Impact of women's portrayal in movies

With a wide range of genres and amazing storytelling, movies have long become essential to our lives. They provide entertainment and inspiration and capture our attention easily with their fast pace. Movies greatly influence people as they consume them; youngsters even aspire to become like the characters shown in the films.

However, the portrayal of women has been a subject of scrutiny for a very long time, as it often perpetuates harmful stereotypes and objectifies women. While the portrayal of women is not completely the same, it hasn’t changed much. Movies frequently rely on gender stereotypes and have limited or one-dimensional roles for women. For the longest time, movies portrayed women as naïve, submissive, and weak, who have no sense of the outside world and are living in their bubble while doing housekeeping chores only. Women have also been objectified or hypersexualized and reduced to their physical appearance and sexual appeal. This objectification not only diminishes the role of women as individuals but also imposes harmful ideas about beauty standards and the role of women in society.

This stereotypical role of portraying a woman on the big screen can affect the societal perceptions of women by consuming such content. It can reduce a woman to such limited roles in real life too. While, in reality, real women are complex and not limited to any stereotypes when they cannot fit into that box, it creates a conflict for a woman to live in such a society.

At times, such characters are portrayed onscreen for the requirement of a script or for a certain story to be portrayed in an intended way. The continuous portrayal of women in such roles can change the idea of people, and they can consider the characters portrayed on screen the ideal characters, which can unconsciously narrow their thinking about women.

Movies have since long objectified women; the lead female characters in movies were for a very long time portrayed by fair women with zero-figure body types. Since most of the films revolved around women with such body types, the audience was influenced by them, and the harmful beauty standards of only such bodies were unknowingly created. For a long time, young women were dealing with self-esteem issues because they were not looking like the other women portrayed on screen. Most of the young women, especially teenagers, wanted to look like that character, and if they couldn’t, they went through body image or self-esteem issues because they couldn’t look like the ideal figure they saw in movies.

In many movies, women are also hypersexualized by putting an item song in a movie even when it is not required for the script, just to grab the eyeballs of the audience. In many movies, the camera pans at the chest, buttocks, or navel of a woman, even when it is not necessary for the script. In another case, a male lead falls in love with a woman by just ogling at her or her private parts, and their story continues from there. Such movies influence the young minds in the audience, as they are exposed to an enormous amount of films; they feel this is how it works in real life, and they try to imitate them in real life. And unconsciously, such movies leave an imprint on their brains. Males think that is the representation of an ideal woman, and women in turn try to fit into that box, and some even go through body image issues or self-esteem issues just to become like that character in a movie.

In the past few years, another stereotype has started in which strong and independent women are showcased by only drinking, smoking, having multiple partners, not caring about friends and family, and being self-centered in a few movies and shows. When the audience watches such films, they feel this is how strong and independent women are. Then, some young members among the viewers try to fit into the box, which again stirs up conflict in society. This, again, is a stereotype; it has nothing to do with strong and independent women in real life. Although it can be a personal choice for any individual, a human being is very complex and not limited to such stereotypes. Drinking or smoking doesn’t mean a person is strong; it's a matter of choice. Even the dressing of a woman hasn’t been spared. Women were stereotyped for a long time by those criteria, too. Women who wear Western outfits are considered strong and independent, while those who wear traditional attire such as shalwar kameez, sarees, or hijabs are weak. In reality, being strong or weak has nothing to do with the dress a person wears, It is their character, confidence, and qualities that speak for themselves. In real life, a woman who wears shorts can also be weak, and a woman who wears traditional outfits can be a strong and self-dependent woman.

Apart from all these harmful portrayals, for a long time, another trend was showcased and is back again from the past few years with movies like ‘Animal’ and ‘Kabir Singh’ where a lead female character is portrayed as needy and helpless who has to bear the brunt for everything and sacrifice for others while appearing innocent and sexually appealing at the same time. Such movies also normalize gender-based violence among their viewers.

Furthermore, for a long time in movies, women with darker skin, skinny, or plus sizes were made fun of and looked down upon. They were portrayed as ‘not feminine enough’ or ‘not sexually appealing,’ which contributed to making the audience think narrower. For a long time in our society as well, women have been told “to get into shape,” which means to look like those fictional characters portrayed on screen or things like “if you look too black, no one will marry you.” Its focus is not solely on the movies. Such things may have happened before, but films are made just for fun without intending to cause harm or incite such behavior. It also stirs up body-shaming, age-shaming, and color-shaming issues in our youth.

Most movies are fiction, and fiction has no limits; we can imagine anything, write it down, organize it, and portray it on screen. It can be good or bad because our imagination has no limits. But we need to be aware of the fact that movies have the capability of changing the perceptions of people and even framing their perceptions. And if we only stereotype a particular gender and objectify them, it can have harmful effects on its audience. People will consider the characters shown in movies as ideal figures to look up to, and when they don’t find such people in real life, they’ll project their imagination on them and treat them the same as they have unconsciously learned. Even if the people portraying such characters speak publicly about their harmful effects and appeal to the viewers to live in a way where we shouldn’t objectify others or put them in a box, the impact of movies remains the same.

Although the portrayal of women in movies has changed over the past many years, women are shown taking leads and breaking stereotypes. They are not portrayed in limited roles where they used to be stereotyped or objectified. But there is still a long way to go, as such movies still lack the same impact on the audience as stereotyped ones. We should be aware that movies are fiction and not real, but still, in a mass medium, every portrayal matters.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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