Recently I was on one of my favorite podcasts (The LAMB) discussing several “Bond” movies and the obvious topic of sexism in older movies was brought up. What do we do in a time where the better part of Hollywood is being outed for being sexual predators, criminals and pervs? The truth is we’ve all known this for some time, but we’re finally having an open dialogue about it. When we time travel to older films (and even recent ones) it’s simply impossible not to acknowledge the blatant sexism that exists. So how do I still enjoy movies in a time where boycotting things has become a favorite pastime?
A lot of people have made the choice to not watch films made or featuring actors or filmmakers that have committed or have been accused of being engaged in less than savory behavior. I absolutely respect that decision, but it’s not mine. Since the time film has been made we’ve watched women be exploited, different cultures stereotyped, and racism as a punchline. Is the answer boycotting the majority of films that exist in our past?
I’ve found that even though I often cringe or am even pissed off by the way women have been portrayed in film, TV, books and even video games over the years it’s important to continue to watch. The fact that I am uncomfortable and the fact that I recognize it’s wrong is important.
As a kid I connected to strong female characters in different mediums. Obvious film choices were Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor. Two women thrown into extraordinary situations that simply rose to the occasion. As a little girl Anne Shirley from the “Anne of Green Gables” series was my spirit animal. She was an oddball in the world and in spite of her gender she never let her dreams be squashed. She-ra was my favorite cartoon with a beautiful woman equally strong to her over-powered brother. Eventually in my adolescent years there was Buffy. These were the exceptions rather than the rule, but these were women breaking the mold long before Gal Gadot showed up as Wonder Woman.
Most women in film, TV, and books were written as accessories, homemakers, and Princess’s to be saved. Mere objects. Girls growing in today’s society may not realize what it was like to grow up in that time. Most people fully accepted that design, but I didn’t. Even though it was evolving and changing thanks to some of the women mentioned above it did not alter quickly as is evident today. Tantrums over Captain Marvel being a female lead are only one of several protests about women in leading action roles.
How Do We Change?
Progress takes time. You can’t force people to accept change and not everyone out there is a bigot. People have a REALLY hard time with change in general. Making the changes anyway and fighting against the oppression is what matters. Yes, I often look back at older films with contempt, but I can also laugh at how absurd and ridiculous these roles were. We’ve come a long way and we still have a lot of work to do. However, we need to know how far we’ve come we have to remember where we’ve been. Erasing or ignoring film history isn’t going to help enable forward progress.
Now I see movies I loved when I was younger with completely fresh eyes. I often ask myself why I was so accepting of some of the things I was. Especially as I grew up as a girl rebelling against those female stereotypes. I think the answer is less complicated than we might be inclined to make it. Simply, it was the world presented to us, without many counter options to pursue.
The real answer to watching is I have accepted that is the way things were, and I’m comfortable with that because they aren’t the same anymore. The women aren’t just arm candy or damsels to be saved. More roles are being written as gender neutral and the role is going to the best “person”. Because of this I can watch and still enjoy those 80’s action flicks and those terribly sexist Bond movies. That’s not who most of us are anymore. We have the choice to change and are being represented. Mostly we are being heard. Part of the world might give us hell for fighting, but I say we keep giving them hell right back.