Hollywood’s Year of Heroine Worship, by A.O. Scott

I really enjoyed A.O. Scott’s article in this week’s New York Times Sunday magazine, and I wanted to share it with you.


He expresses a lot of my feelings about how women are represented in the movies.  Some of the highlights:

-The discussion about how women’s pictures devolved into chick flicks, and “the assumption that stories about men are large, important and universal, while stories about women are particular, local and trivial.”

-Scott puts his finger on what bothers me about declarations of “year of the woman” or when a story by/about women is treated as revolutionary.  This ignores a rich history of films in which mature, confident women are equal partners with men.

-Scott also zeroes in on why it’s so tempting, but problematic, to expect stories of/by women (and, I would argue, of/by people of color) to not just be stories about particular individuals but to be paradigms, “to represent, to set an example and blaze a path.”  It’s an unfair expectation, but it’s a consequence of “under- and misrepresentation,” as Scott puts it.

-I also agree with Scott that historically, “the question of who a woman will be is always bound up with the questions of whom she will marry.”  That’s what makes Brave so refreshing.

-And of course Scott discusses the profoundly valuable Bechdel test, according to which a film “1. has to have at least two [named] women in it 2. Who talk to each other 3. About something besides a man.”

It’s interesting to note that Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker and most of her earlier films, if I remember correctly, fail this test.  I haven’t watched Zero Dark Thirty yet, but I suspect this might be true for it as well.*  But our expectations about what kind of film she should make is related, I think, to the earlier point about under-representation.  It also raises the question of what makes a “woman’s picture” – the story, the lead characters, the creator? You could ask the same in a literary context as well:  are Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary any less/more/different women’s stories than the novels of Austen and the Brontes?

So check out A.O. Scott’s article and share your answers to these questions and any other responses you have in the comments section below.  Enjoy and share!


*Note: Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Ehle’s characters, both CIA operatives, actually do have conversations about something other than a man (in a romantic context), although their longest conversation does involve Ehle’s Jessica questioning Maya about whether Maya would ever have a fling with her boss.

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5 Responses to Hollywood’s Year of Heroine Worship, by A.O. Scott

  1. Heather says:

    I don’t spend nearly the time and energy thinking through these things as you and others do, so these ideas are not something I’ve ever given much thought to, but Scott’s article resonated with me, in the kind of way where I get to the end and realize I had been nodding my head the whole time I was reading. That’s usually an indication to me that what I’ve just read struck an unarticulated truth in my subconscious.

    Brave and The Hunger Games were two of only three movies I saw in a theater in 2012. And yes, I sure do wish Merida and Katniss had been around when I was younger. (The third movie I went to a theater to watch was Les Mis, which of course fails the Bechdel test miserably, but I loved it nonetheless. Sentimentality? What is it? I wanted to see Lincoln but haven’t yet. I might still be able to catch it, if I get out soon, but that too would fall into the “tradition of equating gravitas with masculinity.”)

    No one would ever describe me as funny, but I appreciate comedic timing in others, and Melissa McCarthy has always impressed me. I’ve been pleased to see her getting a little more recognition. I saw the preview for her new movie with Jason Bateman, and it looks like it will showcase her style of humor well. Though it’s certainly true that she didn’t just suddenly become funny in 2011.

    Have you watched “Girls”? I’m not familiar with it but am now intrigued. I empathize with the idea that Dunham was not allowed to just explore her ideas and experiences and make mistakes as a young professional. She was expected to get it right, right away, because there is an unfair assumption that she has an obligation as a woman to represent, to set an example, and to be trail blazer. I had never really considered this before, but I think that it was the real take away for me from this article. Thanks for sharing it!

    • popgoddess says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I had the same head-nodding, “exactly!” response you did to it.

      I haven’t seen Les Miz yet, but I’ll probably enjoy it (except possibly for Russell Crowe’s Javert – I was unimpressed with his singing in a preview) since I love the musical so much (flashback to our college spring break trip when we went to watch the show in DC!).

      I haven’t watched Girls yet, but I need to. I think I’m guilty of subconsciously doing what Scott and you describe – sort of pre-judging Dunham and the show or blaming her because I have the impression that her characters make mistakes and bad decisions and aren’t infallible. I’m holding Dunham and her characters to an unfair standard because I think they need to represent. So I’ll let you know my thoughts once I catch up on the show.

  2. Heather says:

    In the spirit of sharing articles, I really enjoyed this one. The scene of mercy and grace extended by the bishop to Valjean in the form of candlesticks has always been a favorite. “You forgot I gave these also. Would you leave the best behind?” http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-political-theology-of-les-miserables.html?m=1

    • popgoddess says:

      Another head-nodding article! Yes, he talks about a lot of the things that make me think Les Miz has more going on than the other big musicals of the time. I do sometimes feel that the finale’s idea that heaven’s promise awaits even the most wretched can suggest that we don’t need to bother about fighting against structural/systemic inequalities. So while I don’t support violent uprisings like the students’ revolt, I agree with one of the commenters on the post, that ideally, there’s a middle ground that combines the bishop’s/Valjean’s individualistic approach with a non-violent struggle for social change.

      I just watched the movie; I’ll probably include your link to this article in my post about it. I also started watching Girls; article to follow soon!

  3. Pingback: Girls Gone Real | Pop Goddess

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