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.

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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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