Film, TV

Have Women’s Roles in Media Influenced the Real World?

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A publicity show for Double Indemnity

There’s an argument that media has an effect on the people’s perception of reality. Media’s history of portraying female characters in film and television have kept them as mostly one dimensional and supporting roles. They have been the housewives, moral supporters for their husbands such as in The Dick Van Dyke Show. In films, they have been portrayed as femme fatales or in essence, sexual objects that need to be rescued in some form such as in Double Indemnity or Chinatown.

In the real world, since the moving pictures began, the world has gone through a lot. Two world wars, technology advancing faster than ever before, and the changing role of women. Females wanted not only to be doing more, they wanted the media’s representation of them to add more to what was going on in reality.

Over the years, there have been changes in the media’s portrayal of women. Women played more leadership roles such as Murphy Brown or Working Girl, where the main female character’s priority was her career. Women were shown in more powerful roles, instead of being the damsel in distress, especially in the fantasy genre. Characters like Buffy from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Xena in Xena: Warrior Princess showed young women and men that the girl can be the one to save the world time and time again.

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Detective Olivia Benson in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

 

In recent years, we have had a stronger presence of female characters. They are multidimensional, and they come from a wide range of professions and personalities. There is the strong but surrounded by personal problems lawyer, political fixer, Olivia Pope on Scandal; the unapologetically girly-girl doctor, Mindy Lahiri in The Mindy Project; and we watched as strong and empathetic Detective Olivia Benson became a Lieutenant on the long running show, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

What does this mean for media and its audience? If the argument is true, then this change of more multi-faceted female characters can help people see reality in a different way. Women can be strong, independent, smart workers and leaders. They can also care about relationships, just like many male characters have for so long in media.

If the range of female characters continues to grow, the idea of a femme fatale or damsel in distress will slowly start to change into more equal standing with the main male characters. Shows that showed men and women working together, using each others strengths to achieve a goal proved to be popular. Watching the dynamics of the journalists in The Mary Tyler Moore Show or the partners in The X Files represented a small window of what media can bring to light. Women can be the smart person in the room, and they can also work together with men, to compliment each other to achieve a greater good.

The role of female characters is in constant change and hopefully,  people’s attitudes towards women in the real world will change as well. As someone who grew up during the days of Buffy, Xena and Olivia Benson, I want this trend of strong female characters to continue. I wanted to be a writer and work in media production because I knew there is more than just what meets the eye. The femme fatales in classic Hollywood films were always the most interesting part for me but alas, we never learned their stories. We just knew that they moved the story forward for the male counterparts. Today, it is changing and I hope to be a part of that change too.

*Originally for Women on the Map.

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