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Women in Hollywood Research Paper


Thesis Statement: Women in Hollywood have always been grossly misrepresented and whether the movie, like The Fast and The Furious targets a male audience or, like The Devil Wears Prada, targets a female audience, they do not show women as they really are but as men see them or would like to see them.

Female Portrayal in Hollywood: A Male Fantasy

Hollywood has always been a men’s club where movies are made by men and for men. There is little wonder that throughout Hollywood’s history women were relegated to the role of sex objects who were present only for the viewing pleasure of the male audience. Portrayal of women in Hollywood can be broadly divided into two main categories.

First category is of women in movies that are made for the male audience and the second category is of women’s movies that are made for the female audience. The Fast and The Furious is an example of a movie made for men that shows macho men driving fast cars. The Devil Wears Prada is women’s movie that shows successful career women and their problems. Both these movies are typical examples of how Hollywood trivializes women and their role in society.

Women in Hollywood have always been grossly misrepresented and whether the movie, like The Fast and The Furious, targets a male audience or, like The Devil Wears Prada, targets a female audience, they do not show women as they really are but as men see them or would like to see them.

The Devil Wears Prada suggest that in order to be successful, women must mould themselves in to the male ideal of femininity. Hollywood movies, have never presented a very flattering image of women. As Herbert Buchsbaum and Karen Peart point out movies do not show women as they really are but rather they show them how men see women and wish them to behave (14).

These stereotypes have become even more prominent in the twenty first century with women wearing sexier clothes and sporting thinner figures than ever before in the history. The movie sends the “message that in order to be desirable woman must remain young, beautiful and thin. And if they don’t fit that stereotypical prototype, they will be doomed to a life of unhappiness” (Buchsbaum and Peart 14).

We see this message loud and clear in The Devil Wears Prada where Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy is not taken seriously until she starts wearing sexy, designer clothes and loses weight to become a size 4. The Devil Wears Prada is a women’s movie, with women in the lead role and women as the target audience. But it defines female desirability to reflect male ideals and the way men would like to see women. Even in a women’s movie, the ideal female form is decided by the male film makers.

As Laura Mulvey points out, “the determining male gaze projects its fantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly” (837). In modern times, movies have become the harbinger of acceptable social norms and these movies are telling us that the acceptable female form is the one that reflects male fantasy.

The Fast and The Furious is a fast paced male bonding movie that uses the female characters to cater to predominantly male fantasies and to keeping the male gaze occupied. According to Rose Weitz, “modern film-making is largely characterized by the male gaze: a lingering look that sexualizes the female body and provides sexual pleasure to the male gazer” (Weitz 24).

This male gaze was first defined by the Mulvey, back in 1973. “In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness” (Mulvey 837).

In movies, these male gaze is brought out by the way the camera focuses on the female form. In the movie, The Fast and the Furious, film makers used the female body to fill in the lull moments that showed the passage of time, thus ensuring that the movie did not lose its momentum.

The film makers could have used any number of ways to show the passage of time. But by focusing on the female form, they kept the male audience occupied by appealing to the male gaze. The two women do not really have any role in the movie other than to provide visual pleasure to fill in the lull moments in the movie’s flow.

In The Fast and the Furious, the main function of the female characters is to provide glamour. Films is a visual medium and most people going to watch a movie are as interested in its glamour quotient as anything else. Hence, it is no crime to depict glamorous women on screen. The problem arises when the only reason for female presence is to provide this glamour.

According to a survey of over 100 Hollywood films, “female characters were more likely to wear sexy, provocative clothing than men (26% vs. 5%) or to appear partially naked (24% vs. 8%)” (Nanci Hellmich and USA Today). In The Fast and the Furious Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez, is Vin Diesel’s love interest in the movie while Mia (Jordana Brewster) is attracted to Paul Walker.

But other than providing the romantic and visual relief, they do not have any other role in the movie. A movie about fast cars and smart thieves does not need a woman.

The movie would still be the same if Rodriguez’s character was replaced by a male actor and Brewster’s character was completely removed. Removing the two female characters would not have affected the movie in any way. Yet, they are present for the sole purpose of providing glamour through the sexualization of their female form. Such a portrayal of sexualized female images in a successful franchise only glorifies the objectification of women.

The Fast and The Furious is predominantly made for the male audience and so serves to satisfy nostalgic male fantasy of a world where women are subordinate to men and are only seen but never heard. According to “an analysis of the 100 top-grossing movies of 2008… men had 67% of the speaking roles; women had about half that, 33%” (Hellmich and USA Today). In The Fast and The Furious while Letty barely has any dialogues, Mia’s role is that of a second fiddle to her brother who never goes against her brother’s wishes.

When it is discovered that Brian is an undercover cop, Dominic walks away even though Brian had just helped save them. Mia wants to be with Brian but defers to her brother’s wishes. In doing so, she comes across as the typical dutiful sister, daughter, wife, who would never dream of going against the wishes of the male member of the family and for whom her own wishes and dreams do not matter.

According to Stuart Fischoff, movies “pander to and promote a classically conditioned association between femaleness and sexual feelings” (Fischoff). Men want their women to be sexy but not openly express their sexual feelings and remain submissive . Both Mia and Letty and fit this classical concept of what constitutes female sexiness.

Although Letty is sexy and beautiful, she does not speak much an does not challenge Dominic and his leadership. She supports Dominic even when she knows that he is wrong. Similarly, Mia remains loyal to Dominic and even when she supposedly betrays her brother by telling Brian, a cop, Dominic’s whereabouts, she is still being submissive to the other male character in the movie. Such unquestioned submissiveness of the female characters appeals to male nostalgic fantasy.

In The Devil Wears Prada, the successful career women is not only intelligent and smart but also sexy and glamorous because that is how men like to see them. According to Fischoff, “Narrow, monotonic, sexualized portrayals of women, of all ages, lowers expectations of and for women showing talent and aptitude in other arenas of accomplishment”. Women must limit themselves to their houses and if they venture out, they must dress sexily enough to attract the male gaze.

Men, it would seem looking at Hollywood, just want to look at the female form, whether it is in the bedroom or the boardroom. As more and more women have left the confines of their homes to seek employment in the male world, the male gaze no longer needs to go into the bedroom to see the female form.

They can now see her in the next cubicle. However, in order to appeal to the male gaze, and be noticed, she must be sexily dressed. And Hollywood, through its portrayal of women as sexualized objects makes sure that they are indeed available for that penetrating male gaze. Even these modern working women must work within the limitation s of acceptable female behavior. So in order to have a successful career, Andy must look sexy.

The sexy Andy, not only satisfies the male gaze of the audience sitting in the theatre, but also tells the female audience that being sexy and well groomed is the only way to be taken seriously at work. So when these women leave the theatre, they want to look sexy and the next time they go to work, they try to look glamorous and sexy in an attempt to emulate Anne Hathaway. In the process, they satisfy the typical female fantasy of their male coworkers.

In The Fast and The Furious a woman’s actions, her interests and how she dresses are almost always dictated by her wish to find a husband . As The Daily Mail points out that “The modern Hollywood portrayal of women is increasingly a heroine who is hysterical, weight-obsessed and only thinks of men” (Daily Mail Reporter).

So in The Fast and the Furious, Letty’s interest in car could be attributed the fact that Dominic was interested in cars and since Letty was interested in Dominic since a very young age, she gets into cars to attract Dominic’s attention.

So, the seemingly male interest in cars was directly the result of a woman’s female desire to find a husband. According to Frank Manchel, Hollywood has always shown woman to be “unfulfilled without a man” (79). Hollywood movies have been largely responsible for women wanting to spend such huge amounts on their looks and grooming.

Not because they feel any inner need to be beautiful but because, if Hollywood is to be believed, a woman cannot find a husband unless she looks beautiful and finding a husband is the main objective of female existence (Manchel 79). Over the years, movies are becoming more and more regressive with female interest becoming more and more male centric in movies after movies.

Miranda Priestly’s failed marriage sends out the message that if a woman does deviate from the well trodden paths and has bigger ambitions than getting married, than she is doomed to have a depressing personal life. Miranda Priestly, is a successful women who practically reigns over the fashion world.

But despite trying her best to balance her personal life with her professional life and despite using her assistants to help her out with her personal life, her marriage suffers even as she gains new heights professionally. According to the movie, a woman can be successful either in her professional life or in her personal life but cannot get both. These movies send out a very clear message to the female audience: a woman can do anything she wants as long as she is willing to settle for setbacks in her personal life.

If a female character in a movie has any layers in its characterization, it is usually because she is not happy. “The only way for a woman to have a complex character on screen is to be depressing, tormented and self-sacrificing” (Daily Mail Reporter). And unfortunately, such a depressing character appeals to both the male and female viewers. As Manchel points out, “men might like smart, glamorous companions, but not as wives.

In reality, marriage mean(s) babies and housework, not fun and good times” (Manchel 43). Since these complex female characters with depressing and tormented lives reflect the real life of women, they are able to identify with them and patronize these movies. Men like these movies because they feed into male fantasy of having a subordinate wife. These movies make it very clear that if a women wants to have a successful career, she can only get it at the expense of her family life.

Miranda Priestly is willing to go to any length to get what is wants and portrays the typical femme fatale who does not run after men or is depressed but is a woman of questionable morals. Successful women must be shown to have some gray shades in their character to justify their success.

The bad women may or may not have substantial roles in the movies but they eventually cater to the male fantasy. These movies give the message that if women aspire for more than a family, they are essentially bad. So a woman in a negative character only reassures the male audience of their masculinity.

In The Devil Wears Prada Miranda Priestly is an aggressive woman who is willing to go to any extend to get what she wants. While her character is not completely negative, there are enough shades of gray to make her look bad. But while she is able to step over the “gay” Nigel, she loses at the hands of her husband and suffers from a failed marriage. Hollywood movies sketch a “society defined by brutal masculine authority, the pathology of which infects the family, the economy and the state” (A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis).

So Miranda Priestly can rule the fashion world but she cannot overcome this “masculine authority”. As mentioned above, Hollywood rarely makes movies about woman, unless it is show them as depressed suffering people or in romantic comedies also known as chick flicks.

Men avoid watching these movies since it is considered “gay” to watch a chick flick. But if woman is in a negative role, it is totally acceptable to watch a woman’s movie (Scott and Dargis). In other words, the only acceptable female characters in Hollywood are those that are negative since they reassure men of their masculinity.

Women in Hollywood are either dumb and sexy like in The Fast and The Furious or ambitious with depressing personal lives like the lead characters of The Devil Wears Prada.

A dumb woman once again reassures man that he rules the world while the main function of women in the world is to remain submissive and play arm candy to man. Such dumb women do not challenge the male dominant worldview. When we put together the dumb and sexy image of women portrayed in our movies, we get the perfect role model to appeal to male senses.

The sexy and dumb woman who looks good standing next to him and can bring a feeling of jealousy in other men and yet who keeps her mouth shut and does not offer her opinion. Such a woman is the ideal male fantasy and Hollywood movies cater to this fantasy and propagate it, much to the detriment of the female cause. So in The Fast and the Furious, female characters do not have any dialogues and are present only as arm candies to the two main male leads of the film, besides providing sexual relief and glamour.

Even when women are shown to have substantial characters, the script makes sure that such women suffer in some way to reassure the male audience. In The Devil Wears Prada, both Miranda Priestly and Andy suffer in personal life when they decide to put their careers ahead of their personal lives. Hollywood never allows women to have successful and meaningful lives, since such successful women are a direct threat to the masculinity of the male viewers.

Thus we see, that the portrayal of women in Hollywood movies is such that the male audience is reassured, his male gaze is satisfied and his fantasy of an ideal world in which women are only seen and not heard comes to life. All these female images appeal to the male audience. When movies are made for female audience, they show women who are preoccupied with finding a husband.

As Weitz points out, “Cultural messages are ‘encoded’ into films by their producers and then ‘decoded’ by viewers” (Weitz 18). The encoded cultural message in both these movies is that the sole purpose of female existence is to get married and have children. Since such “chick flicks” are preferred by the female audience, they get the message that being too ambitious is not feminine, and in order to become more feminine, they should focus on their looks so that they can get a suitable husband.

Thus, movies, whether they target men or women, seem to work towards satisfying the male need, both within the darkened theatre, where they cater to the male fantasy, as well as outside the theater by convincing women to give up their ambitions and become docile housewives.

Whether the target audience of a movie is men or women, there seems to be a conspiracy to keep women in a place where they are of little consequence. In the process, Hollywood caters to the ultimate male fantasy of total control over woman.

Works Cited

Buchsbaum, Herbert, and Karen N. Peart. “Do Movies Exploit Women?.” Scholastic Update 127.14 (1995): 14. Academic Search Premier. Web.

Daily Mail Reporter. “Hollywood portrays women as image-obsessed, man-mad idiots, say British Academic.” Mail Online. Daily Mail. 8 February 2009. Web.

Fischoff, Stuart. “The Sexualized Position of American Women in Movies.” Psychology Today. 29 April 2009. Web..

Hellmich, Nanci and USA TODAY. “Film study: Men talk and women show skin.” USA Today. Web.

Manchel, Frank. Women on the Hollywood Screen. New York: Franklin Watts, 1977. Print.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford, 1999. 833-844. Print.

Scott, A.O. and Manohla Dargis. “Gosh, Sweetie, That’s a Big Gun.” The New York Times. 27 April 2011. Web.

The Devil Wears Prada. Dir. David Frankel. Perf. Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep. Fox Pictures, 2006. DVD.

The Fast and The Furious. Dir. Rob Cohen. Perf. Vin Diesel, Paul Walker. Universal Pictures. 2001. DVD.

Weitz, Rose. “Changing The Scripts: Midlife Women’s Sexuality In Contemporary U.S. Film.” Sexuality & Culture 14.1 (2010): 17-32. Academic Search Premier. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Women in Hollywood." January 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/women-in-hollywood/.

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