Top 10 Female Stereotypes in Movies That NEED to Stop
VOICE OVER: Kirsten Ria Squibb
These female stereotypes NEED to stop. For this list, we'll be looking at the most common outdated tropes that Hollywood uses when portraying female characters on the big screen. Our countdown includes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, career women are unhappy, the life-changing makeover, and more!
Top 10 Female Sterotypes in Movies That Need to Stop
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Female Stereotypes in Movies That Need to Stop.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most common outdated tropes that Hollywood uses when portraying female characters on the big screen.
Which of these stereotypes are you most tired of seeing in film? Let us know in the comments below!
#10: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl
The term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” has become so ingrained in the lexicon of film conversation and criticism that it feels like it’s been around forever. But it was introduced in 2007 by film critic Nathan Rabin, who used the term to describe Kirsten Dunst's character Claire in “Elizabethtown”. At her core, the MPDG is a woman who’s typically carefree, unique, and feminine. She acts as the love interest to the main male character, who’s generally sad and closed off, getting him to open up. But she doesn’t have much else to offer. Needless to say, it’s a problematic trope. Women are multidimensional and complex beings, and they should be depicted as such on film.
#9: Women Lose It After a Breakup
Hollywood loves to portray ex-girlfriends as overly attached and irrational. Sometimes, they take it to a violent extreme, like with Glenn Close’s Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction.” And there are other lower-stakes instances where the woman goes out of her way to prove her worth. Look no further than “Legally Blonde” to see what we mean. Granted, Elle Woods ultimately tells Warner off and really finds herself at Harvard. But she initially applies to law school because she wants to win him back. The idea that women’s sanity is somehow tied to their relationship status is reductive, to say the least. So it’s definitely time to break up with this cliché!
#8: The Angry Man-Hating Feminist
A feminist is defined as someone who supports achieving equality between the sexes on all fronts: political, economic, personal, and social. It seems like a very reasonable and worthwhile ideology that everyone should be able to get behind. But many people and institutions have attempted to distort the meaning of feminism, making it feel like a bad word. Mainstream films often play into that unfortunate practice by pitting their so-called feminist characters against men, while making them drab, one-note, and uninteresting. It undermines what the movement is all about, and creates a false narrative that needs to stop.
#7: All Women Dream About Their Wedding Day
There are women who plan their nuptials at a young age, and that’s fine. But the idea that it's a universal experience is weirdly pervasive in film. In fact, when a girl doesn’t crave marriage, it’s often a defining — and flawed — part of her character. If these stories are to be believed, most women long for a fairytale wedding, and they’ll do anything to make sure their day is “perfect.” But that’s simply not a reflection of reality. Many are perfectly happy single, casually dating, or in long-term partnerships. Their experiences are just as valid, and it’s not a huge deal! Plus, we rarely see the same obsession with tying the knot in male characters, which says it all.
#6: Plus-Size Women Are Only Good for Comic Relief
There’s an insistence that we’ve progressed as a society when it comes to embracing diverse beauty standards. Yet the majority of feature films still tell us that being fat is undesirable, especially if you’re a woman. Instead of being given nuanced and fully-developed arcs, plus-size female characters are generally used as comic relief, relegated to being the funny sidekick. Even if they’re comfortable with their appearance, that confidence still gets weaponized to generate laughs. And the perceived beauty of straight-size female characters ultimately rests on their weight, too. When will movies stop letting size define worth, and embrace the fact that fat women are beautiful, too?
#5: Women Really Need a Man in Their Life
Movies love to wrongly argue that female-identifying people who are attracted to men need them to be complete.There’s a whole slew of stories where the only goal is to find “Mr. Right”. Or better yet, films where the woman seemingly has everything she wants, until realizing that love is the one thing she needed all along. And don’t even get us started on teen movies, where finding a boyfriend makes or breaks a young girl’s high school experience. While relationships have their merits, it’s misguided to imply that a woman’s happiness hinges on being in one. The big screen needs to let its female characters find joy in a plethora of people, things, and places.
#4: Career Women Are Unhappy
If there’s anything motion pictures hate even more than young single women, it’s the ones who prioritize their work because that’s where they find fulfillment. According to Hollywood, they’re closed-off people who don’t understand what matters in life. Instead of celebrating their accomplishments, films typically insinuate that they aren’t happy because they put their career above love. Even worse, they often imply that these women are incapable of being in a healthy relationship because they’re too focused on their jobs. The worst thing that could ever happen is the men in their lives being inconvenienced by their hectic schedules! If that sounds a little foolish, it’s because – spoiler alert – career women can be perfectly happy, whether they’re single or in a relationship!
#3: Women Are Inherently Maternal
She could be a woman without any desire to have kids. But, just like a good man can show her the love she didn’t realize she was missing, a baby will trigger her maternal instincts. Then, she’ll feel complete even if she didn’t know she wasn’t. At least, that’s what feature films want us to think. In “How to Be Single,” Meg realizes she wants a baby after spending a few minutes with one, despite having had no interest in motherhood beforehand. Yet the truth is that not all women care to have children – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The notion that they need to fulfill some imaginary motherly destiny is outdated and out of touch, to say the least.
#2: The Life-Changing Makeover
The makeover trope runs on the idea that if a girl fixes her hair and puts on contacts, she’ll go from not to hot. Not only does this discount how pretty these characters already are pre-makeover, but it also reinforces the idea that outer beauty is all that matters. Laney is perfect as she is in “She’s All That,” she doesn’t need some transformation. In “Grease,” Sandy changes everything about herself, looks included, just to get the guy. And the list goes on and on. Placing such value and life-changing ability on a makeover doesn’t do justice to the women in the movies. And it certainly isn’t something we need girls to be watching and internalizing.
#1: The Disposable Female
Think about those movies that see male protagonists head off on a quest for revenge and destruction. Now think about why they’re doing it. Often, it’s in order to save or avenge their female love or relative. The disposable woman is more of a plot device than an actual character with any depth. She’s there solely to be harmed, thereby giving the male hero something to fight for. “Taken” is just one example of this trope in action. We should be past the point of crafting female characters whose only purpose is to motivate a man. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead, women in such movies were treated like human beings with agency and a say in their fate?