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How to Watch Films as a Feminist

02/06/2016 15:04 | Updated 02 June 2016

With great feminist knowledge, comes great responsibility. No longer will subliminal sexism go unnoticed in your favourite TV series, no longer can you re-watch childhood movies with ignorance at their underlying misogyny and no longer can you appreciate a cheeky rom-com without feeling like you've betrayed your own kind.

Once the ball drops, a feminist can never watch TV or films the same way again. It's hard to get used to at first, you end up questioning the world so often because of the ever so simple sexist ways that women are portrayed in entertainment, that you actually start to fear watching some of your favourite movies again, as if to keep the illusion of equality alive.

The crux of the matter is that women in film are almost always framed completely in the same stereotypes. Either ridiculously "beautiful" and there to be objectified, or mothers. Their whole existence is in relation to men. In general, at least, not including the never-ending ridiculous portrayals of non-white or non-heterosexual women, including the beyond confusing stereotypes of over-sexualised black woman, token 'friend' black woman and butch angry lesbian.

Just to mention at this point: there are some amazing feminist films out there. But they're so few that they're the exception to the ever ruling misogynistic majority. And yet still, what infuriates me the most is that there's barely a film that I can see myself in. Hollywood does not represent women but pretends it does thus inflicting horrible inferior feelings on actual, real, non-fictional women. Secondly, I refuse to accept the implication that only women can enjoy all/majority-opposite-sex-cast films. Shockingly, men can also enjoy all-female cast movies. I know, can you believe it?

What tends to happen in my case, is that I spend most of my time comparing myself to all of the women in a film because I've been programmed to be jealous and competitive. A patriarchal society teaches women to hate or mistrust other women because they might be more attractive (physically or otherwise) to men than you. The fact that this is based on only heterosexual couples is also very irritating. But even then, it's a very bad lesson to spread. Men can be over-sexualised to encourage objectification too, but it's far less than women, and even if there's men there, ripe for objectification, my brain focuses on the women in the film and their looks.

Let's take superhero films for example. Even if we bypass the fact that there's barely any women-led superhero films (ie. non so far in the Marvel franchise) which is beyond unacceptable anyway, the women in them (also not very many even in the mixed films) are overly sexualised. Don't get me wrong, I am very glad that Black Widow can kick some ass, but why on earth does she need to do it in black leather heels and a tight top? We could fall down the body image rabbit hole here, but that would be to digress.

I caught wind the other day that the new Ghostbusters (2016) trailer had got the most dislikes on YouTube ever (or something along those lines, I got too angry to read the article fully). I was ecstatic when they announced that the new team would be an all-female one, because no I don't hate men, but I'm sick of watching film after film where they massively outweigh the women in them. To see a team of funny and intelligent women steal the show is extremely necessary for the movie industry. This is a big step, and I'm sorry, but I just don't accept that all these people disliked the trailer because the film itself doesn't look good. It is not a coincidence that this has happened with a remake where the main cast are now all women.

Which leads me to dispel this common argument that many people have when I discuss the state of women in films. "It's just films, surely it doesn't matter what gender the characters are". No. If it didn't matter, then it would obviously be naturally 50/50 right? If it didn't matter, then it wouldn't be so constantly skewed in the past and present. If it didn't matter, we wouldn't see so many big films fail the Bechdel test, ie. just have two named women in them who speak to each other about anything other than men. C'mon, are you really telling me that there's nothing underlying going on here?

Women have grown up constantly seeing the small amount of us actually on the big screen portrayed as only sexual play things or mothers. I'm not going to pretend that the industry doesn't also negatively stereotype men (in particular this idea that to be a man means you can't feel emotion), but at least men are there and actually embody more varied roles, oh and also seem to be intelligent.

So fellow feminists, here's what we can do. Put our money where our mouth is; pay to see feminist movies at the box offices and on DVD upon release. Spread the word; point out the things which we see to others, challenge stereotypes. Also, sometimes you just have to put feminist blinkers on; movies can still be good, but at least now you're aware and selectively ignore the sexism without it poisoning your brain.

Go forth feminists, and rule the movie industry.

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