Women As People
I went to the movies last week, excited about a movie that intrigued me because of its incredible (gasp!)
decision to include a STEM career woman as the leading lady, opposite an equally driven man who finds her intellect attractive. I expected a tense, intelligent drama, instead, I found a clichéd and very confused non-story. Spoiler alert! The woman, played by the incredibly talented Alicia Vikander, is a scientist who spends her days off in a luxurious French villa, parading around her room in sexy lingerie while she listens to intense classical music. Allow me to go on a quick tangent... most women I know only wear sexy lingerie when wanting to have sex, not when alone in our rooms, working. Sexy lingerie is not comfortable attire. And in cold weather, we cover up, because, you know, we're humans who do not have naturally occurring fur coats growing from our bodies, but that's beside the point.
The first faux pas in this narrative was when James asks Danny about her work. She takes her two oranges (which are apparently her only sustenance, though that choice is never referred to or explained) and asks him to close his eyes so he can visualize it. She goes on to explain the several layers of the ocean in the most sensuous way possible as he tries to sneak a peak every now and then. Endearing, if one were watching two teenagers talk about how they'd like to undress each other, not so much when a complex female character turns her complexity into science porn. This was just one of the many instances where a fabulous opportunity to have a solid female character onscreen was thrown to waste by the choice to view women as sex objects.
In another unfortunate choice, once again, a man nearing forty is seen as the natural match to a woman who looks no older than 25. Add to that the fact that she's supposed to be a professor with endless degrees under her belt and nearing a groundbreaking discovery… this would all be more realistic if she was nearing forty herself.
I could go on forever. But I don't really want to keep talking about this movie. Rather, about the apparent impossibility of portraying women as functioning human beings. How can we avoid falling into the trap of wanting to over sexualize us? I understand the need for some sensuality in a romantic story, but an intelligent human being who talks about their work passionately and with humility is arguably, rather sexy in and of itself. There's no real need for “show" if the moment is truthful, in my opinion.
Someone said once, that in order to write a complex female character, writers should write the part for a man, and then invert the pronouns and name. I’m not too keen on this view; it makes me cringe to think that the only way writers can approach writing female characters is by imagining a man first. Another view came from a writer who, in response to the question, “how do you write female characters so well?” he brilliantly responded: "I see them as people.” So simple. I see them as people. Wouldn’t that be nice? If writers, both male and female, could put aside their many prejudices towards women and just write people. If directors could stop wanting to sexualize a scene that is not sexual. If producers could imagine that the story of a person who is not like them might still appeal to them (and to a larger audience). That would be nice. And more than that, a simple shift in our perception and portrayal of women "as people" would revolutionize, not only filmmaking, but the world and our place in it.
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