Representation

This morning before I logged into my Twitter account I took some time to look at the tweets featured on the log-in page. Many of them have pictures associated with them and it was these that caught my attention. Each page has six or eight featured posts, I had to scroll down a couple of times before I found any pictures including a woman… and then there were three – one of a model in a tiny swimsuit, one of three models in underwear on horseback and one of a ‘celebrity’ in her bra. I continued scrolling and the first fully-dressed woman I found was the queen, followed by Angela Merkel. By the time I reached them, I had seem pictures of men in suits, men in sweatshirts, men in casual wear, men in sports kit, men in uniforms… but no men in their underwear. I had seen male politicians, sports stars, pop stars, ‘celebrities’ and male members of the public, but the first women I encountered were there for their bodies to be lusted after. The first woman who I might admire because of her brain (rather than looks or birth) – Angela Merkel.

Of course once I had logged into Twitter, my feed contained pictures and tweets from all sorts of women – scientists, farmers, business owners, crafters… you name it… and not a single one flashing her underwear. Of course that’s a reflection of the people I choose to connect with, but it clearly demonstrates that the public face of Twitter in no way reflects life as I experience it.

DSCF0810

Here’s a picture from a course I taught – there’s men, there’s women

And it’s not just “shallow” social media that is guilty of not reflecting real life. Think about the last film you watched. Were there more men or women in it? Was there a full range of characters of both genders? Was there a full range of ages of both genders? I’m guessing that in most cases the answer is no. There’s been a big hoo-ha recently about the absence of racial diversity in Hollywood, as reflected in the Oscars. Women are not missing in this sense, but they are remarkably poorly represented in films in general, and when they are there, they are often in the form of minimally developed characters. The now classic way to assess a film (or any other work of fiction) is to apply the Bechdel Test – have you heard of it? Basically it asks whether a work features at least two named women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Not a lot to ask from a film you’d think. but you’d be surprised how often works of fiction fail this test. Now I’m not saying that passing the Bechdel test makes a movie good, representative of life or even that it provides good female role models. Indeed, it’s not relevant to all films – for example a film sent in the WWI trenches –  but it’s shocking to realise that so much of the entertainment out there does not pass. For example, The Bechel Test Movie List web site contains a database of 6341 movies and of these 3654 (57.6%) pass the test; so 43.4% fail. And it’s not exactly demanding is it? Good grief Legally Blonde passes simply because a couple of women talk about their dogs in a scene or two and Alien passes only because Ripley and Lambert have a brief conversation about the alien.

 

And, do you know, I’m fed up with this? Don’t want to watch rom coms just to see women portrayed on screen. Hell, I don’t want to watch rom coms at all in general – they are often peopled by shallow and clichéd characters irrespective of gender. I want to be able to watch a film with an even mix of women and men… I want some of the women to be over 35 and not to look like models, I want some of the women to be over 50 but not to be crones or grannies and I want the women to be scientists and commanders and goodies and baddies and have depth to their characters and not just be submissive or victims …

Perhaps it’s fantasy, but it would make me a darn sight less irritated. And it would make me feel that we were providing girls and young women with positive role models and opening their eyes to the wealth of options that they have in their lives.

For the time being we’ll just have to keep writing our blogs and Tweets and sharing our stories and ensuring that women, in all of their glory and complexity, have a voice at least in some spheres of society.

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21 Comments

  1. BeckyHelps?

     /  February 19, 2016

    I loved the film the green beautiful, it is so worth watching.

    Reply
  2. I agree with this – and I search for them too……….. Two favourites which spring to mind are Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes both from the early 90’s. Recently viewed include Room, and The Help. I know there are others but can’t think of titles at the moment.
    I haven’t seen ‘The Green Beautiful’ so will check that one out.

    Reply
  3. Ann Pole

     /  February 19, 2016

    We watched the new Star wars film on Saturday – the main hero being a woman, and although she was fully (ish) dressed, it looked like she was wearing crape bandages on her arms.
    Maybe the balance in twitter would be to have more scantily clad men… Hehe!

    Reply
  4. Murtagh's Meadow

     /  February 19, 2016

    I have to agree with all you say. Like the contentedcrafter I was going to recommend Steel Magnolia’s too and as she mention it Fried Green Tomatoes and The Help are great (as is the book). Hoping to see Room this week. I would also recommend “The Secret Life of Bees” also a book.

    Reply
  5. Agree totally. I watched The Martian recently. Whilst its main protagonist is a man, as is the main body of NASA personnel both on screen and in real life, the commander of the ship he arrived in and other crew members were female, they did not cavort in scanty clothing, they had serious and unemotional discussions with male members who did not disrespect them, and the commander twice took very hard decisions, one of them to disobey male authority figures who had made the wrong choice. I left the movie feeling that the director did not regard women as purely ornamental… A nice change.

    Reply
    • Wow! and that’s really what I’m after. Whilst I enjoy female ensemble pieces sometimes, what I really want to see is women of all shapes and ages portrayed as fully rounded human beings interacting with men and other women… it doesn’t seem much to ask

      Reply
  6. I agree with your entire post. I love Dr Who and that rarely passes the test either.

    Reply
    • I like Dr Who too – well I used to (not so much at the moment). I particularly liked Catherine Tate – what a great, non-traditional side-kick she was. Fingers crossed that the next incarnation of the doctor will be female.

      Reply
      • That’s interesting, the current doctor is my favourite doctor ever. I liked Catherine Tate & I love Alex Kingston, though I believe her episodes rarely pass the Bechtel test. The Master becoming Missy and the Time Lord general in the last series regenerating into a black woman was a clear sign it could happen. And then if we could have a black James Bond we might have broken down a few more barriers!

        Reply
        • Oh now, I detest James Bond… its representation of women (mostly) makes me squirm. The Bechdel test is unsubtle and fails in many situations where there are good strong well-developed women characters like those you mention, but I think if more people thought about it, it might be a good thing overall.

          Reply
  7. I so agree as to how we are represented in media. My son had me watch the Martian the other day. Well done. I also watched the same movies as the contented crafter. Read The Help. Romantic comedies are hard to watch. They either make the male or female character an idiot. 😦 I watch because there is so much violence in so many others that I just can’t watch them.

    Reply
    • I’m rather fond of science fiction, but often it’s depressingly male-dominated. Last night we watched the latest Star Trek movie – it the whole thing there were only three women with a reasonable number of appearances and none of them ever talked to another. Sigh. Now I know that it’s based on a series from the 60’s but really… if Watson can be a woman in Elementary and Starbuck can be a woman in the updated Battlestar Galactica, then I think the makers of Star Trek can get themselves sorted out too.

      Reply
  8. I have to admit to preferring to read rather than watch films, and it’s for the same reason! The fiction books I choose to read always have strong characters, with all of the women as equals to men, otherwise I’m just not interested.
    I think the only thing I watch on iPlayer now (I just don’t watch TV), is Doctor Who, who invariably has strong-willed female side-kicks! Lol

    Reply
    • Hollywood in particular seems almost incapable of portraying women as fully functional human-beings… and if they do manage it, there can only be one in any film. I over-exaggerate, but that’s what it feels like to me.
      On a separate note… I must come and see you sometime. Let me know if you are feeling up to a visit.

      Reply
      • I totally agree with you – I’m just glad there are some amazing authors now who know that women can be as strong, as creative, and as wonderful as the ment they portray 🙂
        As for a visit, afternoons are always best with me, so when you have one free, just give me a bell and I’ll be delighted to see you 🙂

        Reply

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