Women in Film


Written by Siobhan Morrin
29 Monday 29th November 2010
Female roles in films have always been controversial. From the role of femme fatale in old silent movies, to the multitude of stereotypes in modern films, it can often seem that ideas on gender roles result in simplistic or one-dimensional characters. Clearly, this is not going to be the case in every single film, but there must be some reason why an entire genre of feminist film exists.
The Women’s Library in London is about to hold an event discussing and screening feminist films. The four films chosen represent different ways in which women have used film to bring gender issues to public attention, and include suffragette films, one representing women in the workplace, one at home, as well as recent animated shorts.
The films are certainly not well known. Does this mean that there are no mainstream films that could be included?
Recently, there has been frustration and some anger expressed by some women at film makers such as Judd Apatow. They argue that his female roles are stereotypes, and represent women as uptight and neurotic, or are so minor as to be ignored. He has responded by arguing that his male roles are far from perfect, and that he sees all his characters as ‘deeply flawed men and women having problems getting together.’


He’s just one director, so some people would say it’s unfair to pick him out. But there are other, huge films that have very few view positive female characters or role models. The Social Network is another example, with women being relegated to the role of stripping, table dancing students who are crap at games. Surely there’s a little too much stereotyping going on there?
These films are huge hits, and, while they are both examples from the stable of Hollywood, their success does say something worrying about mainstream film for women. Their role is reductive and runs close to negative gender stereotyping.
More positive and mainstream roles for women are more likely to be seen in independent cinema, though even this has boundaries. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo appears to show a feisty young woman who seems to get things done her way.


Part of her reason for anger though, is the fact that she has been raped, and this is portrayed graphically in the film. People may argue that this is based on a novel, and that’s where the scenes originated; however, it is too often the case that violence against women is presented in film as entertainment. Just look at Hostel and the Saw films for examples.
There is a huge amount to say on this topic, and countless films that could be debated. It is frustrating that this should be an issue at all and that there should still be a need in the present day to have films specified as feminist.
The Women’s Library is holding Women Make Film History in collaboration with the Women’s Film History Network on December 4. For further details see: http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/thewomenslibrary/whats-on/events/special-events/special-events_home.cfm

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