The Placement of Women Today in Film and in 20th Century Literature: How Much Progress Has Been Made?

"UN Ad Uses Google to Reveal Widespread Sexism." Image URL Used for educational purposes only.

“UN Ad Uses Google to Reveal Widespread Sexism.” Image URL Used for educational purposes only.

When reading some of the texts for this class, I have been empathetic to the inequalities faced by women in the past. Most female writers we have studied in the course have had something to say, whether implicitly or overtly, about the placement of women in their respective times. Additionally, most texts written by men in this course have represented women as ultimately passive and submissive if they have been represented at all. When reading those texts, like Bradstreet and Dickinson’s poems, and the women presented in The Great Gatsby, I always feel grateful that the situation is no longer the same for women. I cannot imagine myself doing well in a society where women are silenced.

However, I recently came upon an article that made me reconsider my comfortable assertion regarding the equality of the sexes. The article was about a new Swedish film rating that scores movies based on their representation of women. In order for the film to receive an “A,” at least two women in the film must talk about something other than men. Interestingly, popular American films like “The Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” “The Social Network,”  “Pulp Fiction,” and all but one “Harry Potter” film all failed this test. Additionally, in 2011, women in the top 100 American films only accounted for 11% of protagonists and 33% of all characters. Women are not absent from film, but it is intriguing to me that their representation is still lesser than men, and that the roles they do have often present women as solely responding to the men around them. I found it eye-opening to realize that most women in popular films still occupy the traditional role wherein the man is their main concern and reason for occupying space.

It may be a stretch to try to link these two different medias, but I think it is important to note the similarities. While film is unrelated to the literature we have been reading in this class, I found this article interesting in light of the conversation regarding the placement of women we’ve had in discussion. In The Woman Warrior, we talked about how the placement of Chinese emigrant women presents a complex situation for Kingston’s cultural location. Unlike the film article I previously mentioned, men are mostly absent from this text. However, while women are represented as the majority, they are still implicitly ruled by the male-dominated society around them. Traditionally, women are the carriers of culture, and I think that the female characters in Kingston’s work must muddle with this tension, especially Kingston herself. Kingston’s mother tells Maxine that women are only to be wives or slaves, furthering the idea that the placement of women is one that occupies a specific space in a male-oriented society.

As a person who loves both literature and film (the latter solely for recreational purposes, however), my eyes were opened when I read the article regarding women’s roles in film. I love to watch movies, and I have never noticed that women in movies commonly only speak to discuss men. However, I am a big supporter of the idea of the Swedish feminist film rating. I think women should have their own space in both literature and film to be whatever representation they wish to be. They should not be mere placeholders for the action of male progress. I’m amazed that some of my favorite films do not pass this so-called ‘Bechdel Test,’ and I probably never would have noticed the underrepresentation of women unless I had come upon this article. I think many people mistakenly believe that in today’s Western societies, men and women have equal privileges, which is something I would disagree with for a number of reasons. I do think it is pertinent as a society to welcome such eye-opening studies that reveal the covert inequalities that exist today.

– Katie O.


Rising, Malin. “Swedish Cinemas Launch Feminist Movie Rating.”  USA Today. 6 November 2013. Web. Accessed December 9 2013.


2 thoughts on “The Placement of Women Today in Film and in 20th Century Literature: How Much Progress Has Been Made?

  1. It is extremely to think about how far women have come, especially in the United States. They went from not being able to vote to progressing into high-power positions within society. Though, when you look at the numbers of them both in film and elsewhere, they are still rather low compared to their male counterparts. And to be perfectly honest, we need more people like you Katie who are willing to stand up to the stereotypes and perceptions of women. Our society needs individuals to push our mental boundaries in the realm of women’s rights. Our society needs individuals like Kingston who possess the urge to want to escape from societal’s distorted perceptions and become their own person, rather than conform to what society dictates.

    However, as someone who majors in Communication Arts, I have learned that women are starting to grow into more prominent roles, while more apparent in the television industry rather than the film industry. While these women may need to prove themselves more in a male-dominated industry, they set an example for all women — particularly those who want to pursue a film or TV career — that the possibilities are there with the taking coupled with the existence of determination and hard work.

  2. I wanted to stand up and applaud when I read the article you linked to about the Swedish film rankings. As an English major and a film buff, I’ve not been ignorant to the roles of women in these texts and their representations as storytellers, or, more statistically, objects. I think it’s interesting that you bring up Maxine Hong Kingston’s ” The Woman Warrior” because everything down to the title seems to be very forward-thinking in terms of female protagonists, but even the great Fa Mu-Lan had to worry about her husband and newborn baby. Often, in both literature and film, I wonder if this is just a trend appealing to the market. It’s no secret that women crave romance and drama and men crave triumph in their entertainment choices, but that shouldn’t stop the market from producing more feminist literature. And it doesn’t have to be painfully obvious that a text is pro-woman, I think the world just needs more solid female protagonists without the sexism and divide that keeps a masculine story from a feminine one.

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