing things onscreen that aren’t “girly.” This needs to change… and seeing women in positions of leadership and authority can go a long way toward reshaping those outmoded attitudes. But see below.

See also my discussion of the necessity of casting women in genderblind roles.

-5
Is her authority presented as having a negative impact on her life?

Seeing women in positions of leadership and authority is good (see above) only if a movie doesn’t depict women leaders and authority figures as suffering because of those positions. When a movie casts powerful women as irritable, unreasonable harridans because they’ve got power, this only reinforces notions about leadership and power as unfeminine and inappropriate for women and detrimental to their lives.

This isn’t to say that a movie cannot realistically depict the challenges faced by women with high-powered jobs, or cannot offer flawed female characters in such positions, simply that they shouldn’t caricature powerful women as less-than-women because of their jobs.

+2
Is she nonwhite?

See above about the appalling lack of women of color in film.

+5
More than one (of any race)?

Even better than a film with one powerful female leader or authority figure is a film with more than one. Because powerful women are not a freakish anomaly.

+1
Is there a female character with insignificant screen time in a position of authority?

Those cops interviewing witnesses in one scene of the murder mystery? Those senators speaking in a news clip in the alien-invasion flick? They probably don’t all need to be male.

See also my discussion of the necessity of casting women in genderblind roles.

+1
More than one?

Even better than a film with one woman doing a job with power and authority is a film with more than one. Because authoritative women are not a freakish anomaly.

+10
Is there a female villain or antagonist?

A call for “strong” female characters onscreen doesn’t mean we need to see only women who are “good” or noble or heroic. Women — because they encompass the full range of what it means to be a human being — can also do terrible things. But see below.

See also my discussion of the necessity of casting women in genderblind roles.

-20
Is her villainy/badness defined primarily by her gender (ie, is it related to motherhood, or is it of a sexual nature)?

A woman villain is great… unless her villainy is specifically female in nature. Think a “woman scorned” who gets revenge on a man for dumping her (as in Fatal Attraction). Or a woman who goes cartoonishly crazy over the death of a child (as in The Woman in Black). These only reinforce unfortunate stereotypes about women, including the one that movies love: that women are all about their gender, and nothing else.

This does not mean that a film cannot realistically depict a woman coping with the aftermath of a bad romance or of losing a child… but it does mean that such a depiction probably couldn’t be characterized as a villainous one.

+2
Is there a woman whose role could easily have been played by a man?

Part of the problem with the representation of women onscreen is that filmmakers (and casting directors) default to maleness unless a script specifies that a character must be female. We need to get away from maleness as the default state of human (and even nonhuman) people in movies.

See also my discussion of the necessity of casting women in genderblind roles.

+2
More than one?

Even better than a film with one woman in a role that could have been played by a man is a film with more than one. Because women whose lives and actions are not specifically defined by their gender is the reality.

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

Even worse than a story about a man in which women do nothing but stand aside looking on adoringly and giving him love and encouragement in his journey is a movie in which a woman is abused or killed in order to motivate a man along his journey. This is not to deny that in real life, men do indeed care about their wives, girlfriends, and daughters and would likely go to great extremes to protect them. (The same can also be said about women and their relationships with their husbands, boyfriends, and sons, yet men being murdered so that women can avenge them is not a cliché of cinema.) But as in so many of the other limited and limiting depictions of women onscreen (see here and here, for example), this places women on the traditional pedestal of being somehow “better” than men — which denies women their fully humanity — while also simultaneously depicting women as wholly at the mercy of men, either their (male) attackers or their (male) rescuers.

This trope is also frequently used to titillate viewers with the prospect of female violation as a sort of ticking bomb the hero must race against. Not cool.


THE MALE GAZE

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

You know all those movies in which a bunch of guys and one girl have an adventure in a jungle/the Outback/the woods/a haunted house/an alien planet, and the guys are all wearing heavy jeans and boots and long-sleeved flannel shirts and warm jackets, and the girl is in short-shorts and a tank top? It makes her look stupid, and it makes the filmmakers look ridiculous for catering to an audience that it presumes must be horny and straight and male. (That a few lesbians in the audience might be turned on by the female character’s lack of attire is sheer accidental, unintended byproduct.)

It’s even worse when there’s more than one woman dressed so stupidly.

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

Until our culture starts treating the female chest the way it does the male chest — as, in most cases, something asexual and blandly uninteresting — it is going to be problematic to have women appearing topless onscreen, and it’s made worse by how frequent and sexualized even partial female nudity is. Bare female breasts in movies are almost always gratuitous and almost always intended to titillate the (presumed straight male) viewer. (If not, there would be lots of scenes of women casually breastfeeding babies… but this would defeat the let’s-titillate-the-guys aim by reminding men that the fundamental reason for the existence of women’s breasts is not for their pleasure.) Lots of women baring their breasts only compounds the problem.

-10
Is there a female character with significant screen time who appears fully nude?
-10
More than one?

Complete female nudity is, as with bare breasts, almost always gratuitous and almost always intended to titillate the (presumed straight male) viewer. It also occurs onscreen wildly out of proportion with full male nudity. Men are afforded a degree of dignity onscreen that is not afforded women, and more naked women in a film only compounds the problem. But see below.

+8
Does a man appear fully nude? (only for a film with full female nudity)
+8
More than one?

A man or men appearing fully nude in a movie cannot quite balance out its female nudity, given the overuse of the latter, but almost. (This applies only to a film with female nudity because a film in which a man or men are nude but not a woman or women does nothing to improve female representation onscreen.)

-10
Is there a scene set in a strip club for no good reason?

Unless the scene involves exploring what it’s like to be a stripper at her job, or discussing the running of a strip club as a business (and even these could be problematic), there’s probably no legit excuse for setting a scene in a strip club. Usually, this is just a way to get some bare breasts onscreen.

-5
Is a woman introduced ass-first?
-5
Is a woman introduced by the camera crawling up her body (either front or back) from her feet to her head?

Women treated as valuable or interesting because of what their bodies look like, and how they might arouse the (presumed straight male) viewer? Not cool. This could stop being a problem once filmmakers start using a camera to visually caress male characters to the same degree — hence catering as much to the female (and queer male) gaze — but until that time, it’s a problem that only women are presented this way.

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

Think of scenes in which a man is shown to be enjoying his wealth and power by lounging around with half-naked (and nameless/anonymous) women in a hot tub. Or scenes in which nerdy teen boys ogle beautiful bikini-clad women jogging in slo-mo along a beach. Or any movie in which women are generally scantily or otherwise provocatively dressed and presented in a sexualized manner (ridiculous poses, imagery focusing on their bodies, etc.) while men are not.

Movies frequently use such visual language to reinforce — sometimes unconsciously, sometimes not — their perspectives as exclusively (straight) male, and to reinforce — sometimes unconsciously, sometimes not — notions of women as the property of men and/or as existing merely for the pleasure of men.

See also all the other discussions in this section (here, here, here, here, here, and here).


GENDER/SEXUALITY

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

Using the tropes of womanhood as a joke is demeaning to women in that it says that womanhood itself is a joke. Compare how a man dressing as a woman is generally considered either intentionally or unintentionally humorous (Tyler Perry’s Madea; drag queens in a homophobic context) while a woman dressing as a man (Annie Hall) is considered either chic and cool or simply nothing to comment on at all. These are expressions of the relative powers of the genders: A man trying to look womanly is subject to ridicule, because why would a man voluntarily place himself in a lower position of a woman? Yet a woman who wants to look like a man is clearly looking to appropriate some male power for herself. (Unless she’s a lesbian, but that’s another issue entirely.)

An entire movie premised on a man dressing as a woman might have some redeeming feminist values (ie, Tootsie), but in such a case, it’s unlikely that femininity itself would be the butt of the movie’s humor. In most cases (such as Madea), any feminist point to be made could just as easily be made with a woman in the central role, and so the problem is compounded by the fact that a female actor lost out on the job.

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

Even a film with a female protagonist isn’t doing to much to help female representation on film if her story is all about pursuing traditional lady-goals of acquiring a husband and/or having children. Of course, in real life, many women do have marriage and children as life goals… but so do many men, and we don’t see an entire genre of stories devoted to men pursuing romance.

A film can avoid this trap by giving us a female protagonist with other nontraditional goals as well that are explored in the story.

On the other hand, lesbians and lesbian romances are so absent from the big screen that a lesbian romance would be a step ahead for female representation.

-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional and/or sexual relationship with a man or men?
-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional or biological relationship with a child or children?

This is to account for an all-too-typical role women get slotted into on film: as the dutiful wife and/or mother who appears to have nothing else in her life beside her husband and/or children. In real life, even devoted stay-at-home moms have hobbies, friends, and other interests beyond their families. Also: it is vanishingly rare for a film to depict a man as nothing other than a husband or father.

-3
Is a dead (or otherwise absent) mother mentioned?
+3
Is a dead (or otherwise absent) father also mentioned?

Orphanhood is a state with a long and noble history in movies. And there’s nothing wrong with it, per se, as a storytelling trope. But frequently a dead mother — or one who is out of the picture in some other way, such as abandonment, estrangement, divorce, etc. — appears to be merely an excuse to not have another (or any) female character in the mix, and/or a way to define (yet again) womanhood as exclusively motherhood, or in such cases, a lack of appropriate female influence (as a mother) on a character. (Think of all the Disney movies with female protagonists with dead and hence absent mothers!)

This can be balanced out if the character’s father is also dead or otherwise absent from the story.

-3
Is a dead (or otherwise absent) wife mentioned (who is not also mentioned as a dead or absent mother)?
-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)?

A variant on the dead or absent mother. And, of course, more than one woman absent as a character yet intended to have some impact on the story is even worse.

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

Men do not get to tell a woman (a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend) whom they may and may not date, sleep with, or marry. Yet many a movie features a plot or subplot revolving around a man vetting potential romantic partners for a woman in his life. Not cool.

This trope can be redeemed if the movie treats this man’s actions as unacceptable.

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

This is the negative side of women as suitable in stories only for supporting men on their personal journeys.

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

Yes, in real life, some women prefer to date or marry much older men. But most people marry a partner very close in age to themselves. You’d never guess this from Hollywood movies, though. Hollywood’s lack of use for women over 35 or so is reflected in the romantic matchups we see onscreen, in which leading men in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and even beyond are paired with women 20, 30, and even 40 years younger with them as if this were normal and unremarkable. The age differences between such couples are rarely — almost never — an issue.

While actors can and do play characters either older or younger than their own actual ages, while using this criterion I will be using the actors’s own ages. Because this is a matter of who is getting cast in movies.

-5
Is a woman paired as a mother to biological offspring (either children or adult) she’s too young to have given birth to?
+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?
+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?
+5
Does the story deal, in either theme or plot, with the ramifications of motherhood at too young an age?

Similar to the problem of women paired romantically with men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers is the problem of women portraying mothers to offspring (either still children or grown adults) whom they could not reasonably have been old enough to have given birth to. This is almost always a result of Hollywood being unwilling to cast older women in any kind of role, even when it would be age-appropriate. This can be mitigated or entirely offset if the story includes flashbacks to periods when the child or children were much younger, and hence the mother must be much younger as well, or if the story actually acknowledges and deals with, in a significant way, the fact that a woman had become a mother at a very young age. Though even this has a lower limit: pregnant at 16 is not very unlikely; pregnant at 12 is rare and would have had such a dramatic impact on a girl that it would almost have to be an inescapable part of her story. Yet it is not at all rare to see women cast as mothers to actors only 12 or 14 years younger than them, and for a movie to seem not to even be aware of what a remarkable impact this would have on a woman’s life.

A passing comment, on the other hand, about how young a woman looks to have kids so old, or that she was a teenage mother, is not enough to mitigate this problem.

While actors can and do play characters either older or younger than their own actual ages, while using this criterion I will be using the actors’s own ages. Because this is a matter of who is getting cast in movies.

-10
Is there a hooker with a heart of gold?

Not only do these not exist in reality, but this cliché perpetuates a myth that women enjoy being commodities for men’s pleasure.


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LaSargenta
LaSargenta
Mon, Jan 12, 2015 9:47am

Two small comments:

-I think you meant to make the number score green for “Is he rebuked for it, either directly (by a character onscreen) or indirectly (by how it is depicted)?”
-wouldn’t Splash be a better example of a woman cross-dressing? I always throught that the Annie Hall costume was a ‘look’ rather than cross-dressing.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaSargenta
Mon, Jan 12, 2015 12:49pm

Fixed the green/red thing. Thanks.

As for *Annie Hall,* yeah, it was a “look”… a deliberately mannish look. And it’s still a thing: http://www.luckymag.com/style/2014/02/menswear-outfit-ideas .

*Splash* just proves the point: a woman can dress in man’s clothes and be considered straight-up mainstream fashionable, but not the opposite, except in a limited queer-friendly sort of way. Crossdressing for women isn’t even considered crossdressing!

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Jan 12, 2015 3:00pm

There was a US tv movie sometime way back in the 80’s, I think, the main character was played by, uh, I’ve no clue. I think it might have been the same person who was whatshisname’s crush in Breaking Away (I can’t be bothered to read iMDB right now). Anyhow, the movie was about a woman who is a reporter, looking for a job, she loves sports, decides to go for a sportswriter position. IIRC, Robert Culp is the editor she interviews with. Obviously, she doesn’t get the job. She goes back cross-dressed (and after a shitload of coaching from her boyfriend…that was a fun bit of the movie) and gets the job. Don’t remember the complete upshot of the movie, but I think she ‘won’. (IE: got to eventually not cross-dress, kept the job, kept the boyfriend, made friends with the woman at the paper who had gotten a crush on her as a him, etc.)

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  LaSargenta
Mon, Jan 12, 2015 3:34pm

IMdB says it was Her Life as a Man with Kathryn Douglass. It came out a year before Just One of the Guys, a bad teen comedy about a female journalist disguised as a football player, which tells you something about the state of mid-’80s feminism–or, more likely, doesn’t.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Danielm80
Mon, Jan 12, 2015 4:51pm

I might have to review that, if it’s available. :-)

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Jan 12, 2015 10:40pm
rick
rick
Tue, Jan 20, 2015 7:03pm

You need to add scoring for the hooker/stripper/hot babe character who has some “magical mainstream talent” that surprises everyone in the movie. For example, the hooker with financial knowledge (Trading Places), the stripper/hot babe with automotive knowledge (The Guilt Trip, My Cousin Vinny), and the hot teenage babe with computer knowledge (Getaway).

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  rick
Tue, Jan 20, 2015 10:59pm

stripper/hot babe with automotive knowledge (The Guilt Trip, My Cousin Vinny)

…and in Pretty Woman, too. >.<

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  LaSargenta
Tue, Jan 20, 2015 11:46pm

When I first saw Rick’s suggestion, I thought, “Does that trope really show up often enough to get its own category?” Then I thought of Sin City. It has an entire squadron of hookers with special talents. Of course, their talents involve weapons.

And there’s Megan Fox in Transformers. She fixes cars in a midriff-baring outfit. In slow motion.

Jared Prince
Jared Prince
reply to  Danielm80
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 6:21pm

Your arguments make no sense to me.

“Sexy women = bad”
Ok, fair enough. There’s no need for every woman to be some kind of sex icon for a male gaze.

“Sexy women + skills = even worse”
I just don’t follow. You’ve lost me.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Jared Prince
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 6:29pm

Oddly enough, I agree with you. I’m kind of embarrassed by that comment. My general rule of thumb would be: Are the women portrayed as three-dimensional people?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jared Prince
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 10:42pm

No one is saying that sexy women are bad.

I’m beginning to suspect that you are trolling us.

Jared Prince
Jared Prince
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Jul 23, 2015 3:43am

Yeah, because people who disagree with you, or in this case point out how horribly backwards many of your arguments are, must be a troll. I guess that’s your perspective, not much I can do about that except maybe slavishly agree.

My “Sexy women = bad” was obviously intended as a simplification in order to clarify the point that you, as per usual, were ignoring. So that you might finally get the point that the “Sexy women + skills = even worse” idea that Rick and others were proposing does not hold water.

And I qualified it with a quick mention of the male gaze to communicate that I understand the issue is nuanced. It is a direct reference to the way the issue has been presented in this thread.

I was impressed with Danielm80’s response. She actually looked at what I wrote, and even though she disagreed strongly with me in other threads, I think she got what I was saying.

Even in the Fury Road thread where I had a different point of view to Bluejay, I had a decent discussion.

Look, don’t worry, I’m not going to hang around. I AM interested in film feminism. I’m probably not feminist enough for you, or the wrong brand or something. I’m really interested in female perspectives on sci-fi, horror, and action, since they are my favourite genres. I’m interested in how to make a film can work for both men and women, and the types of problems that can arise. For instance, where I asked you about how to use female characters in action films. I posted my genuine thoughts (that something akin to simple gender swaps won’t work, or treating the women exactly the same as the men, won’t work at this point in our cultural history because films often treat men really badly, and it would come across as gratuitous violence against women.)

I’m not just going to agree with everything said by others. When something looks like rubbish to me, or is inconsistent with other things, I’ll say so. Maybe I’ll be wrong sometimes, and the discussion will convince me. Maybe I be right sometimes, and someone might agree with me. Who knows.

I really want to have these discussions. But I’m seeing this is not the place. Not because of the other members, they’ve been great even if they have disagreed with me and even been annoyed by me.

Meh, fair enough. It’s not really a discussion type site anyway, it’s for your reviews, and your POV should take precedence. You don’t want to be arguing with “trolls” all the time, you have reviews to write. So I’ll be on my way.

Best of luck, hope the site goes well.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Jared Prince
Thu, Jul 23, 2015 4:54am

We really don’t have any problem with discussions and disagreements here. Personally, my main annoyance/confusion was that we all seem to agree philosophically about MMFR’s feminism and why it’s important, and yet you keep insisting MaryAnn graded it wrong and you keep misreading/misrepresenting what she says so that you can argue with it. What’s up with that?

Feel free to discuss anything, but if you’re unclear about what any of us are saying, don’t just put words in our mouth and try to claim we’re saying something else. Just ask for clarification.

Jared Prince
Jared Prince
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Jul 23, 2015 6:18am

I do not agree that I’m misreading/misrepresenting anything in the MMFR thread. I’m using direct quotes, in context, and disagreeing with them. But that’s a discussion for the MMFR thread.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Jared Prince
Thu, Jul 23, 2015 12:12pm

I’m using direct quotes, in context, and disagreeing with them.

You’re also rephrasing them to say something the original commenter obviously never meant.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  LaSargenta
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 7:43pm

I’m not sure it’s quite fair to compare the Marisa Tomei character in My Cousin Vinny to a stripper.

And in any event, it’s not like the film’s script initially depicted her as the type of person who was likely to know a lot about cars. However, YMMV.

In any event, I’m a bit surprised to see that no one on this thread seems particularly bothered by the scene in Bulworth in which the Halle Berry character “surprises” the title character by suddenly giving the type of complex historical lecture that he was not expecting.

Granted, the film was trying to make a point about stereotypes but that was hardly Warren Beatty’s finest moment.

Of course, Halle Berry wasn’t playing a stripper so no doubt that’s why it was not mentioned…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  rick
Wed, Jan 21, 2015 11:39am

The criteria are set now for this year. If this turns up this year, it could be dealt with in the wildcard section. If it turns up often enough, it could get added to next year’s criteria (if I do this again next year). But this could also fall under existing criteria, too, depending on how it plays out.

Jared Prince
Jared Prince
reply to  rick
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 1:11pm

Really? Sex worker/hot women can’t have skills? She couldn’t have been, for instance, a professional journalist?
https://au.news.yahoo.com/sunday-night/features/a/24859902/australian-journalist-reveals-secret-life-as-escort/

I’m utterly bewildered by the attitudes expressed about sex workers on this site. Really awful stuff.

Wait, maybe I’m mis-understanding this. You mean it’s a positive score if a “hooker/stripper/hot babe” is good at something other than just being pretty or having sex, right? You could not possibly mean that’s a negative thing, that all “hooker/stripper/hot babes” must be presented as having absolutely no use to society apart from their sexual function, must be presented as never having read a book or learnt a skill. That would be insanely backwards, some really horrible Madonna/Whore stuff.

Yeah, my apologies, I must have misunderstood.

(If you mean it’s the *surprise* from others that gets the negative socre, that’s another thing. But even then, that’s hardly worth a negative score, it just shows that the character who was surprised is a jerk. Movies are allowed to have characters who are jerks sometimes.)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jared Prince
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 2:50pm

You’re getting it all wrong. These criteria are designed to determine whether the women onscreen are depicted as complex, complicated, flawed human beings, or if they are set dressing.

Jared Prince
Jared Prince
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 3:11pm

Ok, but I don’t understand how a “hooker/stripper/hot babe” who is then given additional skills makes her a *worse* character rather than a better one.

If you’re subtracting points for being sexy, fine, but why subtract additional points for being something else as well?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jared Prince
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 10:31pm

I have no idea what the hell you are talking about.

J.T. Dawgzone
J.T. Dawgzone
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Nov 17, 2015 10:47pm

I actually have the same question… I mean, is it because it’s a kind of lazy shorthand for screenwriters who can’t be bothered to create women actually in professional positions?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  J.T. Dawgzone
Wed, Nov 18, 2015 9:15am

If you are asking me why “a ‘hooker/stripper/hot babe’ who is then given additional skills makes her a *worse* character rather than a better one,” then you are asking the wrong person. I did not say anything like this. Jared Prince is confusing me and my criteria with a suggestion from a reader (which is NOT included in my criteria, and won’t be).

Stephen Robinson
Stephen Robinson
Sat, Jan 24, 2015 12:15am

My concern about “genderblind” characters is that I worry we’ll just see female characters who are “written as men,” which isn’t necessarily realistic. Women are different from men, and respond to things differently without that actually being a negative. I’d also think that “genderblind” women would make it easier for men to continue dominating the industry, especially as screenwriters. Thus, as a male screenwriter, I can just make Gordon Levitt’s character female without having changed much of anything in how I conceived of the character.

I’m pleased to see you deflate the “hooker with a heart of gold” myth. In “Pretty Woman,” she was essentially a “manic pixie dream girl” and in “Leaving Las Vegas,” she was the nurturing mother.

How men relate to women in movies is part of the problem. Male relationships can range from the “bromances” we see in “Shawshank” and “Pulp Fiction” to fierce rivalries (“Glengarry Glen Ross”). I’d love to see a man and a woman with a comfortable, intimate platonic relationship (like Jules and Vincent) where the woman is *not* his mother/sister surrogate. And I’d love to see true male/female rivals. What if Cipher in “The Matrix” had been female? But with the same motivations as the male counterpart? I’ve often imagined an update of “Glengarry Glen Ross” with Williamson (the part played by Kevin Spacey in the movie) cast as a woman. With only a few minor lines changed, I think it would still work and add further dimension to the tension in the office.

RogerBW
RogerBW
reply to  Stephen Robinson
Sat, Jan 24, 2015 10:17am

Baby steps. Most screenwriters apparently can’t write convincing women at all. For the moment, I’d rather they write male roles which then get cast as female than they continue to write their idea of female roles.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Stephen Robinson
Sat, Jan 24, 2015 12:19pm

Women are different from men, and respond to things differently without that actually being a negative.

Er, no. People are different from other people. Some people respond to things differently than other people do. We already see men being depicted in this way onscreen: as people who fall into a wide range of experiences, opinions, and ways of dealing with things. We don’t see women depicted that way.

acropunk
acropunk
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 2:57pm

Women are biologically and anatomically different from men, which has an effect on behavior and psychology.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
reply to  acropunk
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 7:11pm

Oh, please, do explain gender essentialism. I don’t think any of us have ever heard of that before. And could you toss in a little evo-psych too while you’re at it, cause that’s just the best. Just make sure to ignore all the debunking done on both. I mean, where’s the fun it’s that, amirite?

acropunk
acropunk
reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 10:55pm

So women aren’t anatomically different?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  acropunk
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 9:37pm

You’re not gonna find many takers for this nonsense here.

acropunk
acropunk
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 10:57pm

So you believe that women, due to anatomical features, do not have a different experience of life?

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
reply to  Stephen Robinson
Wed, Nov 18, 2020 7:59pm

I don’t see a problem with genderblind characters “just so happening” to be female. Women are different from men, sure, but they’re not so different that you literally CANNOT have a woman play a role written for a man and vice versa. And if people see a well-written female character who is not defined by the fact that she’s female as “just another originally male-written character with the gender swapped”, then I’m sorry, but that’s the audience’s own damn fault for assuming male is the default. And even if the story does have to do with being female(like Mean Girls which tackles “girl-on-girl crime” and rejects many male-centric tropes, like girls acting dumb to get guys to like them), that doesn’t mean the characters themselves can only be enjoyed by women. Mean Girls is a timeless movie and it’s not JUST because of female viewership. No movie gets popular with just 50% of the population watching and enjoying it(which is why I think more shows for girls should be seen as acceptable for boys to watch and enjoy as well. If the characters are written well, it shouldn’t MATTER that they’re girls; movies should not be gendered.).

I agree, though, that we need more of a range of male-female relationships like the ones you’ve mentioned(and suddenly I’m reminded of Tarzan and The Land Before Time). I’d also love to see stories that present two female characters as friends without being catty and fighting over popularity or a boy. Or, if they do, it’s portrayed as wrong and a lesson is learned, like Mean Girls above. Matilda is one of the movies that did it, of course, as there are girls and women presented as friends, like Matilda, Lavender, Hortensia, and Ms. Honey, who don’t have romance arcs or fight over guys/popularity. And although Mrs. Wormwood says “A girl doesn’t get anywhere by acting intelligent.”, she’s portrayed as a ditzy trophy wife and a Valley Girl, and we’re not supposed to agree with her. But even she at the end gets some depth, and seems to regret her actions when she says “You were the only daughter I ever had, Matilda, and I never understood you, not one little bit…”. She wasted her chance to finally have a girl child whom she could connect with, and she knew it, but the point is that she seems even a little bit remorseful of her actions.

Jared Prince
Jared Prince
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 1:00pm

This is an interesting list, and I agree with a lot of it, but it’s also quite a minefield, and like all sets of rules, overly simplistic. Poor Mad Max Fury Road would be slaughtered by a lot of things, for instance it has not one but five offscreen rapes, shots that scan over the women’s (pregnant) bodies. They are abused to further Immortan Joe’s story (and arguably Max’s too, since there’d be nothing for him to do if he wasn’t part of their rescue.) Yet I’d hardly consider MMFR a sexist piece of trash.

The last rule comes across as a bit SWERF-y too. Sexual slavery is a million miles from taking up sex work of your own free will. Ignoring that reeks of talking at sex workers rather than listening to their very varied reasons and experiences, that you will only except them if they approach you in the role of victim. Are you saying there are no prostitutes who like their jobs (at least as much as any of us like our jobs) or are you saying that there are no prostitutes who are good people?

http://www.mamamia.com.au/lifestyle/faces-of-prostitution/

Anyhow, I also dislike seeing movies where women are sexualized but the men aren’t. I’m an equal opportunity voyuer, and would love to see more naked and semi-naked men in films. And a well muscled male chest IS NOT MUNDANE! ;)

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Jared Prince
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 1:10pm

Poor Mad Max Fury Road would be slaughtered by a lot of things

It wasn’t.

https://www.flickfilosopher.com/2015/05/where-are-the-women-mad-max-fury-road.html

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jared Prince
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 2:48pm

overly simplistic

In what ways?

Sexual slavery is a million miles from taking up sex work of your own free will.

And a complex well-written character who is a sex worker is a million miles from the clichéd hooker with a heart of gold.

Jared Prince
Jared Prince
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 3:06pm

By complex, you mean what? Damaged and victimized in just the right way? Is every hooker with a heart of gold necessarily a *cliched* hooker with a heart of gold?

I’m a little blurry on the HWAHOG. Does any kind or friendly sex worker count?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jared Prince
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 10:30pm

No.

acropunk
acropunk
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 3:00pm

Fury Road capitalized on the poor models who were taken hostage by Immortan Joe. That was a visual cue and part of the visual panache of the movie. It was a big part of the motivation of the characters, to rescue them. Think about this, would the movie have worked as well if the captive models weren’t ‘hot’?

Follow your logic to it’s end. If a movie should have completely equal and interchangeable roles for men and women, then physically unattractive (by common standards and appeal) characters/actresses should get the same roles as beautiful women.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  acropunk
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 9:38pm

If a movie should have completely equal and interchangeable roles for men and women,

Nice straw man.

acropunk
acropunk
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 11:02pm

The women weren’t kidnapped? They weren’t held against their will? You know what I meant by hostages. Its the same imagery.

Beautiful, scantily clad women held against their will and in distress. Right. Hollywood’s never done that one before.

Carry your logic through to its conclusion. By your logic, ugly people should be allowed to be leading men and women in big budget Hollywood movies.

Frank
Frank
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 2:09am

So if a movie can be good and yet do bad on these scores, why do we need these scores?
Even worse, if people begin to think that a story will only be good if it meets these criteria, than the criteria are harmful to creative expression.
Basically, these standards are a joke.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Frank
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 2:55am

She explains the need for the project here:

http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/guest-post-so-where-are-the-women-onscreen-20150708

You might also take a look at the statistics for 2015, so far:

https://www.flickfilosopher.com/2015/07/where-are-the-women-73-wide-releases-in-us-in-2015-so-far-only-18-have-female-protagonists.html

The links posted next to each of the criteria above also help explain why she’s doing the project.

And it sounds as though the jazz world could use a “Where are the Women?” project.

Frank
Frank
reply to  Danielm80
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 5:10am

If women want to join the jazz world they can do it. We do not need a “where are the women project.”

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Frank
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 8:55am

You clearly have no idea of the uphill battles women face in male-dominated fields.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Frank
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 12:14pm

You’re hilarious.

Not that it will help, but here’s some reading for you:

http://youtu.be/vFZ5JCZkuZ8

http://flappergirlsings.com/2012/12/gender-war-in-jazz/

http://www.wroyalstokes.com/archive/women_in_jazz.htm

A quote:

In fact, jazz is far behind not only American society but behind all other performing arts and all other musical genres in demolishing gender discrimination.

RogerBW
RogerBW
reply to  Danielm80
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 8:56am

“Up front singing, so people don’t have to look at the musicians.”

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Frank
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 3:16am

Any single movie can have poor representation of women but still be a good movie. But these criteria matter when you look at the big picture, and you see an overall pattern of movies poorly representing women. That indicates a larger problem with cultural attitudes toward women, and in the end it DOES affect the quality of our stories. When our stories constantly demean, de-emphasize, and dismiss women and treat them as less than fully human, we miss out on the experiences and perspectives of half the human race, and we are the poorer for it.

Frank
Frank
reply to  Bluejay
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 5:12am

If some women are not happy with how they are represented in movies than they can make movies that represent them in the way they would like.
Personally, I think men and women are very different creatures (yes, I am one of those terrible people).
It seems to me that all this talk always come down to women wanting to do everything men have traditionally done.
Well, if some women want to ‘keep up with the boys’ I say quit your whining and just do it.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Frank
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 8:58am

Women *do* try to make movies! And they are blocked at every attempt. Women make up half of film school students, yet by the time we get to big blockbusters, hardly any women are directing.

There are *many* resources available online that explain the problems female filmmakers face. Please educate yourself.

I am one of those terrible people

Stop it. No one is saying men are “terrible.” Institutional and cultural sexism is terrible. As a man, you can either educate yourself to learn what the issues are and how you can be an ally, or you can stand aside and let the rest of us get on with the work of changing things.

acropunk
acropunk
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 3:05pm

“Women *do* try to make movies! And they are blocked at every attempt.”

Christopher Nolan made his first film for what, 4k USD? How about Robert Rodruiguez? He did pharmaceutical testing to get the money to finance his low budget debut feature El Mariachi. He let himself get prodded and poked and swallowed pills with unknown effects.

Darren Arronofsky? How much do you think his first feature PI really cost? Kevin Smith? Clerks cost almost nothing.

Stop using your biological gender as an excuse not to make movies. That doesn’t help your cause.

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  acropunk
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 3:35pm

Do you really think women aren’t making low-budget and independent movies?

But men who make those sorts of movies are often hired, fairly quickly, to make big-budget studio films. See, for example, Colin Trevorrow and some of the directors you mentioned above. Women rarely get that kind of opportunity.

acropunk
acropunk
reply to  Danielm80
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 5:08pm

The movies I listed above all won accolades and awards at major festivals.

I’m not saying that women get enough opportunities. I am saying that the lack of opportunities for women is exaggerated.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  acropunk
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 9:41pm

Do you really think that if a woman directed a taught mystery as good as Nolan’s first feature ‘Following’ Hollywood wouldn’t pay heed?

Yes. This is exactly what is happening. Women are more than half of students at film schools. Women are making *tons* of “entry level” films, such as shorts. Films by women get acclaim at festivals. And women DO NOT get the same opportunities to jump up to the next levels that men get. This is documented fact.

This site is not Feminism 101. We are not here to teach you.

acropunk
acropunk
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 11:14pm

List examples. I did.

Distributors buy movies they think have legs at festivals. Clerka and Pi, films which launched the careers of Kevin Smith and Darren Arronofsky, were genre (comedy and mystery/suspense) movies that were smash hits at festivals.

You don’t want equality you want preferential treatment to make up for the preferential treatment men get, which you overstate.

Suggestion: spend less time whining and more time making movies and that’s how you will see real progress.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  acropunk
Mon, Feb 29, 2016 9:39pm

You have no idea what you’re talking about.

Where are the women who made movies on the cheap and then get handed $100 million budgets?

Go on, look for them. We’ll wait…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Frank
Tue, Aug 25, 2015 8:55am

So if a movie can be good and yet do bad on these scores, why do we need these scores?

Because we need more movies that represent women well. How is this even an issue for you?

Even worse, if people begin to think that a story will only be good if it meets these criteria

Why would be people think that when I have gone out of my way to state otherwise?

Might as well worry about whether it is sunny or rainy outside before you enter the theatre and how this will effect the movie.

Well, now that we know that you think women are like the weather, we don’t have to take you seriously.

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
Sat, Dec 12, 2020 1:45am

“Is femininity used as a joke (ie, a man crossdressing for humorous intent) in passing? In a way essential to the movie?”

*Sigh* That happens in A LOT of animes and anime-inspired works, too many to count, and I DO NOT like that. Though the most obvious one I can think of right now is Assassination Classroom, when Nagisa was forced to disguise himself as a girl for a mission. Only difference is, it WASN’T essential to the story–Karma literally made him do it because he found it funny. And then Rio made him do it AGAIN when the boy who fell in love with him thinking he was a girl came and tried to arrange a date with him, to the point of forcing off his pants and putting him in her skirt(while also putting on his pants herself). And while that’s totally in character for Karma and Rio to do, seeing as they’re both essentially certified trolls, it’s just another example of femininity being used as a joke for cheap laughs. I don’t think the show is sexist by any means(I mean, there was that time when the boys talked about the girls they were into and even wrote it down, but they didn’t exactly objectify them and said nice things about pretty much all of them, plus the girls and Irina were discussing romance too) or that that scene was even intended to be sexist; all I’m saying is when you look at it in aggregate, it is absolutely insulting to women, and I’m sick of seeing it. Just like it’s sexist when badass crime-fighting men disguise themselves as weak, hapless women so as to not be targeted by their enemies, because man=active and woman=passive. It’s just another way in which women and womanhood are disregarded, without an actual woman even needing to be present. So it’s like female erasure on top of that.

Speaking of Irina, I feel like she is heavily over-sexualized, and I’m kind of tired of seeing the “oversexualized female teacher in charge of teenage students with the boys lusting after her” cliche. I mean, there was the scene where she forcibly kissed Nagisa and buried his face in her breasts. Was that really necessary? Even if it did have a reason in-universe, there were still other ways to go about it that didn’t just exist to satisfy male sexual desires. Also, that’s sexual assault and not okay, unless, apparently, the perpetuator is a hot woman or girl and the victim is a man or boy. Don’t you just love double standards? And they do the “scan body up and down” with her too. Although she at least has a character and isn’t just a walking pin-up doll.

I think the one anime example of a boy crossdressing as a girl that was NOT played for laughs was MM!, of all things. In fact, I think the guy’s crossdressing was even used as a non-humorous plot point, with him dressing up as a girl to meet this other girl and help her get over her crippling androphobia. So that’s sweet, I guess. Though I’ll admit I haven’t seen the anime in quite a long time, so my memory is a bit hazy of it. If I made any mistakes with either of the two animes, please feel free to to reach out to me and let me know!

However, I do feel like guys crossdressing is more common than the other way around, whether played for disgusting, cheap laughs, or not. This is probably either because girls’ clothes naturally have more variety, the authors couldn’t be bothered to include an actual girl, or, like you said, maleness is seen as the “default” setting and thus women crossdressing aren’t even seen as crossdressing, just “women who aren’t very feminine”. I would love to see a guy not be mocked for his femininity, or for femininity in general to not be mocked. But that doesn’t seem to be happening in some cases. Perhaps that’s why some guys are ashamed to hold their girlfriends’ purses in public. Or, it could be the reason for the iconic phrases “it’s not a doll, it’s an action figure!” and “it’s not pink, it’s salmon!”(which might also be to subvert the expectation that guys not notice subtle differences in color, which is somewhat biologically accurate, but let’s face it, it’s more often shame of femininity). At least, that’s what I’m inclined to believe.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  SailorSerena
Sun, Dec 13, 2020 6:11pm

thus women crossdressing aren’t even seen as crossdressing, just “women who aren’t very feminine”. I

But the ultimate go-to for discussing women “crossdressing” as men is Diane Keaton in *Annie Hall,* and pretty much Diane Keaton as herself forever after. Yet would any one day that she is not “feminine”? I doubt it.

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sun, Dec 13, 2020 7:09pm

I don’t know Annie Hall, and I’m not saying that women who crossdress can’t still be feminine when they’re not crossdressing. I’m simply saying that women crossdressing isn’t seen in the same light as men crossdressing. When men do it, it is much more obvious to some people than the other way around, due to the unfortunate view that male is the “default”. Thus, women can “slip under the radar”, so to speak(since crossdressing is still often looked down upon by many). Besides, weren’t you the one who said in response to LaSargenta, “Crossdressing for women isn’t even considered crossdressing!”? It’s the same thing I’m saying right now!

They’re also more likely to be portrayed normally, or doing it to take on the “active and dominant” role of a man, like in Mulan. A man doing that could hardly be portrayed under the same circumstances, unless the setting is an oppressive matriarchal society in which a man crossdresses as a woman to go to war because only women can go to war, or to do something else otherwise seen as traditionally feminine in that culture. But I haven’t seen anything like that. If you did, or if anybody else did, please let me know!

And like I said earlier, there is often little to no point in a male character crossdressing or looking feminine in-universe other than for cheap humor, either because they were forced into it(like Nagisa above), or because someone fell in love with them thinking they were a girl, only for that to turn out not to be the case(also Nagisa, and the guy from MM! whose name I can’t remember). It’s super unfortunate because it sends the implication that crossdressers only do it to set a “trap” for straight men to fall into(rather than, you know, simply enjoying the look), and that they are deceiving people for not conforming to the gender binary. Hence why in anime fandom, such a character is referred to as a “trap”. Or, if they are female but look male, a “reverse trap”, because once again, male is the “default”(similar to “harem” and “reverse harem”).

*Very big spoiler for Assassination Classroom ahead by the way.*

And this often leads to the potential for strong female presence, or strong female representation being erased. After all(and I saw someone make this same comment on Quora but worded differently), if you’re gonna make a character who has all the markers and highlights of a girl, then why not just make it a girl? Why have the “subversion” that they’re WOAH ACTUALLY A GUY just for a cheap sex joke? I’m not saying you can’t ever include crossdressers and gender non-conforming characters in a story, but make them serve a purpose, y’know? Don’t just show them “deceiving” male characters by playing into the male gaze but then turning out to also be male, because that’s transphobic and misogynistic and brings nothing at all to the story. Especially when they intentionally put on female clothes to “confuse” people. That’s not realistic or a respectful portrayal as far as I’m concerned.

I mean, with Nagisa it made sense to make him look like a girl because his mother actually wanted a daughter due to not being allowed to do feminine things growing up, but since she got a son, she chose instead to deny him his masculinity and force him to adopt a feminine appearance instead, even trying to see what dresses would fit him(at one point she even holds up a frilly pink dress with bows and ruffles in front of him in the mirror, and says it looks nice, while Nagisa is upset because, well, he’s a boy!). And he can’t say anything because then his psychotic mother will FLIP!!! In other words, she’s trying to live vicariously through him, all while denying his true gender and deceiving herself into thinking he’s the daughter she’s always wanted to live through when he sure as heck is NOT. Nagisa is even a unisex name(and more commonly given to girls!)! Thus, he actually has a reason to look somewhat like a girl, and it’s not just played for laughs once and never brought up again. But even then, the scene where Karma made Nagisa dress like a girl for a mission was still just for cheap comedy and basically just Karma’s “brilliant” plan for a sick joke(he even admitted it was for “comic relief, duh” and HAD A PICTURE, to Nagisa’s embarrassment.). On the other hand, it might have been there to make the later reveal of why Nagisa really looks the way he does more horrific in hindsight, but I’m not sure whether or not that was the intention of the author.

So while I’m not saying that female crossdressers can’t be “feminine”, I am offering a reason for why people might not view them in the extreme light that they do men. And part of it is due to femininity being mocked and part of it is due to men being seen as the “default”. I mean, just look at unisex T-shirts. Or, heck, unisex clothes in general. They often look more mannish that womanlike. Because things for men can still be seen as “for everyone”, but such is not the case for women. I think getting rid of that notion is mainly what’s needed for femininity to not be viewed in a bad light, or as the butt of a cheap, meaningless sex joke. These ideas put real women and gender-nonconforming folks in danger. Media plays an important role in our culture, so what does it say if characters who look like members of the opposite gender are portrayed as “traps” or “deceptive”, and jokes basically come at the expense of femininity? Nothing positive, that’s for sure. So while there may be others who laugh at these jokes while not giving them a second thought, I’m just rolling my eyes at the repeated insulting trend, looking at my watch, and waiting for the “punchline” to come.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  SailorSerena
Thu, Dec 17, 2020 8:10pm

Besides, weren’t you the one who said in response to LaSargenta, “Crossdressing for women isn’t even considered crossdressing!”? It’s the same thing I’m saying right now!

Mmm, not quite. Women crossdressing is seen as fashionable, not lacking in femininity.

there is often little to no point in a male character crossdressing or looking feminine in-universe other than for cheap humor,

Yes. That’s another one of my points. You’re posting very long “arguments” that agree with what I’ve said!

if you’re gonna make a character who has all the markers and highlights of a girl, then why not just make it a girl?

Maybe the character is trans. Maybe the character is gay. Maybe it’s about highlighting the enormous spectrum of gender presentation that humans can engage in. It’s only bad if it’s all holding up for ridicule anyone who doesn’t conform to narrow gender expectations.

Why have the “subversion” that they’re WOAH ACTUALLY A GUY just for a cheap sex joke?

Because cheap sex jokes at the expense of women and femininity, at the expense of anyone who does not adhere to strict patriarchal norms of gender presentation and cisheterosexuality, often ARE the point. Alas.

I am offering a reason for why people might not view them in the extreme light that they do men. And part of it is due to femininity being mocked and part of it is due to men being seen as the “default”.

Again, that’s literally the point of this entire project. I’m glad you agree!

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Dec 17, 2020 9:09pm

Hey, thanks for the quick reply. I guess I just thought you were saying that I was “wrong” about women crossdressing being seen as better than men doing the same thing. Anyway, I’m glad we’re on the same page, I just really wanted to propose my own opinions on the subject. Also, I didn’t mean to say that a character who looked like a girl couldn’t be gay or trans(or simply like presenting that way), just that they had to have a justifiable reason for being there that didn’t just revolve around a sick joke. But sadly, like you said, said joke often is the exact point.

I often think people don’t even realize the inherent misogyny rooted in some of these jokes. I mean, yeah, there are people who do, but often people just laugh it off and don’t consider the wider societal impact. Just like people who don’t let their sons watch shows with female leads or purchase dolls/female action figures because they’re “girly” or “for girls”. I’m glad people like you are bringing this subject to light, as it helps people backtrack, look back on the things they’ve done or said in the past and reflect on themselves, and consider why they thought those things were okay or even funny. By the way, I would still recommend Assassination Classroom despite that one uncomfortable scene that is only too familiar to many other scenes seen in anime(and other shows, but especially anime), if only because of the depth given to Nagisa and the tragic reason behind his physical appearance. It doesn’t justify the scene by any means, at least, not in my opinion. But it’s certainly something.

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Dec 15, 2020 5:32pm

Hi MaryAnn, what happened to the comment I wrote here? I could have sworn I responded to your reply and yet it’s nowhere to be seen, at least on my computer. Was it deleted or detected as spam(which happened to another comment I made on here)?

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  SailorSerena
Wed, Dec 16, 2020 1:19am

Disqus will delete your comments if they’re lengthy (which yours were, since you’d put so much thought into them) and don’t have many paragraph breaks.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  SailorSerena
Wed, Dec 16, 2020 10:18pm

If it’s your comment that starts “I don’t know Annie Hall, and I’m not saying that women who crossdress can’t still be feminine when they’re not crossdressing,” I can still see it. Disqus is weird.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  SailorSerena
Thu, Dec 17, 2020 8:12pm

I have not deleted any comments you’ve posted here. Beyond that, I cannot say what happened. Disqus can be glitchy and problematic, so it could have happened on Disqus’s end. Unfortunately, I have not found a better solution for commenting here than Disqus.

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
Mon, Feb 08, 2021 7:34pm

*Gonna keep this to bullet points, because the last time I tried to write paragraphs it was detected as spam, possibly for being too long, so here’s to hoping this one will go through.*

Some other qualifiers you could consider are:

-Stereotyping of women of color(ex. Sassy Black Woman, Spicy Latina, Asian Airhead/Hooker/Lotus Blossom, Native American Chief’s Daughter, Hot Gypsy Woman, and other such racist and sexist portrayals of non-white women that only serve to cater to the often-white male gaze.).

-Asian woman/white man relationships in which the woman is portrayed as exotic and subservient to a man(think Madama Butterfly). The same could apply for women of other ethnic backgrounds as well.

-Stereotypical names for non-white women(ex. Shaniqua, Maria, Mei Lin, etc.. These names aren’t inherently bad, but there are many other names you can use to show that a female character is of a certain race that are just as beautiful and meaningful and aren’t as common.).

-Speaking of women of color, does a protagonist(or character in general) being a woman of color count if they’re living in a homogenous country where just about everyone is the same race as them(for example, an anime or Bollywood movie)? Because it probably doesn’t hold much significance in those cases since in, say, an anime movie with a female protagonist, her being Japanese is essentially a given; the same can be said for the other members of the cast. Though I can guess this only refers to Western works.

-Stereotyping of teenage girls, portraying them all as bratty, overemotional, self-centered, vain, insecure, phone-obsessed, dramatic, gossipping, often hypersexualized(especially if they are non-white, such as Jasmine from Aladdin). Often these girls “used to be sweet little angels” until puberty turned them into monsters, something that miraculously doesn’t happen to boys because the very nature of womanhood and being female is a curse in and of itself.

-The very nature of female biology is treated as disgusting or portrayed in a negative, dehumanizing light(ex. women on their periods/going through pregnancy becoming shrill, aggravating mood-swingers who you should steer clear from at all costs, or the Mystical Pregnancy trope.). Double negative points if men are the ones in control of these biological functions(or outright remove the need for women by creating Uterine Replicators, although that’s not always a sign of misogyny.).

-A female character in fanservice scenes is portrayed as embarrassed or ashamed to be seen that way(unwanted panty shots, being groped without their consent, especially by another girl, being forced out of their clothes or into fetishizing outfits, etc.), which makes the who scene come off as voyeuristic and non-consensual. Compare this to men in fanservice scenes, who are often portrayed as proudly and boldy strutting their stuff, which is just another way in which men are portrayed as active and women are portrayed as passive: men are consciously in control of their sexualities and sex appeal, women are passive objects of men’s pleasure who get their sexuality taken from them.).

-Slut-shaming(and the Madonna-Whore Complex), with points removed if it’s portrayed as good and points added if it’s portrayed as wrong(often men are shamed for being virgins, which once again reflects the “men are active, women are passive” dichotomy, but applied to sex.

-In any case in which the characters are in a life-or-death situation, especially if there’s one man and one woman, the woman will almost always be the one to freak out and scream that “we’re all gonna die!” or something like that while the man keeps a cool head and tries to figure out a way to escape and/or calm her down. This just reflects the “women are hysterical” mindset as well as the idea that it’s acceptable for women to be emotional, but not men. It’s also one of the many ways women are used to pull at the audiences heartstrings or get them emotionally invested in a scene, since women are reactionary objects, after all. You know the scene is scary because a WOMAN is freaking out; if a man is doing the freaking out, it’s played for laughs because emotions are weak and thus womanly(or womanly and thus weak). The Final Girl trope is related to this one(and often why the more masculine and less “pretty” girl dies, since she refuses the role of female passivity, she’s not worthy of living. Though this also makes it seem like being feminine and/or “pretty” automatically MAKES you weak/is only good for men’s pleasure.).

-A girl dumbs herself down to get a guy’s attention and appear non-threatening(you could take off points if this attitude is portrayed as wrong and she learns her lesson by the end of the story, think of Mean Girls “You don’t have to dumb yourself down to get boys to like you.”.).

-You could add points for The Smurfette Principle if the story’s about a woman in a male-dominated profession, or the only girl in her family and trying to deal with it, but even then, there’s seldom a justification for why there aren’t other women in other places.

-“Not like other girls” mentalities, as well as the idea that femininity makes a girl lesser(you talked about guys being mocked for crossdressing/expressing femininity, but I’d really like to see you take into account how femininity expressed in women is often seen as weak, as if a girl has to act like a guy to be taken seriously.).

-Tomboys or girls who are good at traditionally masculine pursuits only being that way because they lived around men or a MAN showed them how to do those things.

-Damsels in Distress, Disposable Women, and Princesses forced into marriage or given to the(male) hero as a “reward” for saving the day.

-Women with power, particularly supernatural power, still ending up submissive to a man(often one less powerful than them in some way), often willingly so because they are “indebted” to him after he saved their lives or something contrived like that. This is especially prevalent in the Magical Girlfriend genre.

-Women who “have to choose” between their careers or their boyfriends and/or families. If they end up choosing the latter, take off points, and if they end up choosing both(like Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, then add points.

-Stories which try to empower women but do so by bringing down men first lose hella points, since it implies that women simply cannot be strong without the obviously more powerful men being taken out of the way first.

-In stories with non-human sapient species, such as monsters, demons, robots, griffins, gargoyles, aliens, etc., the males often look like realistic members of their species(often to grotesque levels), while the females look like sexy human women but with additional features of their species added on such as horns, skin colors not exhibited by humans, wings, scales, etc. Because even non-human women still have to be sexually attractive to human males. Meanwhile, the men, under less pressure to appear sexually attractive(since nobody seems to care what women want to see), will actually look like the creatures they’re supposed to be.

-A romantic pairing in which the man is ugly and the woman is beautiful does the same thing as the above as it implies that men can look any way and still expect an attractive woman to date them, while women must look attractive to men by any means since men are shallow and women shouldn’t expect men to want to be with them for any other reason. It also applies that women shouldn’t be allowed to have physical preferences, but still have to cater to men’s physical preferences and should settle for ugly men while ugly men are entitled to attractive women.

-(for animated works only) The male characters have a variety of body types, while all the female characters have the same body type. Aside from the above, this also applies that women are interchangeable. Even otherwise empowering works with a majority female cast do this. Just look at My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, Sailor Moon, and the majority of Disney Princess movies(the animators even admitted they give the female characters all the same faces and body types because, according to them, female characters are harder to animate because “you have to keep them pretty”.).

-A “strong” female character who is really just delicate and sad and sweet and hurt on the inside and needs the(male) hero to open up her heart and break down her walls. I know you complained about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and I agree, but this seems to be a common trope in media too. The only difference is, more often than not, the man is still the protagonist, with the woman being his conquest, more or less(since women NEED a man to find her “soft” side since women are fragile and emotional creatures at heart.).

-Distaff Counterparts, or “Ms. Male Characters” according to Feminist Frequency. Supergirl, Batgirl, She-Hulk, Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck, Pac-Man, the list goes on. Basically these are female characters who are just female versions of male characters who exist solely in relation to them and serve to frame men as the default sex(this can be justified by having them be from an alternate universe, but unless there are also male versions of original female characters, it’s not much of an improvement.). Although there are some notable exceptions, like The RowdyRuff Boys to The PowerPuff Girls, Cheese Sandwich to Pinkie Pie in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and Len Kagamine to Rin Kagamine in VOCALOID(it’s not obvious, but according to the wiki Rin was made first and Len was modeled after her, apparently he was created because people wanted another male Vocaloid. He even has the same voice actress as her, Asami Shimoda, but with a lower vocal register.).

-You can add points for a majority female cast, or a cast with equal numbers of male and female characters.

-A female character who is unconventionally attractive(ex. tall, dark-skinned, has body hair, is muscular, etc.), with points added if she is portrayed in a positive or neutral light, and points removed if she is portrayed in a negative light.

-A male character is turned off by a woman who is strong and/or fights, with points added if he is portrayed as in the wrong.

-In fighting stories, a male character is unwilling to fight a woman, because of the belief that women are too weak to be legitimate threats. You can add points if this attitude is portrayed as wrong, and he learns his lesson by the end of the story.

-Girls are pitted against each other, implying that women are innately catty and cannot get along. Even worse if it’s over guys. Even WORSE if they have a catfight(and guys watch eagerly).

I really liked the list you made, though, and I think it’s a good method for analyzing women’s role in fictional media. I even applied your criteria to a story I’m currently working on, and it passed, needless to say. I hope more people read it and begin to understand why representation of women in media matters and must be changed. I think society has made much more progress than the last few years, but we still have a way to go. Overall, this list is very well done.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  SailorSerena
Tue, Feb 09, 2021 4:48pm

Thank you for this! Your list is also very good, but I was trying to avoid such specificity with my criteria, precisely so they could be applied to a wide variety of clichés. I think many of your examples can fall under the criteria here, and, if I recall correctly, were taken into account in the ratings of individual movies. And there was also a wild-card option in the individual ratings.

As for the matters of racial stereotypes, I was very aware of my privilege as a white woman when I was putting this together and, while also trying to be as objective as I could be, I also knew that my own limited frame of reference might be a hindrance. I wasn’t sure it was entirely my place to judge just how well or poorly a film was dealing with racial and ethnic clichés, because what looks like a cliché, or not, to me might not, or might, to a woman of color. There is definitely room for a woman (or nonbinary) critic of color to expand on my ideas here.

FH
FH
Tue, Nov 02, 2021 4:21pm

Is there a list of “good” films (according to someone) that depict females positively, using the criteria I read about here? This is a practical question. Thanks.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  FH
Sun, Nov 07, 2021 2:25pm

The ranking of films I did as part of this year-long project is here:

https://www.flickfilosopher.com/2016/04/women-2015-ranking.html

I have not done more than these, because it was a HUGE endeavor and, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much interest among movie fans for this sort of thing.