This one has been on my mind for years, but with the #MeToo Movement I’ve been feeling particularly convicted. As a woman, what are my standards for the movies and television shows I watch?
This isn’t a question of genre, taste, or entertainment. This is a question of moral standards before all of the rest begins. How involved do I want women to be in the story? Behind the camera? What’s my sexualized limitations? Are there men in Hollywood who I am boycotting? What about their past work?
Years ago, I learned about the Bechdel Test. It’s a simple test that is merely measuring whether or not women are participating in the story. Not if there is a strong female presence, not if it is a feminist movie, not even if the story is about women. Just whether or not the women in the story are actually participating in it. The Bechdel Test requires a movie to accomplish three things: there must be more than one woman, they must talk to each other, and they must talk about something other than men. It sounds simple enough right? And yet, most movies, even now when Hollywood is supposedly trying to be more intentional about inclusion in film, still don’t pass this test.
After discovering this test, I started watching films differently. I started noticing how women were written, how little women were included, how poorly women were represented in stories. Slowly my tolerance for ignoring these details went away. The more I value women in film, the less I enjoy going to the movies.
You can always tell when a man has written the role of a woman vs if a woman wrote it. I remember watching Bad Moms and thinking the whole time “this is how men think women behave”. It was boring and unrealistic, it was dumbed down, and it was just a bad movie. But when I saw Bridesmaids and Trainwreck I thought “this is how women really are”. These films were described as “women being funny like men” and that could not be farther from the truth. These were women writing women like actual women, who are funny and crass and dirty and witty and complex. They were realistic and relatable. It was a breath of fresh air.
There are many ways that women are just poorly written. Women are always so blatantly over sexualized in films. At best it distracts from the narrative, but at worst it is perpetuating how society views and values women.
Blade Runner 2049 was an awful movie (ya, I said it, get over it). It was boring, it made no sense, and it’s depiction of women is case and point that we as a society are perfectly fine with sexualizing women for no other reason than they have tits so what else are women for. Ryan Gosling’s character – who is a replicant – having sexual feelings at all makes no sense. The tits in this world are not for the replicant looking at them, they are not for moving the story along, they are for the straight guys in the audience. Ryan Gosling doesn’t undergo the kind of objectification women do, even though he has the same insides. He is not objectified like the women are, even though he is literally an object. He is allowed agency, character development, growth and depth. He not only participates in the story, he drives the story. Whereas every woman in this film was sexualized. Every one of them. And that’s why they were there.
And before you claim that this is art, that the director was trying to make a point by sexualizing women, know this: he wasn’t. He objectified and sexualized the women because he could. And it is something so normalized that you don’t even realize that the women watching that film were all disgusted and insulted.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: sexualizing women has become so normalized that we feel entitled to do so. And it is a problem.
But now there is a new layer to add to the disgust: knowing that the men in the film were actually sexually exploiting the men and women working with them. Should we watch Kevin Spacey movies any more? What about movies produced by Harvey Weinstein? Do we have a moral obligation as women to not only believe one another, but to make a stand together with our actions?
As I become more of a feminist, I find society has less to offer me. The more I value myself and women, the less I can turn a blind eye to enjoy things that exploit women. And I don’t see that trend ending. So I suppose if Hollywood keeps making movies that mainly objectify and ignore women, if they keep casting men knowing how they treat the women around them, if they keep writing women roles poorly, then I just won’t watch many movies.
But is there more to be done? What more can I do other than simply not watching things. I know I can’t change Hollywood, I know that I won’t. But what’s my responsibility in all of this? What’s my role? That’s what I’m struggling with.