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OPINION: Women in the media and their underutilization

KentWired illustration by Mia Marino

In Greta Gerwig’s 2019 film adaptation of “Little Women,” Saorise Ronan’s leading character, Jo March said, “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for.” 

Now, most of the characters in Greta Gerwig’s award-winning film are strong, empowered and compelling women and there are other great examples of women empowerment and good representation of women in films and television, but there just simply isn’t enough. 

I have my own opinions on this topic, but I spoke with two young women on the Kent State University Campus to gain a woman’s perspective. The first of the two was Cara Myers, a first year art education major.

“I think over the past decade there have been great strides in the ratio of seeing women in the media. However, there’s still a good way to go before everything is equal as it should be,” Myers said. “So I’m still hoping to see more women represented in the media.” 

The second of the two was Annika Hall, a first year computer science major.

“I do think there has been a good push in the last decade or so, but there’s definitely places to go,” Hall said. “A lot of women are represented in a superficial way or just as a representative of womanhood, and it’s not a fully fleshed out character, so I think that could be improved.” 

Similarly to what Annika said, there’s a long history of women never being fully developed and having poorly written background characters. Many times, they’re there for one purpose only, which is to be a love interest to one or more of the male characters who take the place as lead characters. 

This is why films like “Little Women” are so important. The character of Jo is so special because throughout the course of the plot, she chooses not to love anyone unless it’s on her own terms. She doesn’t want to get married just because it’s what the world she lives in expects women her age to do. That’s why when she ends the film falling in love with Friedrich, it’s such a huge moment for her. She finally found someone who doesn’t force her to love him, much like what Laurie tried to do to her. She found someone she can choose to marry on her own terms. 

This is not the case, however, for other films like “Grease,” where the female lead, Sandy, ends the film by changing her entire personality and looks for the man who broke up with her earlier in the film all because he wanted her to lose the good girl vibe and have sex with him. Now, the logical resolution would either be that he apologizes to her and loves her for who she is, or she just leaves him for good. Sandy, of course, changes for him anyway which is an extremely toxic relationship and an incredibly offensive interpretation of a woman, especially a leading one.     

Another problem I’ve found with representation of women in the media is the disturbing trend of oversexualizing the female characters shown in a film. 

In Michael Bay’s “Transformers” from 2007, the character of Mikaela, played by Megan Fox, is a number of things. She is a mechanic who knows all about cars, a badass motorcyclist who is fully capable of taking care of herself and a 16-year-old girl whose only attire seems to be tank tops and cropped shorts. 

As we’ve seen with shows like “Euphoria,” Hollywood has a bad reputation when it comes to sexualizing minors, but it’s especially worse with women and girls. Megan Fox is one victim out of many actresses when it comes to being forced to dress in skimpy outfits. Now, for some actresses, this may have been their choice, but that doesn’t mean that their outfits should reflect their overall sexiness in the media, let alone throw them into a movie just to “sit there and be pretty.”

“For a long time that’s what women were confined to as roles in many movies and in stuff like that, and recently we’ve seen smaller female characters,” Myers said. “So I think we’re slowly taking away from that stereotype, but it’s always going to be present.”

I don’t believe this is as bad as racial stereotypes, but it’s definitely a problem that should be eradicated. Setting sexiness as a standard for women is almost telling girls that if they want to find love or be successful, then they have to look a certain way – which unfortunately is a real issue. Normalizing this stereotype just reinforces that issue and makes it seem like it’s a regular thing, when in reality it’s nothing that should be normalized. 

“I think that’s generally something we struggle with,” Hall said. “I think one way to help with that is to have more women in writing rooms or as directors because sometimes, even with a good actor that’s trying to portray a fully realistic woman, you don’t really see that if the director’s viewpoint is from a male point of view.” 

She’s right. Women behind the camera in Hollywood is something that we, as a society, need more of. If we can find more women who want to create more accurate and unsexualized representations of women, we can better the way that they’re portrayed when it comes to what they’re asked to wear, what their personality is like and have them be actual characters instead of poorly written love interests.

So many female characters in movies about a decade and older are so watered down with absolutely no personality traits other than to be seen as “hot” or just a side character the male protagonist can date at the end. Characters like Captain Marvel and other female superheroes are also extremely important because it shows young girls they don’t need a man to help solve their problems for them. 

Women can be strong, kind and compelling without having to be sexy, and that’s why we need more representation of that in movies.   

Nick Keller is an opinion writer. Contact him at [email protected].

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  • J

    JayDec 4, 2023 at 9:55 pm

    What are your thoughts on the following?

    The article rightly speaks to the slow efforts to change the image of women in movies, literature, etc., in the hopes that society in general will then also learn to respect women’s rights and roles in society.

    But then women – young women in particular – are just throwing in the towel by the thousands…hundreds of thousands…and going spread eagle and hard core porn on OnlyFans for short term profit.

    So much for de-sexualizing women, huh?