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Action Movies and Gender Roles

2007 August 21
by Julie Clawson

So I actually got the chance to get out and see The Bourne Ultimatum. Fun movie, this one speaks to issues of our day but with a lot of crazy camera angles. One element that stood out to me was the implicit gender role assumptions present in the movies. In the Bourne universe, the guys are always the kick-butt action figures. They are the ones with the skills, the ability to fight, and the driving urge to win. The women, although generally intelligent, are weak and in need of protection. In this latest installment the weakness of even the intelligent women in positions of power is preyed upon by the men’s need to win. Granted in the end the “emotional weakness” of the women proved beneficial for they were the ones who demonstrated a conscience and chose to do what was right (as opposed to what gave them power). Although full of assumptions and stereotypes, I found it a telling commentary on the need for a balanced perspective that men in violent positions of power often lack.

But I was also reminded in contrast of the typical role women play in action movies. Rarely are women recurring intelligent characters. Instead women are often portrayed as the kick-butt hero who is exceeding sexy. The appeal is the sex factor and the novelty of a woman doing what is assumed to be a man’s job. Far more common though are women as helpless, disposable, love interests sex objects. They add some emotional content to the plot, stretch the story a bit, but mostly serve as eye-candy. And there is a new pretty face of the moment by the time the sequel comes out. I remember as a kid wondering what happened to the female characters in movie sequels. Why did Indiana Jones have a “new girl” in each movie? Are women really that worthless that they can be discarded at will?

I do see some changes beginning to occur (not that I watch all that many movies). Sometimes the love interest is drawn out over multiple movies (Spiderman or Pirates) – but this may be more the result of studies signing multiple movie deals upfront than a step towards equality. And I’ve heard a rumor that the new Indiana Jones movie is bringing back the woman from Raiders of the Lost Ark (not that I even remember her name). We shall see. I know one really shouldn’t expect much from action movies, but I get sick of constantly seeing negative stereotypes being reinforced in the name of entertainment. Of course there are “intelligent” movies out there that do a much better job at demonstrating women as more than sex objects, but are those who could benefit from more respectful portrayals of women really watching those movies?

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. paul permalink
    August 25, 2007

    Yes that’s a good point, it’s hard to think of less than eye candy equal female characters, matrix and starwars comes to mind and possibly lord of the rings, as the female characters demonstrate bravery even if they have to use some suberfuge at times to prove their equality.

    I thought Bourne was a good film in using the same females over the films and this last one did have a couple of “bad” female field agents – for example the snatch scene on the bus.

    It’s also i think one of the themes of the films – the old guard trying to protect themselves and ultimately faced with the justice triggered by being confronted by their past in Jason Bourne. To that end it made it seem totall plausible to have older male figures representing the corrupt self seeking behaviour of the CIA and the Pamela Landy character played in a refreshing honest intelligent and couragious way.

  2. jasbir singh nagara permalink
    September 29, 2009

    it was the result of really very good observation. in the movies what we see, women are really used as a toy, moreover as a lady who is egger to expose. movies are beimg far from the reality.
    at some extent women are responsible for this condition.if we talk about the described movie thought Bourne was a good film in using the same females over the films and this last one did have a couple of “bad” female field agentsI do see some changes beginning to occur (not that I watch all that many movies). Sometimes the love interest is drawn out over multiple movies (Spiderman or Pirates) – but this may be more the result of studies signing multiple movie deals upfront than a step towards equality..

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