West Virginia University
This research is a content analysis of female action characters shown in action films from 1971 to 2005. The analysis focused on two elements 1) traditional gender roles and stereotypes and 2) the quantity and type of violence. Results showed no statistically significant data. However, a pattern was found that revealed that female action characters have become increasingly violent in their means of protection and weapon use. Results showed that female characters in films from the 2000’s use 50% more violence than characters in film from the 1970’s. Findings also indicate that characters in films from the 2000’s were shown displaying traditional traits of femininity 50% of the time, whereas, female characters in films from the 1970’s and 1990’s only depicted the same traits 25% of the time.
It is now common to see female action characters engaged in violent action sequences involving hand-to-hand combat, swords, and other large weapons and machinery. These were once reserved for only male action characters. Such depictions have surpassed traditional expectations of femininity leaving theorists wondering why female action characters are depicted in this manner. These violent portrayals of women are not in accordance with the social expectations of females. It is important for society to understand why this change is occurring because the media is influential on society and vice versa. Theories that will be useful in the examination of this topic include: the social construction of gender, feminine and post-feminine views, and traditional gender roles. These are vital to understanding the context of this study because they have historical importance and provide a base to conceptualize different variables of the analysis of female action characters. These theories will be used to help show how female action characters have evolved over the last thirty years in a way that has become more violent and masculinized. This research will build on studies that have already been completed to form a better understanding how the evolution of time has progressed the female character in film. There is a substantial amount of research on the social construction of gender and how female action characters are portrayed in film. However, there is not much research that provides quantifiable data to empirically represent the change in female action characters. The films observed in this study contain female characters whose violent, physical actions are associated with typical male archetypes and characteristics. This research will examine the characteristics of female action characters and the quantity and type of violence used. These will demonstrate how the female character has evolved, more violently and masculine, from the 1970’s through present day. This research is an effort to compare and contrast how female action characters violate traditional gender stereotypes and how these violations contribute to how the female action character has been portrayed in action films over the past thirty years. Literature Review
When discussing gender-role development, it is important to understand the terms sex and gender. It is essential to distinguish between elements that can be attributed to biology and those that can be attributed to societal influences. A person’s sex is defined by biological make-up (male vs. female). However, gender is social, cultural, and psychological. An individual’s sex is based on their genitalia, organization of the brain, internal and external reproductive organs. According to Penelope Eckert (1989), “[sex] provides a fundamental basis for the differentiation of roles, norms, and expectations in all societies”. In contrast, a person’s gender can be expressed through behavior, selection of a job or career, manner of...