Hollywood Heroines Are Dumb, Weight-obsessed and Man Mad

For years NewsBusters has addressed the declining quality of movies currently available at theaters, and has normally pointed fingers at the amount of sex, violence, and vulgarity that has become sadly commonplace.

Another view was indirectly offered by the U.K. Guardian Sunday: Hollywood heroines have become dumber and dumber "increasingly portrayed as neurotic, idiotic and obsessed by men, weight and weddings."

As a big fan of the classics that featured Katharine Hepburn sparring with the likes of Cary Grant, James Stewart, and eventually Spencer Tracy, as well as other marvelous matchups like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, I admit to not considering how much I miss this format.

Sadly, according to the Guardian, those were indeed the good old days (h/t Big Hollywood):

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.

"It's a sad day when you look back at Bridget Jones with some affection," said Purkiss. "But although Bridget Jones was far less emancipated and intelligent than, say, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, she was a great deal better than the inane women we are getting nowadays. We really have reached a nadir in the way women are portrayed on screen. That is, I hope it is a nadir and doesn't sink further." [...]

"During Hollywood's golden age, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis could play fully formed characters at the same time as being funny and entertaining," she said. "Now, the only way for a woman to have a complex character on screen is to be depressing, tormented and self-sacrificing."

Today's "vapid" depiction of women is, said Purkiss, markedly different from that during the industry's golden age. "Hollywood films used to delight in featuring strong, interesting women," she said, pointing to Rosalind Russell's role as a feisty journalist in Howard Hawks's 1940 hit His Girl Friday.

Lest we not forget that she was opposite Cary Grant in that film, and the two were absolutely marvelous together. When's the last time you saw a movie with such a strong couple engaging in real dialogue that was both compelling and entertaining?

Such strength today seems to require violence to make the point. The hit film "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is a fine example.

Wouldn't it be nice to see these two in a film where the dialogue was more important than the action sequences much as what occurred decades ago?

Relationships between men and women on the silver screen also used to be portrayed as far more equable, said Purkiss. "Hollywood used to enjoy pitting their romantic leads against each other in equally matched power struggles," she said. "Most of the films that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy made together, for example, revel in the fun that can be had when two equally intelligent and powerful people try to gain the upper hand."

Not unpredictably, the article went on to blame male domination at the executive level in Hollywood:

But according to Melissa Silverstein, founder of Women & Hollywood, a marketing company specialising in films featuring women, the dumbing down of women on screen has a more earthy motivation. "One-dimensional female characters are created because the men making and directing the films are only interested in one thing: that these women titillate male audiences on the least challenging, most obvious of levels," she said. "That's how scripts are generated in Hollywood now, and how a myopic view of women has been formed," said Silverstein. "Fewer than 10% of Hollywood films are written by women and fewer than 6% are directed by women," she went on. "The fact is that these men don't want to find strong women sexy. They don't want women in films who are fully formed and who deal with interesting issues."

What a surprise: it's all men's fault. But isn't that too simplistic?

After all, Hollywoodans are typically quite liberal, and liberals are typically quite feminist. As such, why would studios be creating content and characters that go contrary to their politics?

Isn't it in fact their biases which led them to make so many Bush-bashing and anti-Iraq films in recent years?

Assuming this is correct, it seems more likely that there's possibly something more societal at play. According to a Motion Picture Association of America study done in 2007, most moviegoers are under the age of 40.

More importantly, 41 percent of frequent moviegoers -- those that go to the theater at least once a month -- are between the ages of 12 and 24. Among teenagers, 43 percent of frequent moviegoers are 16 and 17.

Are these young folks looking for movies containing complex female and male characters having serious discussions about life?


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Noel Sheppard's picture