Hollywood heroines are being increasingly portrayed as neurotic, idiotic and obsessed by men, weight and weddings, a professor at Oxford University has claimed.
Dr Diane Purkiss, who is a fellow at Keble College, argued that over the past five decades the film industry has made its female characters “dumber and dumber”. The latest slew of chick-flicks, including He’s Just Not That Into You and Confessions of a Shopaholic, fall prey to the “worst kind of regressive, pre-feminist stereotype of misogynistic cliche,” she added.
Dr Purkiss believes that much of this shift in portrayals is to do with the shift in the moviegoing demographic away from the pre-WW2 predominance of women consumers, meaning that Hollywood back then had to care what women thought about how women were portrayed. Now that young men make up the bulk of moviegoers, pandering to simplistic views on women doesn’t hurt Hollywood at the box office, so Hollywood has got sloppy.
But Hollywood is not entirely to blame, according to Purkiss, who claims studios are tapping into the real-life problems facing contemporary women. “When feminists had hope that they might achieve an equal playing field between the sexes, female protagonists on screen were grittier, gutsier and courageous. Now women are gloomier about feminism’s ambitions, so it’s a relief to temporarily visit a world where the biggest problem is what dress to wear.”
Another analyst, Melissa Silverstein, believes that Hollywood has got more than sloppy, that the male-dominated industry is actively pandering to the male audience by creating “women [characters who] titillate male audiences on the least challenging, most obvious of levels”.
Silverstein believes women need to take some responsibility for the way they are portrayed on screen. “We’re complicit in going to see these films. There are films being made about women that don’t focus on shopping, boyfriends and weight loss,” she said, highlighting Kelly Reichardt’s award-winning film Wendy and Lucy, which will be released in the UK next month. “Women need to support those films showing women in a more complex way.”
At the very end, a glimmer of hope?
But box-office analyst Jeff Bock is more optimistic about the selling power of strong female characters. He said the successes of the film version of Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! had been “a game-changer”. “These are industry-changing performances,” he said. “We’ve awoken a sleeping giant.”