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EDITORIAL: Female representation often misses mark

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Many scoff at the idea of representation in film and television, not realizing the importance of a diverse set of characters, whether that be in race, religious background, economic background or gender. 

But representation is incredibly important for many reasons. Most pressingly: Characters that look and act like everyday people add to inclusivity and acceptance, as well as a greater understanding among non-minority viewers that not everyone comes from their background and that everyone’s perspective and existence are valid in their own rights. 

Women have been notably neglected in the entertainment industry since its inception. One reason for this is the male-dominance of executive positions in film studios, which persists to this day.

Women make up 45 percent of executive positions at Sony Corporation, 45 percent at Paramount Pictures, 35 percent at Warner Bros., 40 percent at AMC Theatres and 29 percent at Apple, according to Variety.

When these studios do “represent” females, it is nearly universal in a flimsy, token-earning manner, rather than a genuine attempt to promote inclusivity and diversity.

Most notably is the constant employment of remakes with women characters conveniently added to formerly male roles. In 2016, “Ghostbusters” was remade with women inserted into the four main roles, rather than the men who originally played those characters.

Many people were able to see right through this charade. 

Studios — in this case, Sony Corporation — were desperate to appear inclusive, but unwilling to take the financial nor perceptive risk of creating original characters or stories to promote these women. Instead, it required the assurance of a beloved franchise to vainly include female characters, showing how sexist, as well as how little faith, conglomerates have in their female characters.

The traits of female characters — not in “Ghostbusters,” but more generally — are also cause for concerns.

Many studios conflate “strong” female characters with a patriarchal notion that the only way to display strength is to emit hyper-masculine characteristics or near-flawlessness. Female characters that are meant to be strong often are simply aggressive or malicious, which is certainly not what a developed character is, whether that be a male or female portrayal.

Writers show their sexism when they write strong women in this manner. Why do they assume that strength is displayed by acting like Rambo or Conan the Barbarian? Because they have a patriarchal sense of what heroism is.

Other media shows women only as sex objects, an issue that has been documented extensively. Women are tossed onto the screen for male characters — and viewers who are attracted to women — to ogle at, without those characters being provided any substance at all. This does not count as inclusion in any sense of the word. In fact, it is more detrimental to the cause of representation than not including those characters at all, as it teaches female viewers to perceive femininity in a narrow-minded, patriarchal way.

Minority women are short-changed to a greater extent. The “angry Black woman” stereotype is so pervasive that it has its own Wikipedia page. Many other women minority groups are simply neglected completely, with women being fit into minority archetypes that are commonly “acceptable” to portray. 

We should not be surprised that this problem is so dishearteningly enduring. Women make up a disturbingly low amount of film writers: 17.4 percent. Other aspects of the film industry are also male-dominated. In theatrical movies, 84.9 percent of directors were men.

Those statistics were not from the '50s, '60s or '70s, but from 2019.

For this to end, viewers must stop buying into movies that are nothing more than representational smoke and mirrors — movies that slap women characters onto the billing without showing any real representation. These are movies that want all the lauding that comes with diversity and none of the financial or public-eye risk that comes with taking a stand against the patriarchal notions of what film should be.

Instead, supporting movies that actually show women characters being just that — characters, not caricatures or sex objects — will send a message to the industry that representation only matters when it is fully fleshed out and three-dimensional, and that the public will no longer support their patriarchal farce.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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