- Deseret News - Thursday, October 2, 2014

On Sept. 21, Emma Watson delivered a powerful speech as a U.N. goodwill ambassador on feminism, urging men to become active participants in creating gender equality worldwide. Her speech has received both praise and criticism, proving that the issue deserves our attention. In response to her U.N. speech, it is interesting to look at the portrayal of women as female characters in movies today.

At first look, there seem to be quite a few strong female characters in Hollywood today. However, many of these characters also fall victim to the patriarchal views that dominate our ideas of gender, especially how a woman should appear. For instance, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” has been praised for placing an intelligent, fearless woman at the center of its plot. Looking closer, however, it’s clear that she is also defined by her beauty and becomes sexualized in the eyes of an audience. Instead of being celebrated for her brains and bravery, she has become a popular Halloween costume for young adult women. This is one of the countless examples of how even the strongest female characters in movies are subject to confining stereotypes.

Soraya Chemaly, in a story from The Huffington Post, points out “20 Facts Everyone Should Know About Gender Bias in Movies.” Among the statistics of gender disparity in film and television, one fact seems to illustrate one of the biggest flaws of how women are depicted in the media. The study from The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media states that “In films, comments made by characters that refer to appearance are directed at women at a rate of five times that of comments directed at men.”

What does that say to all of the women watching these films? The message is that women are defined by how they look and are valued for their beauty. This message is propelled each time a female character is subjected to comments on their appearance on screen, comments that come from the conception of characters and the script of a movie.

Ms. Watson argues that the fear of being associated with traits of the opposite gender is the first barrier that our society needs to break down. Qualities such as strength and aggression should not apply only to men, just as sensitivity and expression of emotions shouldn’t be attributes confined only to women. She advises that we “stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are.”

Before we can see confident women who defy the stereotypes on screen we know all too well, those genuine female characters need to be created by writers and directors. There need to be more opportunities for actors and actresses to represent real human qualities beyond just their appearance. We, as viewers and consumers of entertainment, play an active part in both continuing age-old stereotypes and changing the conceptions of gender in the media. Just as Ms. Watson said, if there is a need for change, it begins with all of us.

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