A person’s point of view shapes their reality, and the way they create, convey and critique that reality, and the vast majority of movies are written, produced and directed by (straight, white) men. Accordingly, when you sit down to watch a movie, you’re almost always getting a (straight, white) male perspective—male stories with male heroes and their male sidekicks. They feature male actors conveying a man’s point of view and female actors conveying a man’s point of view. The vast majority of films are then reviewed and rewarded by (straight, white) men, which effectively closes the loop, so this inherent bias is rarely commented upon, much less contested.
Many people view it as the way it is, instead of the way some men perceive it is. Two hundred years ago in “Persuasion,” Jane Austen had a man point out, “I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon a woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.” I think it was Jamie Lee Curtis in a Los Angeles Times Calendar article who stated words to the affect that she was tired of getting scripts where she showed up on page 7 so the male lead would have someone to screw on page 70. Lillian Gish famously pointed out that “When I first went into the movies Lionel Barrymore played my grandfather. Later he played my father and finally he played my husband. If he had lived, I’m sure I would have played his mother.”
We’ve become so accustomed to sexism that most think nothing of seeing women naked or nearly so while men are covered from top to bottom. This is the norm in everything from the earliest Hollywood movies to Eyes Wide Shut and Hotel Chevalier. Hollywood men are like Vatican sculptures: penises don’t exist. If they do, (large) prosthetic penises are currently favored. Prosthetic acoutrements and three-piece suits are rarely an option for women, who resort to surgery and starvation for the Barbie Doll body Hollywood idealizes and the world attempts to mimic with frightening if not fatal results.
While even the worst of male villains can be given some illuminating motive for his actions, a female—even a female lead—will often be given no motivation at all for her shortcomings (“When A Man Loves a Woman“), or any motivation that might be veering the leading lady into the heroic will be knocked out from under her at the last minute (“The Upside of Anger“). And though theaters are continually filled with the exploits of male movie cartoon heroes whose courage, common sense and humanity would make one weep, women are given “My Super Ex-Girlfriend.”
Examples are in pretty much every single movie, but a glance at the latest trailer for “Sherlock Holmes,” starring Robert Downey, Jr., (slated to open 12/25/09) once again brings it into sharp relief. It’s a hero/buddy movie, where Sherlock and Watson (Jude Law) are off to save the world, while the brief glimpses of Rachel McAdams show she looks good in lingerie.
Do we really want girls and boys to think it is men who are always the heroes and women who stand on the sidelines, looking good in lingerie? Are these really the stories we want to inspire our children, female or male?
Great stories act as maps to draw us out of our limited perceptions and reveal a bigger picture, opening up a greater sense of possibilities, of our inherent heroism. They usually include some form of the hero’s journey: someone who is faced with challenges and learns to overcome them—and we learn with them. We are all on that hero’s journey every single day. Our stories need to reflect this.
What stories are we telling, and where do they lead us?