Women in Films: Not Truly Lifted Off Their Traditional Stereotypes

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Films may encapsulate many messages and beliefs and are an effective mode of relaying messages to its audience. Over the years, films are known to carry messages on gender stereotypes as the traits the characters in the films embody serve as a signal for audiences to follow.

Traditionally, males are regarded as ‘real men’ when they accomplish jobs which males customarily ought to do (Rajan, 2006). Rajan (2006) elucidates that these include having a stable job, fulfilling family and social obligations, playing sports and being heterosexual and that masculinity is attained by the amount of recognition received for their actions. Additionally, males are also required to possess masculine, patriarchal characteristics or qualities such as undoubted power, physical strength, social authority, competitiveness, tendency to isolate oneself and not easily sharing one’s emotions (Attwood, 1995; Gillam and Wooden, 2008).

A breakthrough for males

However, various studies suggest that males can breakthrough their traditional stereotypes and promote a new model of masculinity (Gillam and Wooden, 2008; Rajan, 2006). Firstly, males can adopt masculinity that females increasingly demand and desire of males, which includes exercising power by intelligence and competitiveness, being thoughtful to women’s concerns and being in concord with present-day feminist approaches towards marriage and sex (Rajan, 2006). Alternatively, males can also acquire feminine qualities by developing a soft side to them, where they can be more expressive of their feelings, recognize their need for communal support and show sympathy rather than violence (Gillam and Wooden, 2008).

These findings propose an idea where the portrayal of one gender is largely dependent on the other (Attwood, 1995; Gillam and Wooden, 2008; Taylor and Setters, 2011). Instead of expressing masculinity or femininity as fixed definitions, we should focus on the processes and relationships through which men and women conduct their lives in order to appropriately qualify what each gender should be (Gillam and Wooden, 2008; Rajan, 2006).

A breakthrough for women?

While in regards to the male aspects, it seems possible that films are increasingly able to bring about a positive breakthrough of men’s stereotypical portrayal and venture out of its traditional representations. However, have films been able to achieve this breakthrough for females? Is the portrayal of women in Western films really moving beyond traditional gender norms, or simply re-articulating and re-presenting stereotypical traits in a new guise?

Despite the evolution and progress of film production, women’s seemingly non-traditional representations in Western films generally bring limited success in lifting women off their traditional stereotypes. This is because non-traditional representations of women are not independent of traditional stereotypes, as such portrayals ultimately still stem from stereotypical traits of women.

Role as a maternal individual

Over the years, there are increasing depictions of women adopting masculinity. Particularly in action films, these female characters engage in activities highly correlated to traditional masculinity, such as physical violence, fighting or even taking up arms (Attwood, 1995). Hence these tough protagonists are seen to deviate from the traditional notions of femininity. However, such characters’ violence behaviors are only made necessary due to their role as a mother. Owing to her maternal instincts, the female action character would risk all, which includes abandoning her femininity to be violent or even to the extent of being ruthless in the process of it, if it could save her children and loved ones (Gilpatric, 2010).

Women seek to dominate and secure authority, which goes against the traditional stereotypes of how female are deemed to obey and behave according to. However, albeit how powerful and domineering a woman can be, as seen from the...
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