The Invisible Woman: Why is Hollywood so Obsessed with Men?

If I’d have predicted how much the Bechdel Test would ruin my enjoyment of cinema, then I might rather not have known about it. For those of you who remain blissfully ignorant, it’s a simple way of thinking about the way that women are represented in whatever film you happen to be watching, thereby ruining it forever. The idea is that to pass the Test, 2 female characters need to have a conversation on their own that isn’t about the male characters in the film. This in turn was based on Virginia Woolf’s pondering in a 1929 essay about the way that female characters are “almost without exception […] shown in their relation to men”.

Learning about the Bechdel Test is a bit like walking through the looking glass – things are never the same again. Since I heard about it I have of course evaluated every single film I have watched and the tally of winning entries is shamefully low. The guy that first told me about it seemed to think it was supposed to be some kind of test of how good a film was – the fact that he could think of loads of good films that didn’t pass it was proof that it was all a load of old nonsense. Despite having missed the point by about a fucking mile, nobody is trying to claim that failing the Bechdel Test means that a film isn’t very good. My favourite film, Withnail and I, fails miserably but I can still enjoy it whilst wearing my comfortable shoes. In fact, most of my favourite films fail the bloody thing but I am not about to delete my copy of Her or renounce my love of the Coen brothers.

The point is that Virginia Woolf was bang on the money. Women are forever defined by their relationship to others. There is an increasing tendency to try and raise awareness of sexism for example, by saying ‘imagine if that was your Mum or your sister’ who someone just harrassed on the street/raped/called a slut, which only serves to emphasise the point that women are still not considered people in their own right. I made my first appearance on the radio last year after the producer of the Morning show read my blog about porn, yet still the presenter insisted on describing me as a ‘mum of 2’. This was despite me emailing them beforehand to question why it was relevant. I don’t recall them mentioning whether the guy I was debating with had kids or not, because that’s right, it’s completely fucking irrelevant.

I often wonder what alien visitors to planet earth would think about human women if their only source of information was mainstream cinema. I find the gap between the reality of women’s lives and how they are portrayed on screen to be ever widening. You’d think that all we did was wait around doing our make-up and dying our hair while the men got on with the important job of you know, actually doing things. Men are tough and know how to save us and each other and usually the world; whereas women scream if anything gets a bit scary, are good at looking sexy when getting killed and oh yeah, specialise in looking scared and sexy and getting killed all at the same time (unless there’s a handy man around to save them that is). And despite the fact that there’s apparently a cinema in Sweden that has a new rating awarded to films that pass the Bechdel Test, it’s actually getting worse. There are fewer films with female leads now than there were in 2002, with only 12% of the top 100 films of 2014 having a strong central female character. Unless the aliens were as backward and sexist as Hollywood film producers then I don’t think they’d be particularly impressed when they realised they’d been conned into seeing women as perpetual objects, earning their place in the story only by virtue of their relationship to the male leads.

Film and TV are important because they are such a massive influence over our lives. They represent reality but they also contribute to the social construction of reality and gender is an essential part of this. I find myself continually telling my kids about the amazing things that women have done in real life because the mainstream media simply doesn’t care. Have you ever heard of Rosie Swale-Pope or Lynn Hill? No? Well the first one ran around the entire world, would you believe, and Lynn Hill kicked butt by being the first person to free climb an infamously difficult route on El Capitan. I want both my son and my daughter to know about these women because they are increasingly invisible. I do not recognise the portrayal of women in film because the women I know run marathons, climb mountains, start businesses and exist beyond their relationships with men. Some of them do extraordinary things, but all of them also just get on with the very ordinary business of living, and film-makers ignore them too.

It is for this reason, that HBO offerings Orange is the New Black (OITNB) and Girls have been such a refreshing breath of fresh air. I can honestly say that OITNB features one of the few representations of butch lesbianism that I have ever seen on the telly and it is brilliant in its diversity. Both shows are concerned with what it means to be a woman and neither is afraid to pull punches. It turns out that women don’t just stand around looking beautiful but they are funny and clever and devious and disgusting too. A bit like men in fact, and a bit like the women I know in real life.

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55 Comments Add yours

  1. Wilson says:

    Every time i read about the bechdel test i keep hoping someone will address the elephant in the room. Women centric stories are either boring or contrived.

    Like

    1. Ms Davis says:

      Wow. I almost don’t know how to respond to you. I guess you must find women boring too which makes me wonder why on earth you’re reading a feminist blog? Good luck out there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wilson says:

        Honestly i read feminist blogs to study cognitive dissonance in action.

        Like

      2. Ms Davis says:

        Well I’m sure the 4 people who read your blog will enjoy hearing all about it.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Liz says:

      That has a lot more to do with how Hollywood perceives women and what they want than what they actually want, or do. I also find films like Mean Girls or anything with Jennifer Anniston in tedious, but that’s half the point – the film industry has not caught up with women and still thinks they only care about boys and make-up. If there were more films about strong female characters (ideally written by women, as they generally understand women better) doing something other than talk about her children, you might feel differently.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wilson says:

        Still sounds boring.

        Like

      2. Liz says:

        Don’t Wilson. There’ll always be stuff out there so you won’t have to trouble your angry little man brain with anything too complicated – easy-to-follow shoot ’em ups and the like.

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      3. Liz says:

        *Don’t worry

        Like

      4. Wilson says:

        Angry little man brain. Can i use that?

        Like

      5. Liz says:

        I don’t know, can you? Not so much, it would appear.

        Like

  2. frine says:

    I read the comments to study people who try to convince others they’re clever whilst ignoring basic punctuation.

    Like

    1. Wilson says:

      Hey their how our you?

      Like

  3. kathrynphotos says:

    Interesting read Tasha. I must admit I am one of the blissfully ignorant who had not heard of the Bechdel Test. It’s so easy to become oblivious to it. But yes, how often do you hear of a man being described as father of two… It’s all about Écriture féminine “woman must write her self”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wilson says:

    Also plus ten for blog smack.

    Like

  5. Wilson says:

    Ok honest question do you guys really think there is a patriarchy thing goin on that keeps you from realizing your potential?

    Like

    1. Ms Davis says:

      I refer you to the rest of my blog. I’m not really interested in debating the existence of patriarchy with a man to be honest. If you can’t see it, it’s because you’re in a wood and there are lots of trees.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Liz says:

      I tell you what I think: you’re clearly here for a fight, and one that makes you feel smug and clever. If someone wants to feel big, they pick on people who they perceive to be weaker, an ‘easy’ target. And you chose a feminist blog. So what does that tell you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wilson says:

        So do you girls have boyfriends? Do they know they’re part of the oppressive patriarchy? How does that work?

        Like

      2. Liz says:

        How would we know. We’re only women.

        Like

      3. Ms Davis says:

        Wilson, I really can’t figure out why you are here – whether it is to argue or because you are genuinely interested? But yes, some men can’t perceive patriarchy in the same way that some white people can’t perceive racism because it generally doesn’t affect them. I’m sure you know at least some real women in the real world who might be able to fill you in though. Go and ask them . And just for info, I am not a girl, I am a woman and whether I have a boyfriend or not is completely irrelevant. I can only guess that your assumption that we are ‘girls’ means that you are a small boy who has a lot to learn about the world.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Wilson says:

        Im taking some time out from my job of oppressing women and minorities to read about how by my gender and sex i am so awful.

        Like

      5. Liz says:

        Don’t know about your gender, for the most part I think it’s an inherited, gender skewed culture that needs pulling into shape (rather than it being ‘all men’s fault)’, but going by your attitude towards women I would say it’s a safe bet that your sex, although I’m doubtful you get much chance to practice (with someone else), is awful.

        Like

    3. Willow Merryweather says:

      yes, but if you are part of it you obviously can’t see it, therefore you are patriarchy either that or just argumentative.

      Like

      1. Wilson says:

        How convenient so as a part of something i am oblivious to i cant comment on it.

        Like

  6. Liz says:

    Interesting. This also has a lot to do with the fact that there are practically no female writers or other behind-the-scenes people out there. If there were, they might be able to make women on film seem a bit more 3-dimensional.

    Like

    1. Ms Davis says:

      I agree. The whole industry is dominated by men – no wonder the films that get made bear little relation to the lives of actual women. I really don’t understand why Hollywood doesn’t realise how many women are fed up with this portrayal of them though. I would think most women would be pleased to see more representative cinema and that perhaps they might even make more money. It’s odd that the film industry doesn’t seem to realise that half of its audience are women who are also half of the market.

      Like

      1. Liz says:

        It’s odd, I was going to write about this too, because every time I look at the selection of films out there for something to watch, I just think ‘urgh’. You’re right, it’s sooooo malecentric. To the point where, half the time, I drift off and do something else while they’re on. Looking at a list of covers it’s just: man, man, tits, man, war, man tits.

        My friends have always wondered why I’m not that films and it took me decades to figure it out – because they’re not relevant to me. I just don’t care about one man’s struggle at sea, or with drugs, or to find who kidnapped his daughter and sold her into prostitution. I’ve seen it too many times, all of it. What about the kidnapped daughter’s pov?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wilson says:

        You do know that sony until recently was run by a woman?

        Like

      3. Liz says:

        Your pretend shortsightedness is unbecoming.

        Like

  7. Willow Merryweather says:

    Also if you are over a certain age and female you become invisible, when we had conductors on the tram, i could be totally overlooked for my fare. invisible middle aged woman. rarely are we portrayed as real in films and television.

    Like

    1. Liz says:

      That’s true! I notice a difference in how I’m treated based on how much effort I’ve put into, you know, bothering to brush my hair etc. I think films have given people this idea that beauty or youth make you more valid. There are a few films experimenting with things like no make up – Wild, from the book by Cheryl Strayed. Reese Witherspoon is not quite middle aged, but is her late thirties and wears no make up in the film – she’s meant to be walking the U.S. East coast. Shame the books a bit meh though.

      Like

      1. Ms Davis says:

        Ooh, and I meant to write in the actual post that I loved Blue Is the Warmest Colour because they wear no make up and the lead role produces visible snot when she cries! Made me realise how unusual it is to see women looking normal.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Liz says:

        Wow, snot. Who knew that anyone would rejoice about it. It’s true though, so nice to see some normality. I spent too much of my life thinking there was something (everything) abnormal about me because I don’t look like the women on TV.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ms Davis says:

        ha, yeah, producing snot is a political act 😉 And this is exactly what bothers me. Women and girls continually comparing themselves to unrealistic and unachievable versions of women on TV. Where are the role models?

        Like

      4. Liz says:

        Snot as political subject. I like that. There are very few. I always imagined I was a boy growing up.

        Like

      5. Wilson says:

        That was a good movie. I think it represented women well. Hollywood should take note.

        Like

      6. Liz says:

        I get what’s going on here, Wilson, I really do. Men aren’t very good at talking to each other and you’re hurting, perhaps because you’re unable to live up to the hansom, macho image society expects you to have. But there are no male support groups or safe places where you can discuss your troubles, your identity crisis, because men are expected to be strong.

        So you lash out, choosing to waste your time away trolling women – jealous, perhaps, of their camaraderie and ease in talking things through. However, Wilson, it’s time to stop poking those above you with sticks, take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself – who am I? Who is Wilson? He’s a man who blogs nastily about women, anonymously. Wilson – it’s time to admit what you’ve been hiding all along. You wish to become a women. It’s ok Wilson, we’re here to support you.

        Like

      7. Wilson says:

        So does the idea of me being a woman turn you on? Cause im kinda diggin the vibe here

        Like

      8. Liz says:

        Awh… We’re here Wilson, we’re here.

        Like

      9. Wilson says:

        Will you be my valentine?

        Like

      10. Liz says:

        Sorry, I like men.

        Like

      11. Wilson says:

        How would you know lollerz

        Like

      12. Liz says:

        I don’t know lollerz at all

        Like

  8. London is Fem says:

    Reblogged this on London is Fem.

    Like

  9. Lucie Orsted says:

    “women are good at looking sexy when getting killed and oh yeah, specialise in looking scared and sexy and getting killed all at the same time” …you’re so right. I couldn’t continue past the second episode of “True Detective” because even when I was trying to forget that I was a woman, the plot and the scenes were so gross and stupidly sexist, I just gave up. The ritual murders, the love affair with a young girl with big boobs, the bored wifey, the prostitutes, the monologues on the sense of life and the feelings of the poor lonesome cowboy (McConaughey). Because yes, women are dead or lovers or wives or whores, but they wouldn’t be the ones talking. All too much. And it get 9,3/10 on IMDB, sigh. And what about the quote “Man is the cruelest animal”. I can’t..I can’t even.
    Anyway, I really like your writings, I read all the other posts yesterday night. Oh, just for the record, I recommend you the TV Show Fargo ; while it’s still violent, it changes a bit because the hero policeofficer is a woman and she’s very good and funny. Not surprisingly, many people in IMDB find her “annoying” and “unlikable” (she’s a little bit fat and doesn’t care much about her looks, you see, so, “unlikable”). But she’s awesome ! I also watched a movie called Cracks, without any male characters for once and it was really good (except that it couldn’t help but show the lesbian as a mean and frustrated woman) (and another one is killed too). I really enjoyed this “women centric” movie, it was neither boring nor contrived at all. Men were absent from the movie, but weirdly, you could sense that these women’s actions, fears and thoughts were conditioned by men’s presence in the outside world. I found it interesting. And Eva Green is beautiful, and great. Cheers !

    Like

    1. Wilson says:

      Did you watch sex and the city?

      Like

      1. Lucie Orsted says:

        No. I have no interest in shoes.

        Like

      2. Wilson says:

        That’s sexist.

        Like

      3. Lucie Orsted says:

        you’re a troll. (and your blog sucks)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Wilson says:

        And technically you just trolled by utilizing an ad hominem

        Like

  10. Ms Davis says:

    Thanks for your recommendations and your kind comments about my blog. I will check out Cracks, sounds great.

    Like

  11. Wilson says:

    In Hollywood they say there’s no business like show business in the hood we say there’s no business like ho business.

    Like

  12. sellmaeth says:

    Aaaand exhibit A, Wilson managed to make this discussion all about him. I’m pretty sure, wordpress offers the option to delete comments, if you don’t have the time to moderate them in advance.
    I’d suggest to do this, because, honestly, I get bored with the trolling. It derails the debate. (I really, really enjoy blogs that are moderated or even invitation only. One does get to actually discuss things with women, instead of just fighting males)

    Back to topic:
    I have started to only watch films that pass the Bechdel test. At least in cinema. Which predictably means I save lots of money, as not every movie that passes is a movie I want to see.

    Like

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