Today, Hollywood appears to depict tough women who like to shoot guns, will defend themselves in a dark, dangerous forest, and can take a good beating.
But don’t be fooled – Twilight’s Bella, Hunger Games’ Katniss, trained assassin Hanna, Kickass’ Hit Girl and other tough female characters are actually all victims of a patriarchal society that continues to put women in their place, a professor recently asserted.
In effect, women are hunted animals and abuse of girls is eroticized as Hollywood and popular culture trains audiences to enjoy the subjugation of women, perpetuating the male-dominated world, said Vanderbilt University philosophy Professor Kelly Oliver in a recent guest lecture at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Hunting shows. Modeling shows. Hit Hollywood movies. They’re all guilty of it, she said.
“Hunting groups are targeting women, which is why we see Hot Girls and Hunting shows,” Oliver said. “They are the hunters, but also the hunted.”
Oliver, the W. Alton Jones Chair of Philosophy at Vanderbilt with appointments in African-American and diaspora studies, film studies, and women’s and gender studies, showed an image of how even American’s Next Top Model featured women as animal trophies, claiming this reveals “women are akin to animals” and “women are animals.”
“Princesses are often seen in the accompaniment of animals, as having special bonds with them,” Oliver added during her talk, titled “Hunting Girls: Patriarchal Fantasy or Feminist Resistance?”
She went on to discuss how Hollywood often depicts women as being hunted and not empowered. She cited Hanna, Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games and Twilight: Breaking Dawn II, noting each of these films featured teenage girls who may be armed and dangerous, but are hunted prey nonetheless.
This is unlike the cutesy Disney princesses, who retain more subjugated feminine qualities, she said. These new girls are wild and are capable of surviving in harsh conditions, exhibiting their resilience and tough attitudes by hunting prowess. But despite their hunting and weaponry skills, these women remain lower to men, Oliver said.
“They stalk the forest, rather than be at the top of hierarchy as equals,” she said.
Plus, their feral, animal-like qualities symbolizes their “sexual prowess,” as well as their “virginity” in these blockbusters, she said.
“They are on the cusp of womanhood, a pubescent warrior,” Professor Oliver said.
This is why these characters still represent patriarchal fantasies of tough Amazonian women rather than feminist resistance to the male norms in society, she said. Even the conclusion of the Hunger Games book series has Katniss fall for a man.
“It’s a dystopia Cinderella, as she is a girl among the ashes,” Oliver points out. “Katniss ends up choosing to marry Peeta, the baker, who is a symbol of rising up from the ashes, rather than the male hunter.”
Another character that exemplifies the need to have a man is Bella Swan, the popular character from The Twilight series. Swan is the perfect combination of animal-woman, the beauty that actually “transforms to beast” yet retains her maternal instincts and “endorses traditional family values,” Oliver said.
“Bella Swan is the closest to an actual animal, with bearing her hands and teeth, and a blood thirsty lust,” Oliver said. “She too marries a prince, has eternal romance, and a fairytale family.”
Oliver argued society is pushing back on these tough women, who wish to stand among men and distinguish themselves. For most of the stories they all end up subjugated in the end, and misfits of the world.
“In Hanna, the producer states that this is the story of The Little Mermaid, the Hans Christian Anderson version,” Oliver said. “Hanna ends up alone, a misfit in the world. She doesn’t get the guy and the guy doesn’t get her. She was exposed to the cruel world, at what cost to herself?”
Oliver also decried how many young female characters end up beaten, battered, and bruised. Audiences are influenced to enjoy these abuses in entertainment, she added.
“With Hit Girl, from the movie Kick Ass, she is beaten by a mob boss and lays sobbing like a little girl on the table,” Oliver said. “We get pleasure for the abuse of girls.”
Other examples beyond Hit Girl, Dr. Oliver pointed out, included The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and the 50 Shades of Gray, where the “abuse of girls is eroticized.”
“We are trained to enjoy them,” she said. “It’s perverse and almost as if the young girls deserved it for stepping out. This contemplates scenes of female victimization and abuse as a part of coming of age.”
The fate of women in Hollywood remains to be seen.
“Right now we are in an in-between space and seen as dangerous,” Professor Oliver concluded. “Will women break free of these pattern sex objects or go their own way?”
Fix contributor Aslinn Scott is a student at CU Boulder.
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