A Call To Be Better and Do Better
I don’t think it’s easy to be considered a feminist in today’s society, especially if you are in a position where your work and your ideologies are put on a platform to be scrutinized. You put yourself under a microscope when it comes to the actors you chose, the stories you tell, and the conventions you employ. Different forums and critics will comment on every choice you make as a filmmaker. When it comes to portraying women, there is (rightfully so) a movement to have women as main characters, pushing the story forward. There is an entire history of film and television where shows and movies have been created by men and for men.
Reports from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media show that females are still stereotyped and sexualized and are still playing lesser roles than men. The media and entertainment industries are no where near achieving gender equality. “Both young girls and boys should see female decision-makers, political leaders, managers, and scientists as the norm, not the exception. By increasing the number and diversity of female leaders and role models on screen, content creators may affect the ambitions and career aspirations of girls and young women domestically and internationally.”
Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality of men,” but in some realms, it so much more than just gender equality. Intersectional Feminism, a term coined by theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, is more complex and complicated than the standard definition of feminism. There are many layers of intersectionality that go beyond simply championing women.
Intersectional feminists are all about the inclusion and choice, personal autonomy, and inclusion for not only women but men, people of color, LGBTQ, the disabled, and more. Basically, marginalized groups are brought to the forefront in order to draw attention to inequalities faced. Oppressed and disenfranchised groups are highlighted and advocated for, under this umbrella. “Intersectionality holds that the classical conceptualizations of oppression within society— such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and belief-based bigotry—do not act independently of each other. Instead, these forms of oppression interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the ‘intersection’ of multiple forms of discrimination.”
Over the past few years, there has been a push for fair representation in movies and on television. Now more than ever, it is essential to be mindful to intersections and people who are oppressed and tread upon by standard, mainstream society, especially television and the media. REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
When Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted in the late 1990’s, Joss Whedon was ahead of the curve when it came to showcasing a strong woman in a lead role. In my opinion, while this is groundbreaking and Joss Whedon does advocate for women, there is ALWAYS room for improvement. I challenge Joss Whedon and all writers/directors to do better, be better and widen their scope when it comes to whose stories they are telling. How? Get opinions and stories from a more diverse range of women, hire female writers of different colors and backgrounds, reject stereotypes and tropes, and showcase women who are complex, strong, and smart. They should reject binaries and undertones of internalized sexism and misogyny.
So yes, Joss Whedon has created complex female characters in Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Dollhouse. But as a filmmaker, he should constantly be striving for excellence. Directors and writers should question the audience’s preconceived notions about what their expectations are for women’s weight, body hair, appearance, behavior, and more. Why do we expect men to be rugged and hairy but expect women to have a full face of makeup, be thin, be athletic (but not too athletic), be supported by a significant other, and wear heels while fighting crime. These societal standards are harmful and outdated when it comes to portrayals of women. While there are certain expectations set for men, women do carry a lot of weight when it comes to gender roles and expectations about how they should look and act.
Privilege comes in many forms- you can be privileged because of your class, educational background, religious background, the fact that you’re able bodied or cis-gendered. Recognizing this privilege and using it to do good in the world is the only way to elevate yourself beyond becoming complacent with the privilege. I want to see POC, transgendered people, disabled people, economically disadvantaged people, gay/asexual/bisexual people, bodies that aren’t thin/athletic, and most of all- women who are strong, secure, and empowered.
Writer Roxane Gay has some great tips to keep in mind while portraying women on screen. This is essentially an updated, more challenging version of the Bechdel Test. (Does the movie have two women in it? Do they talk to each other? Do they talk about something besides a man?)
- A woman’s story is being told. She is not relegated to the role of sidekick, romantic interest, or bit player.
Her world is populated with intelligent women who also have stories worth telling, even if their stories aren’t the focus of the movie.
- If she must engage in a romantic storyline, she doesn’t have to compromise her sanity or common sense for love.
- At least half the time, this woman needs to be a woman of color and/or a transgender woman and/or a queer woman because all these women exist! Though she is different, her story should not focus solely on this difference because she is a sum of her parts. She is not the token. She has friends who look like her so they need to show up once in a while.
- She cannot live in an inexplicably perfect apartment in an expensive city with no visible means of affording said inexplicably perfect apartment.
- She doesn’t have to live up to an unrealistic feminist standard. She can and should be human. She just needs to be intelligent and witty and interesting in the way women, the world over are, if we ever got a chance to really know them on the silver screen.
My closing statement-
We live in a diverse nation, we should see that reflected on screen. Joss Whedon built a career from empowering women, let’s hold him to a higher standard to see what he can do next.