Media and Gender
Are genre gendered? How can we think about action films in relation to gender representation?
The action genre is a class of original works characterised by a larger importance on exciting action sequence than on character developments; they may include a lot of physical action, be very fast paced, have a number of chases, some may have spectacular fights, some may even have special effects but one thing an action movie always has is a hero. A hero is someone who solves everyone’s problems, whether it is the simplest formula or putting their lives at risk. A hero in an action movie could also be described as the saviour. As well as having a hero in action movies, there always has to be a villain. The hero needs a challenge which is hard to defeat, this is the villain’s role, to make the heroes life hard. There are a lot of important roles featured in action movies; I will be discussing them in detail in relation to gender representation.
Some people may feel that action movies are very cliché, for example without a doubt there always has to be a hero as well as a villain, the hero usually has a love interest, a problem occurs which is usually down to the villain, the action begins and the hero saves the day. Although this is what usually happens in a action movie, this genre has become very popular since the 1920s.
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Traditionally action movies have been aimed at a male audience, from early teens to mid 30s, but from the 1990s film makers added female heroines in response to the society which defined the strong female role models.
The expression action genre is not only made up by its characteristics, it is built up by the spectatorship, audience and viewers expectations which I will discuss further in the essay.
Action movies is a male dominated genre, where women are either represented as empowered role models or highly sexualised women with gadgets such as guns.
In the movie Die Hard (1988) John McClane is portrayed as a strong masculine man who is a police officer. McClane is fighting the villain Hans Gruber and his men on his own. He also has a love interest, his wife who is held in hostage by Gruber. Hans comes across as very powerful, bad-tempered and determined to accomplish his mission.
Villains are always seen as the ‘bad guy’ they consistently have bad intentions, in some ways they create the story for an action movie. Hans did this too by wanting to steal from a big organisation; he held all the employees in hostage and killed the company owner.
In the movie Die Hard, binary opposition is used, for example, US vs. Germany, war vs. peace, East Coast/California vs. West Coast/New York, Blue collar vs. Middle Class, Suit and tie vs. t-shirt, single vs. family, Harry Ellis vs. McClane, High Tech vs. Low tech, clean shaven vs. bearded, vulnerable, naked vs. suited armoured, Christmas vs. unseasonality, police bureaucracy vs. intuition, law vs. anarchy, weapons vs. final physicality/fist fights, intuition/hunches vs. scheming and finally humour vs. diabolic seriousness. The use of binary opposition makes the story more balanced.
James Bond plays a character who is a definitive hero for both men and women, men want to be smooth and sophisticated like him where as women desire him. As well as having exciting gadgets he also has a razor sharp wit, along with severe bravery and a lot of life to last through 22 films of the famous franchise. His character throughout all the James Bond movies has remained very masculine and dominant. It is agreed that Bond is a true action hero.
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As he plays a notable character, in all the James Bond movies he has love interests, which are known as the ‘Bond Girls’. The male audience enjoy watching the Bond Girls, this is also known as the Male Gaze. According to Laura Mulvey there are two distinct forms of the male gaze of this era: “voyeuristic” (i.e. seeing women as ‘whores’) and “fetishistic” (i.e. seeing women as ‘Madonna’s).
The Bond girls have always been seen as voyeuristic as they come across as desirable, sexy and voluptuous. Men get pleasure from watching the Bond girls.
“As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look…”
The Bond girls have names that are double entendres, such as “Pussy Galore”, “Mary Goodnight”, “Plenty O’Toole”, “May Day”, “Xenia Onatopp”, and “Holly Goodhead”, which in some cases could be seen as sexual. They are frequently victims saved by Bond, agents or allies, enemy association, assistant or mistresses and some are simply eye candies who have no direct connection in Bond’s work. The women in James Bond sometime come across as vulnerable, as they are saved by Mr Bond, but most of the times they are self-determined and independent.
Since the 1970s in the western society the roles of women has changed rapidly and this is due to the feminist theory. Feminism is the fight for equality for women; a lot has changed since the feminist theory was brought forward, however there is still a lot to be done before the representation of women is entirely precise. The portrayal of women in all media focuses on beauty, size/figure, sexuality, emotional dealings and dealings and relationships. However as the society has changed the roles of women has too along with the representation in the media. The media represents women as sex objects, being independent but still sexy, career women and doting mothers. But women are still women being seen as sex objects to lust after; they are frequently the centre of the male gaze.
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The revolution of is portrayed in the Terminator’ trilogy. In Terminator I, Sarah Connor, the female protagonist is portrayed as frantic, screaming and in need of rescue. In Terminator II she is tough, empowered who can be independent. The two main characters in Terminator III’ are Kate Brewster, who is also distressed, and the TX, who uses her sexuality as a weapon, (e.g. inflating breasts to avert trouble from police).
This shows the development of women’s characters throughout the movie Terminator and the rapid changes.
Women are very much in need of strong role models and maybe these powerful, sexy, confident, brave female representations of women through characters can be seen as inspirational role models. The character Lara Croft from the movie Tomb Raider (2001) is very independent who fights all her battle single handed, she neither requires any male help nor wants it. She is determined to conquer the battle and defeat the evil side. Although she is a female represented well throughout the film, the male gaze is used, for example the revealing outfit which is also skin tight and the exposure of the cleavage makes her come across as sexy and erotic. Lara Crofts character has often been described as a female version of Harrison Ford’s character in Indiana Jones Trilogy.
From the beginning of the movie Tomb Raider, the audience can see a lot about the representation of Lara Croft and about the rest of the film. As well as the rest of the film the first five minutes are spent focusing on Lara’s body, the establishing shot of her face which is from a low angle, this may be to reveal her superiority, but the main focus was on her breasts, there are a lot of unnecessary shots of her crotch and thighs. There are several shots which emphasis on Lara’s body.
Another important fact to be pointing out is the seeming lack of injuries sustained during fight scenes from Tomb Raider, Lara takes part in aggressive and violent fight, including against a robot with chainsaw, gets shot numerous of times, jumps over a waterfall but after all this has happened there is no damage to her make up at all, her hair does not get messy, the only injury she gets is a scratch on her arm. In movies such as Kill Bill (2003) and Resident Evil (2002) the characters are covered in blood and gain a lot of injuries but still manage to look beautiful.
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In Tomb Raider II: Cradle of Life (2003), the beginning shot shows Lara in a next to nothing white bikini riding a jet ski where as the men in the scenes are fully dressed or in diva suits. For this scene the audience is suppose to focus on Lara’s body. Lara usually wears a tight vest top and tiny shorts which emphasis both on her overstated breast size and her curves, this supports the Mulvey’s theory of voyeurism.
Certainly some people may question the opinions which have been made in this essay on the topic about feminism as a whole, but people may argue why women have to be objectified to come across as sexy, why can’t they be strong, intelligent and empowered as well being physically good looking? The more leading roles in films like Tomb Raider and Kill Bill make women more independent and survivors whereas films such as James Bond make women look exposed and in some ways vulnerable. But the question is why film makers focus on women’s body, appearance and sexuality and on male characters they focus more on their intelligence and ability.
I do feel that genre is very much gendered; the women and men are perceived in different ways. The male heroes have always been more dominant until recently where women have played leading roles. The men are always masculine, strong and have the ability to fight on their own. Men have always been represented well throughout all action movies; they are the rescuer and saviour. Women are portrayed as sexual objects rather than a saviour; they are mostly for the male gaze this is because action movies are mainly aimed at a male audience, so the film writers feel that the male audiences should gain pleasure by watching it. The media representation of men and women are stereotypical, men must be well built, masculine, have a good physique and be good looking. The women must have a slim but fit build, attractive, sexual and desirable to a man. These stereotypes have been seen in a lot of action movies, both with men and women, there has never been an action movie where the heroine is average looking and normal built, they always have to be attractive, this may be so that the audience finds them appealing.
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