Badass Digest (the thinking geek’s pop culture site) has a brilliant article up by the fantastic Meredith Borders called “Welcome the Woman Child” detailing Hollywood cinemas sudden fascination with portraying flawed, emotionally stunted women: she cites three recent examples of this trend, namely, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, and Charlize Theron in Young Adult. In the article she states plainly:
“It’s interesting that Hollywood often portrays women as more “together” than men. Obviously, this is not the case—that I even need to write the words “women are as fucked up as men” is the most bizarre, backwards evidence of sexism ever. Hey, we’re messy and lazy too, fellas! We are women, see us suck!”
She goes onto describe the characters of each film in more in more detail; please read the whole thing because it really is a fantastic examination of one of the most positive trends in Hollywood right now (as depressing as that may sound). If you’ll allow me, though, I do have some of my own thoughts to add on the recent phenomenon.
From the period of the 1940s to the end of the 1950s Hollywood cinema was largely about putting male fantasies up on screen, portraying cowboys, astronauts, soldiers, the type of square-jawed badasses who took no shit. I’d go so far as to say that video games find themselves in this stage at the moment.
Come the dawn of the 1960s, however, directors wanted to make more films that spoke about the human condition, with male characters that were just as flawed as the average guy in the street. I mean any actor could play a cowboy or a soldier and make him interesting, but could they do the same thing playing Joe Everyman? It presented one of the greatest acting challenges for any leading man. Unfortunately, while that was going on, roles for women (with some notable exceptions, of course) kind of just stayed the same. As Meredith states in her article, even when women were portrayed as evil there was still a basic competence to them. The reason women in movies tended to be flawless is because most of the time there was very little depth to the way they were written. This has got better as time has marched on, but there are still remnants of this lack of substance in female characters, and you can see this most strongly in the films of Judd Apatow and Todd Philips.
This has created the problem we now find ourselves facing, as now you have these stunted but ultimately very human men playing off cinematic goddesses who seemingly can do no wrong and whose job it is to civilise men and make them just as perfect as they are.
I’m well aware that there’s another side to this as well, by the way, with the endless romantic comedy fluff portray women as needing a man as the only way they can be happy. However, look at the women in these films: they always seem to have a) a kickass apartment in the middle of a major metropolitan city, b) an exciting and fulfilling career, c) masses of disposable income, d) friends that love and support them.
By contrast, Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids has none of those things except for her close friend, but now even she’s being taken away from her. This makes her someone whom we can sympathise with and root for; sure, she doesn’t always make the right decisions, and she can be selfish, but that’s because she’s human.
Now that Hollywood can admit that both men and women are just as capable of being aimless fuckups who’d rather procrastinate than work on themselves, I think we might be getting somewhere in the whole gender equality thing.