Imagine the cast of a movie – any movie – standing in a row. There is a buff male protagonist in the middle, an attractive female by his side, a vicious-looking villain, and a motley group of side characters. I can almost foresee the plot as well.
A handsomely muscular and overconfident man goes on a mission to defeat his nemesis, but on the journey, falls head over heels in love with a beautiful girl who doesn’t know how beautiful she really is. But oh-ho-ho, only to find out that she’s actually his enemy’s sister! Tragic.
Lately, this imagery of a typical damsel in distress is being challenged by another platitude; a confident woman, who can do no wrong and is achieving success in every sphere of her life. To me, this feels forced. As if they’re being feminist for the sake of being feminist. The issue is not that women are depicted as stupid or weak. The issue is that we’re portrayed as two-dimensional, unrealistic characters. Our entire personality is reduced to a single quality. We’re either sexy, or we’re confident, or we’re stupid. It is never an amalgamation of all these qualities and faults and more.
I know some of you may find it hard to relate to this. But if we think about it, this subtle misogyny is present in each and every aspect of a film. Even the posters!
Notice a pattern? Apparently pretty women can’t stand on their own, and need a man’s arms or worse, shoulders (!) to support their body. Imagine fighting criminals with a woman draped over your shoulder! These images are merely symbols of the gender roles depicted throughout most films; The hero being brave, strong and fearless, while the heroine being gentle, helpless and sensitive. In the rare events that we are given some degree of strength and courage, there is a tendency to turn us into sex objects.
Who would’ve thought that a movie about three badass female sleuths would’ve had a poster with nothing but their rear ends showing? [eye roll]
I learnt the hard way that this linear portrayal of women can creep into our lives as well. A cheesy rom-com used to be my preferred film genre, but I recently realised the extent of the damage caused by internalising the obsolete ideals shown in these films. For the longest time, I thought of myself as the ‘love interest’, as the shy girl who will be rescued by a macho man. I thought of my life as a rom-com and my happily-ever-after as marrying a dreamy man and settling in the countryside. This is exactly the way women were and continue to be depicted in movies; a breed with a common goal and a common personality.
Maybe films, for the first time, do not represent the thinking and culture of the era. Maybe, they are moulding it instead.
Obviously, a single industry can’t be blamed for a whole phenomenon. There is social media, news, songs and various other platforms that tend to produce the same effect. However as a teenager, movies continue to be my biggest source of inspiration – good and bad. I’m sure that men too feel the same way. Our pressures and expectations may be different, but the fact that there are pressures is what is concerning after all.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are the Little Women’s and the Crazy Rich Asians’, but that’s what? 1 movie in 40? We’re looking at the big picture here; a long overdue cultural shift, so that when the next generation is asked to imagine movie characters, their answers are colourful, diverse and hopefully less toxic.
Ayeshaa is a 16 year old first time writer studying Humanities in New Delhi.
“Throughout my life I’ve been average at everything. An average student, an average sportsperson, and a definitely below-average speaker. I guess these are the categories based on which every child is judged in school, and I inevitably internalised this sense of average-ness. I felt scared to speak up, because I thought of my opinions as synonymous to everyone else’s. ‘Average opinions’. It took me some time to realise that I do have a voice. And once I began to listen to myself, I began to speak up, and people started listening to me. I may not be a jet blahcksheep, but I definitely consider myself a-shade-of-black-sheep, because although I’ve never really felt like an outcast, I’ve never felt like I belonged anywhere either.”