Damsels in distress?

THROUGHOUT cinematic history, the role of women in films has been demeaned to side roles and barely any leading roles.

Over time, women’s roles have been lifted from damsels in distress to roles such as Catwoman in the Batman series.

However, even though the roles have improved for women in importance of their characters, they are still seemingly there for the male protagonist to have a reason to save their city, and sometimes the female characters are just there to lust over the male protagonist and fall in love with him, hoping that he’ll fall in love with them too.

The stereotypes that I will be focusing on will be physical appearance of women, the male gaze theory and the lack of women in television and film. The texts I will be focusing on in each of my paragraphs will be Batman and Robin (1949) directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet, Batman Returns (1992) directed by Tim Burton and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) directed by Christopher Nolan.

In superhero television shows and films, the physical appearance of women, whether they are main characters or secondary characters, is primarily sexualised and they generally are dressed promiscuously.

The main women, are generally attractive, skinny, white women who are conventionally attractive in the eyes of men. Particularly in The Dark Knight Rises, the women in the film are all conventionally attractive and are mostly there for Batman to choose between. Catwoman, or Selina Kyle, has typically always worn a tight black bodysuit. It is part of Catwoman’s costume, but it has been designed to appeal to the male viewers. Camera shots and angles show how sexualised Catwoman’s physical appearance is. Near the end of the film, Catwoman is on Batman’s ‘Batpod’ which is like a motorbike. She is driving down a road on it, and the camera shot is of her back and then down to her backside. The camera stays on her as she goes down the road, and stays on that particular area of her body.

In the television series Batman and Robin, the female character is not dressed as promiscuously as the female characters in later Batman films, but the physical appearance of the women in the series is apparent to the time. However, we only see the character for less than a minute while on screen, and during that time she is a damsel in distress after getting her high heel stuck in a trap.

We barely see her face, and when we do she is just screaming about being stuck in a trap, even though she could have easily just taken her shoe off and therefore got out of the trap herself. Her physical appearance is very much apparent of the time period that the television show was set, however it is very feminine and some people at the time would possibly have called it ‘promiscuous’.

In the film Batman Returns, the women in the film, especially Selina Kyle pre-Catwoman, are portrayed as quite shy and are just there as assistants and their ideas are never really taken too seriously. Selina Kyle, after finding out about her boss’s plan to illegally monopolise Gotham’s supply of electricity, gets pushed out of a window by her boss so he could protect his secret plan.

She survives the fall, but lies unconscious in an alley. A group of cats swarm around her, and she suddenly regains consciousness and develops dissociative identity disorder, and after having a mental breakdown and trashing her apartment, especially anything that is particularly feminine, she makes herself a black vinyl costume and a whip, and becomes Catwoman.

This costume was skin tight and the style was very much like something a dominatrix would wear. So when Selina “transforms” from Selina Kyle, who wore more sophisticated outfits while working and when she was at home her style was quite feminine and ‘pretty in pink’ and sort of childish, to Catwoman, who wore her ‘catsuit’ which was a tight, black, vinyl bodysuit paired with a black mask with cat ears on the top.

The camera shots of her show her to be very dominant, by pairing her dominatrix style costume with lines such as “We make it so easy don’t we? Waiting for some Batman to save us.” which shows how she views herself, as an equal to Batman.

Catwoman’s physical appearance is sexualised and the camera shots of her are generally of her backside while she’s fighting, whether it’s Batman or The Penguin. The impact of physical appearance in these films can send both a positive and negative message to the audience.

With Batman Returns, the rating for the film is PG, which means that that audience ranges from children to young adults. For some of the viewers, the shots of Catwoman are not particularly always ‘age appropriate’, especially for the younger children who may be viewing the film. However, for some of the teenage girls in the audience, seeing women portrayed like this in most films they have been watching can be damaging, especially if they do not have the same body type as the actresses.

The teenage girls watching the films can have their self esteem lowered and it could cause other problems involving body image, which most teenage girls struggle with anyway.

For other teenage girls who are viewing this film, seeing the women portrayed like this could help them with their own body image, and realise that they are allowed to ‘show off’ their body if they want to, which for some teenage girls can improve their self confidence with their body, and style.

The ‘male gaze theory’ is the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure.

The concept of the male gaze theory was first coined by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mulvey “posits that gender power asymmetry is a controlling force in cinema and constructed for the pleasure of the male viewer, which is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideologies and discourses.” It is interesting to note that all three of these texts have male directors, even the television series which had multiple directors.

In The Dark Knight Rises, many of the camera shots of the women, whether they had main roles or were just in the background of crowd scenes, are suggestive and show women in low cut shirts or short skirts and dresses, all very feminine clothes. We see a camera shot of a woman in a low cut shirt, and then of her back rather than a clear shot of her face which shows how Nolan wants the women in this film to be portrayed, as ‘sex’ objects and objects for male pleasure. Catwoman, while there as a counterpart to Batman, is also there to bring Batman out of seclusion and help him ‘settle down’ as Bruce Wayne rather than continue on as Batman, fighting crime and almost being a loner in his mansion.

Camera angles of Catwoman on Batman’s motorcycle are a low angle, going up from the ground and making her bottom the main focus point. In Batman Returns the women in the company that Max Shreck is the boss of seem to be assistants or secretaries, even though the only woman we see is Selina Kyle, and she is seen as a bother and interrupts an important meeting that the men are all in.

When she becomes Catwoman later on in the film, her costume is also sexualised and shown from a ‘male point of view’ in the way that it fits her figure and does show off her curves. Selina Kyle later enters a romantic relationship with Bruce Wayne, as Catwoman, and whenever they do anything together, whether kissing or slow dancing, the camera angles on Catwoman are always of her back, and her back is nearly always ‘naked’, whether it’s her clothing that has no back to it or she’s simply naked. This shows how Tim Burton wants the women to be perceived in this film and what he believes they should be like.

In Batman and Robin, the one women we see is shown as a damsel in distress and she needs Batman’s help to save her from a trap that her high heel is stuck in. In this television show the male gaze theory is shown by the camera going up from her feet, very slowly up her legs and upper body until it finally gets to her face.

In my opinion, the impact of the male gaze theory on the audience, especially women, can make them believe that the only way they are seen is as sexualised ‘objects’ for male pleasure, or as submissive women who need a man to save them from something as simple as having their heel stuck in a trap. It limits how the women in the audience see themselves, and that they have to choose between being seen as a sex object or being submissive and helpless.

As the male gaze theory is when films are shown from the point of view of the directors that are involved with the film, it shows how women are seen by the director, not only in the particular film but in their lives outside of film. This can be potentially harming for young women, who, after seeing women portrayed this way, may believe that the only way they will be appealing to men is if they fit what Hollywood deems ‘sexy’ and appear to be only sex objects.

In all three of these texts there is a lack of women in them, whether as main characters or as background characters for fight scenes or big, crowded scenes. Particularly in The Dark Knight Rises in the scenes with the police officers there are barely any women, and even less women of colour. In 2007, 17 percent of the New York City police force was women. In total, there were 6151 women on the force in that year. As shown in The Dark Knight Rises, there were not many women shown in police uniform helping to try to stop Bane. Most of the police force were also trapped underground for a fair bit of the movie, after trying to flush out Bane, while leaving a skeleton force still above ground. During that time, with both parts of the force whether aboveground or underground, there were barely any women seen in the uniform.

Even though 17 percent of the New York police force in 2007 were women, The Dark Knight Rises does not show that at all. In Batman and Robin we only see one woman, and her role was not a main role, just a secondary role that helps show Batman as a hero and helps damsels in distress. She is simply there for Batman to help her after she got her high heel stuck in a trap. When the woman does get freed, we never see her, or any other women, again. As Batman and Robin was filmed and therefore set in 1949, it was not uncommon for women to be underrepresented in all forms of media, but with The Dark Knight Rises, which was filmed in 2012, (but according to the time frames that fit in with the other Batman films, was set in 2016.) there were more women in the media (and in male dominated careers too) but in this film we see only two women who are in the police uniform, and even to see them you had to go back and rewatch the film and slow it down to spot them.

This just shows how women are still underrepresented in film, especially in background roles. In Batman Returns, (which doesn’t even pass the Bechdel Test, in fact The Dark Knight Rises just passes one of the three criteria, which means it doesn’t pass the test overall, and Batman and Robin does not pass either.) there are only four women ‘named’ on the cast area on the Wikipedia page, and two of the women don’t even have proper names either, one being credited as The Poodle Lady” and the other credited as The Ice Princess, neither of which are their actual names and are just titles they are given. Although there are more women in this film, Catwoman (or Selina Kyle) is still the only main female character that is relevant to the plot in the film, and she is still there to fall in love with Bruce Wayne.

While the Ice Princess beauty queen is partly relevant as she is used as a way to try and tarnish Batman’s reputation when The Penguin, with Catwoman’s help, frames Batman for her abduction, there are not many other women we see that are relevant to the plot of the film. Most of the women we see in this film that are in the background of the city scenes are portrayed as mothers, either have some sort of pram with them or children with them, when in reality there would be more women, of all ages, out and about in the city. This just shows the lack of women in television and films, as all three of these texts lack women who are relevant to the plot, and even just women in the background of crowd scenes. In 2010, the U.S population was 308 million, with females comprising of 50.8 percent of the total population, but in these texts this is most definitely not shown.

The lack of representation of women in these films, particularly in The Dark Knight Rises where a majority of the cast is presented as police officers and we see only two female police officers, can possibly prevent young women from having an interest in that particular career, as they are not seeing themselves in that career. It also means that young women are not seeing themselves on screen, while their male ‘counterparts’ will always be able to see themselves on screen and won’t have to worry about being underrepresented. The fact that women made up 50.8 percent of the US population in 2010, yet are only portrayed as mothers or women for the male lead to save, whether from a trap or from ‘society’, in these texts truly limits what people believe that women are capable of.

In conclusion, I feel that while the representation of women in films has changed and women have gotten more relevant to the plot, such as in Hidden Figures, there is still room to improve.

For starters, there should be more women in the background of scenes as that is more accurate to what our society is like in present day. With the portrayal of women having changed over the years, with it starting as women being there just for the male lead to save, progressing to characters such as characters like Wonder Woman, who end up being the ones that save the day. The roles women play in films are evolving as well, with women no longer only having the option of the love interest or the damsel in distress, they can now play the hero as well. Even with the roles women have in reality evolve, we mustn’t forget that women are still underrepresented in many films and television shows, but not as heavily as it was in the past.

Representation of women in the media could still be improved a lot more, and as representation has been improving with each decade of film, I believe it won’t be long until women are truly represented correctly in all forms of media.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_gaze

https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/27581/what-is-the-time-frame-for-batman-begins-the-dark-knight-and-the-dark-knight-ri

http://bechdeltest.com/view/1025/batman_returns/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_Returns#Plot

https://mchb.hrsa.gov/whusa12/pc/pages/usp.html

THROUGHOUT cinematic history, the role of women in films has been demeaned to side roles and barely any leading roles.

Over time, women’s roles have been lifted from damsels in distress to roles such as Catwoman in the Batman series.

However, even though the roles have improved for women in importance of their characters, they are still seemingly there for the male protagonist to have a reason to save their city, and sometimes the female characters are just there to lust over the male protagonist and fall in love with him, hoping that he’ll fall in love with them too.

The stereotypes that I will be focusing on will be physical appearance of women, the male gaze theory and the lack of women in television and film. The texts I will be focusing on in each of my paragraphs will be Batman and Robin (1949) directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet, Batman Returns (1992) directed by Tim Burton and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) directed by Christopher Nolan.

In superhero television shows and films, the physical appearance of women, whether they are main characters or secondary characters, is primarily sexualised and they generally are dressed promiscuously.

The main women, are generally attractive, skinny, white women who are conventionally attractive in the eyes of men. Particularly in The Dark Knight Rises, the women in the film are all conventionally attractive and are mostly there for Batman to choose between. Catwoman, or Selina Kyle, has typically always worn a tight black bodysuit. It is part of Catwoman’s costume, but it has been designed to appeal to the male viewers. Camera shots and angles show how sexualised Catwoman’s physical appearance is. Near the end of the film, Catwoman is on Batman’s ‘Batpod’ which is like a motorbike. She is driving down a road on it, and the camera shot is of her back and then down to her backside. The camera stays on her as she goes down the road, and stays on that particular area of her body.

In the television series Batman and Robin, the female character is not dressed as promiscuously as the female characters in later Batman films, but the physical appearance of the women in the series is apparent to the time. However, we only see the character for less than a minute while on screen, and during that time she is a damsel in distress after getting her high heel stuck in a trap.

We barely see her face, and when we do she is just screaming about being stuck in a trap, even though she could have easily just taken her shoe off and therefore got out of the trap herself. Her physical appearance is very much apparent of the time period that the television show was set, however it is very feminine and some people at the time would possibly have called it ‘promiscuous’.

In the film Batman Returns, the women in the film, especially Selina Kyle pre-Catwoman, are portrayed as quite shy and are just there as assistants and their ideas are never really taken too seriously. Selina Kyle, after finding out about her boss’s plan to illegally monopolise Gotham’s supply of electricity, gets pushed out of a window by her boss so he could protect his secret plan.

She survives the fall, but lies unconscious in an alley. A group of cats swarm around her, and she suddenly regains consciousness and develops dissociative identity disorder, and after having a mental breakdown and trashing her apartment, especially anything that is particularly feminine, she makes herself a black vinyl costume and a whip, and becomes Catwoman.

This costume was skin tight and the style was very much like something a dominatrix would wear. So when Selina “transforms” from Selina Kyle, who wore more sophisticated outfits while working and when she was at home her style was quite feminine and ‘pretty in pink’ and sort of childish, to Catwoman, who wore her ‘catsuit’ which was a tight, black, vinyl bodysuit paired with a black mask with cat ears on the top.

The camera shots of her show her to be very dominant, by pairing her dominatrix style costume with lines such as “We make it so easy don’t we? Waiting for some Batman to save us.” which shows how she views herself, as an equal to Batman.

Catwoman’s physical appearance is sexualised and the camera shots of her are generally of her backside while she’s fighting, whether it’s Batman or The Penguin. The impact of physical appearance in these films can send both a positive and negative message to the audience.

With Batman Returns, the rating for the film is PG, which means that that audience ranges from children to young adults. For some of the viewers, the shots of Catwoman are not particularly always ‘age appropriate’, especially for the younger children who may be viewing the film. However, for some of the teenage girls in the audience, seeing women portrayed like this in most films they have been watching can be damaging, especially if they do not have the same body type as the actresses.

The teenage girls watching the films can have their self esteem lowered and it could cause other problems involving body image, which most teenage girls struggle with anyway.

For other teenage girls who are viewing this film, seeing the women portrayed like this could help them with their own body image, and realise that they are allowed to ‘show off’ their body if they want to, which for some teenage girls can improve their self confidence with their body, and style.

The ‘male gaze theory’ is the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure.

The concept of the male gaze theory was first coined by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mulvey “posits that gender power asymmetry is a controlling force in cinema and constructed for the pleasure of the male viewer, which is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideologies and discourses.” It is interesting to note that all three of these texts have male directors, even the television series which had multiple directors.

In The Dark Knight Rises, many of the camera shots of the women, whether they had main roles or were just in the background of crowd scenes, are suggestive and show women in low cut shirts or short skirts and dresses, all very feminine clothes. We see a camera shot of a woman in a low cut shirt, and then of her back rather than a clear shot of her face which shows how Nolan wants the women in this film to be portrayed, as ‘sex’ objects and objects for male pleasure. Catwoman, while there as a counterpart to Batman, is also there to bring Batman out of seclusion and help him ‘settle down’ as Bruce Wayne rather than continue on as Batman, fighting crime and almost being a loner in his mansion.

Camera angles of Catwoman on Batman’s motorcycle are a low angle, going up from the ground and making her bottom the main focus point. In Batman Returns the women in the company that Max Shreck is the boss of seem to be assistants or secretaries, even though the only woman we see is Selina Kyle, and she is seen as a bother and interrupts an important meeting that the men are all in.

When she becomes Catwoman later on in the film, her costume is also sexualised and shown from a ‘male point of view’ in the way that it fits her figure and does show off her curves. Selina Kyle later enters a romantic relationship with Bruce Wayne, as Catwoman, and whenever they do anything together, whether kissing or slow dancing, the camera angles on Catwoman are always of her back, and her back is nearly always ‘naked’, whether it’s her clothing that has no back to it or she’s simply naked. This shows how Tim Burton wants the women to be perceived in this film and what he believes they should be like.

In Batman and Robin, the one women we see is shown as a damsel in distress and she needs Batman’s help to save her from a trap that her high heel is stuck in. In this television show the male gaze theory is shown by the camera going up from her feet, very slowly up her legs and upper body until it finally gets to her face.

In my opinion, the impact of the male gaze theory on the audience, especially women, can make them believe that the only way they are seen is as sexualised ‘objects’ for male pleasure, or as submissive women who need a man to save them from something as simple as having their heel stuck in a trap. It limits how the women in the audience see themselves, and that they have to choose between being seen as a sex object or being submissive and helpless.

As the male gaze theory is when films are shown from the point of view of the directors that are involved with the film, it shows how women are seen by the director, not only in the particular film but in their lives outside of film. This can be potentially harming for young women, who, after seeing women portrayed this way, may believe that the only way they will be appealing to men is if they fit what Hollywood deems ‘sexy’ and appear to be only sex objects.

In all three of these texts there is a lack of women in them, whether as main characters or as background characters for fight scenes or big, crowded scenes. Particularly in The Dark Knight Rises in the scenes with the police officers there are barely any women, and even less women of colour. In 2007, 17 percent of the New York City police force was women. In total, there were 6151 women on the force in that year. As shown in The Dark Knight Rises, there were not many women shown in police uniform helping to try to stop Bane. Most of the police force were also trapped underground for a fair bit of the movie, after trying to flush out Bane, while leaving a skeleton force still above ground. During that time, with both parts of the force whether aboveground or underground, there were barely any women seen in the uniform.

Even though 17 percent of the New York police force in 2007 were women, The Dark Knight Rises does not show that at all. In Batman and Robin we only see one woman, and her role was not a main role, just a secondary role that helps show Batman as a hero and helps damsels in distress. She is simply there for Batman to help her after she got her high heel stuck in a trap. When the woman does get freed, we never see her, or any other women, again. As Batman and Robin was filmed and therefore set in 1949, it was not uncommon for women to be underrepresented in all forms of media, but with The Dark Knight Rises, which was filmed in 2012, (but according to the time frames that fit in with the other Batman films, was set in 2016.) there were more women in the media (and in male dominated careers too) but in this film we see only two women who are in the police uniform, and even to see them you had to go back and rewatch the film and slow it down to spot them.

This just shows how women are still underrepresented in film, especially in background roles. In Batman Returns, (which doesn’t even pass the Bechdel Test, in fact The Dark Knight Rises just passes one of the three criteria, which means it doesn’t pass the test overall, and Batman and Robin does not pass either.) there are only four women ‘named’ on the cast area on the Wikipedia page, and two of the women don’t even have proper names either, one being credited as The Poodle Lady” and the other credited as The Ice Princess, neither of which are their actual names and are just titles they are given. Although there are more women in this film, Catwoman (or Selina Kyle) is still the only main female character that is relevant to the plot in the film, and she is still there to fall in love with Bruce Wayne.

While the Ice Princess beauty queen is partly relevant as she is used as a way to try and tarnish Batman’s reputation when The Penguin, with Catwoman’s help, frames Batman for her abduction, there are not many other women we see that are relevant to the plot of the film. Most of the women we see in this film that are in the background of the city scenes are portrayed as mothers, either have some sort of pram with them or children with them, when in reality there would be more women, of all ages, out and about in the city. This just shows the lack of women in television and films, as all three of these texts lack women who are relevant to the plot, and even just women in the background of crowd scenes. In 2010, the U.S population was 308 million, with females comprising of 50.8 percent of the total population, but in these texts this is most definitely not shown.

The lack of representation of women in these films, particularly in The Dark Knight Rises where a majority of the cast is presented as police officers and we see only two female police officers, can possibly prevent young women from having an interest in that particular career, as they are not seeing themselves in that career. It also means that young women are not seeing themselves on screen, while their male ‘counterparts’ will always be able to see themselves on screen and won’t have to worry about being underrepresented. The fact that women made up 50.8 percent of the US population in 2010, yet are only portrayed as mothers or women for the male lead to save, whether from a trap or from ‘society’, in these texts truly limits what people believe that women are capable of.

In conclusion, I feel that while the representation of women in films has changed and women have gotten more relevant to the plot, such as in Hidden Figures, there is still room to improve.

For starters, there should be more women in the background of scenes as that is more accurate to what our society is like in present day. With the portrayal of women having changed over the years, with it starting as women being there just for the male lead to save, progressing to characters such as characters like Wonder Woman, who end up being the ones that save the day. The roles women play in films are evolving as well, with women no longer only having the option of the love interest or the damsel in distress, they can now play the hero as well. Even with the roles women have in reality evolve, we mustn’t forget that women are still underrepresented in many films and television shows, but not as heavily as it was in the past.

Representation of women in the media could still be improved a lot more, and as representation has been improving with each decade of film, I believe it won’t be long until women are truly represented correctly in all forms of media.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_gaze

https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/27581/what-is-the-time-frame-for-batman-begins-the-dark-knight-and-the-dark-knight-ri

http://bechdeltest.com/view/1025/batman_returns/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_Returns#Plot

https://mchb.hrsa.gov/whusa12/pc/pages/usp.html

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