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On Seeing Ourselves

" I started to notice more disparities between genders in my favorite movies… which really sucked. There's nothing like seeing your favorite movie and having it ruined by subtext."

On Seeing Ourselves:

Why is it so difficult to show a woman who is smart?

By Ori Marcu  (Special for FF2 Media)

Recently I watched Project Almanac (2015), a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. However there was one aspect which concerned me, prompting me to view a few popular movies with more skepticism. I've noticed a disparity in the numbers of men and women in film who are portrayed as scientifically intelligent, and I believe that this lack of intelligent women in media discourages girls from seeing themselves as capable in the technological world.

While I'd like to think that I watch good movies and appreciate finer aspects of cinema, I recently had to accept that I (like many others) have fallen into the vast abyss of low budget romance, sci-fi, and sci-fi romance that is the "teens" section of Netflix. This is fitting for me since I'm 16 and fall well within the criteria for "teen."

As I said, I have recently been watching a lot of films and TV aimed towards younger people. I watched all three movies in the “Hunger Games” series, a lot of episodes of Psych, a British cooking show, The Martian, The Intern, and countless cheesy romantic movies (that I loved). Many of these I expected to like and was disappointed, but one in particular still has me squirming.

Project Almanac is about a techie type boy who is accepted to MIT, then finds blueprints for a time travel machine in his basement. He and his friends (all boys) build the time machine and they have interesting adventures together. Eventually a popular girl is involved who knows nothing about technology but goes along for the ride, and the entire process is shot through a film camera that the boy's sister is supposedly holding.

The majority of the first half of the movie is a lot of techno-babble between the boys, with the sister saying things along the lines of "English, please." What caught my eye in this was the fact that the two girls in the movie weren't at all involved in the actual building process of the machine, which was in many ways the focal point of the movie. I was disappointed that the girls weren't portrayed as being intelligent as the boys were, and though it was altogether a good movie, it was such a shame that the female characters weren't at least a little involved in the technical aspects.

Once I noticed this, I started to notice more disparities between genders in my favorite movies… which really sucked (There's nothing like seeing your favorite movie and having it ruined by subtext.) In the Hunger Games series, Katniss rarely ever knows what is in her weapons nor makes them. She takes what she gets and just shoots. She is never involved in any technology, she stands in front of the camera and frequently shows a lack of understanding for the technological aspects of what is understood to be a highly technology oriented society. It's ironic, really.

In the recent movie The Martian, the two female astronauts are shown as technologically advanced, but when it comes down to it, it is a male student who shows NASA the route home from Mars, and a male who figured out how to survive on Mars. So these women have very little opportunity to show their intelligence. Whatever intelligence their characters have is assumed because of their positions as astronauts.

So, as a kid, watching these movies that are aimed at kids can be unfulfilling. It's difficult to see myself being intelligent with computers or ever being in a position of discovering a new piece of technology because I've never seen a woman through mainstream movie media ever do it. Young people learn from what we see and hear, and if we don't see anyone like us (especially in the age where it is media constantly present), then it is difficult to ever see ourselves as legitimate or normal. There is a severe lack of women in media who are put in positions of intelligence and knowledge of modern technology, and in this society where our generations of young people are told the mantra that engineers and analysts are the most needed people in the future job market, it's just really ironic.

It is ironic that young people are told we need to be capable, then are shown that 51% of us aren't. Ironic that we are surrounded with technology and media, and yet never see somebody like ourselves in it. Ironic that women are making further strides in the "boys clubs" than ever before, and yet we are still treated like we are unable to think scientifically and do not have the capacity for innovation, for advancement, or for technological knowledge. It is disheartening to see the kind of dismissal that goes on in the writing of female characters in movies and TV.

I have yet to see a movie that displays a primary female character as fully intelligent and innovative in the sciences, and if you were to take me as your average teenage girl, that means that a lot of other girls haven't seen a movie like that either. We do not have access to movies beyond the horizons of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. We don't see ourselves, and so we assume that we are unique, and not in the way that parents love. We think we are different and strange because we want to pursue fields like chemical engineering, molecular biology, and computer science. We want to code complex algorithms, find the solutions to unresolved math problems that are so old that nobody knows where they came from, and most of all we want to be seen. We are just like the boys, so why can't we see ourselves in movies like they see themselves? Why is it so difficult to show a woman who is smart?

We as consumers hold it within our ability to change media according to what we want to see. I don't want to grow up in a world that doesn't represent me. I don't want to raise my future children in a world that will only support their hobbies if they are men or traditionally feminine girls.

And so I pose a final question: What are we going to do about this?

© Ori Marcu (5/22/16) Special for FF2 Media

FromTheMartian

Top Photo: From Project Almanac

Bottom Photo: From The Martian

3 Responses
  1. Very interesting. It’s another way of considering the Bechdel test. I wonder how does Lisbeth Salander from THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO shapes up in your view on this. Socially she’s a nightmare, but intelligence and computer skills, etc. are off the charts.

    1. Hi Roger;
      In terms of technological capability Lisbeth is good (or I’ve heard she is, I haven’t actually seen/read the series), but the downside of her character and her franchise is that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is not aimed towards teens/children, which was the focus of my argument. She certainly serves a great example of a strong woman, but not to children.

  2. You are so right, Ori. Lisbeth is a terrific character & she is certainly technically adept. However the Larson stories are very dark & definitely “Adults Only.” Here is a review of the original series by another FF2 Media guest critic:

    http://www.films42.com/guests/MillenniumTrilogyReview.pdf

    (The English version of Part One was much weaker in every way.)

    Thanks for comment, Roger.
    All best,
    Jan
    FF2 Managing Editor

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