Monday, April 14, 2014

The Lone Woman

One thing that bugs me about a lot of movies is that there's only one woman in them. When people start talking about the scarcity of roles for women, this is what I think about. Ocean's 11 is perhaps the easiest example to demonstrate the point: 13 primary characters (Ocean, the people on his team, the guy they're trying to rob, the love interest) and only one is a woman. Avengers is basically the same. Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Coulson, Nick Fury, and one woman. Sure, she's got some stuff to do (unlike Julia Roberts in Ocean's 11), but not really. And Maria Hill didn't really have a role in that movie.

The comic book version wasn't much different when the Avengers debuted. Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Ant Man, and the Wasp. One woman. X-Men: just the one teenage girl at first. Fantastic Four? 25% female. These things have changed a bit in the comics and movies. There were several women in the X-Men films, and the Avengers in the comics have added lots of women to their roster. But those things took a long time.

One reason I liked the movie A Knight's Tale was that it had a woman as part of the group (also the use of David Bowie's "Golden Years"). The blacksmith. She didn't have any romantic attachment to any of the men. The role might've been written for a man and simply given to a woman. I think it works well that way--since there's no attention drawn to her femininity, the story just proceeds. I'm reminded of this woman reading The Hobbit to her daughter, who insists that Bilbo is a girl:

And you know what? The switch was easy. Bilbo, it turns out, makes a terrific heroine. She’s tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender—and neither does anyone else.

 See also this.

It happens in all sorts of genres. I remember The Departed. One woman character.

One genre that doesn't happen in? Horror. There are usually several female characters in horror movies. Sure, most of them die. And Carol Clover has pointed out the ambiguous gender traits of the final girl. But at least the women are present.

There are lots of exceptions to this patter, but it's awfully common. Even changing Bilbo to a woman still only puts one female character in the book. Things might be changing. Let's hope they do, and let's change them when we get the chance.

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