Female Student Stereotypes in Films

Big Picture Blog Post: Female Student Stereotypes in Films

Because I am a female student, I must be some stereotypical girl that has been made to look less of herself because of the way she is portrayed in films 15 years ago, and even now. Because a girl is blonde, she must be stupid. Or because she leaves a man before he breaks up with her, she must be a horrible person. There are so many different stereotypes portraying women in films and most of them seem fake, but some of them could also just be a coincidence because anybody could act any way that they desire, not everybody. There are several different films that show and explain the lives of students in college, but for this research I will only be focusing on the 3 films, Legally Blonde, showing how a female student was shown more than 10 years ago. Pitch Perfect, showing how female students are depicted now, and The Social Network, showing females in a film that is centered on male students. All three films do a good job in showing the different stereotypes in women, though The Social Network is a little weaker, there are some pin points in the movie that really stood out to me. Throughout this research I’ve been able to find all kinds of different information that is so interesting, much less even thought about. As I get further and further into this research, we’ll be able to see how the role of a woman has changed or hasn’t changed throughout these past 15 years.

Reese Witherspoon portraying Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001)

So, let’s go back 14 years. Legally Blonde has just premiered and everybody is loving it. Even I loved it the first time I watched it. Considering that this movie made 141 million at its box office, I’d say it was a success. But, as I got into this research, I noticed that it wasn’t just a movie about a quirky, funny young woman who was trying to win her boyfriend back. The movie is about Elle, a young, smart, beautiful woman who at first wants to win her boyfriend back, but then realizes that she is much better than he is and knows that she is capable of doing anything that she puts her mind to. The film begins with her being a rich, blonde, beautiful woman who wants to apply to Harvard Law School because her gorgeous, smart boyfriend left her because he doesn’t believe she is smart enough. As the film continues, she is shown to grow and understand what she has put herself in, I mean, imagine going to Harvard knowing almost nothing about Law. That’s what she did, just studied and passed a test and she got accepted. Yes, the movie does go a little extreme, but it does do a great job at showing how Elle is as a person, and not just a girl who is there to please a man. In the beginning of the film they do make it seem as if she is only a woman who cares about being the most popular and what she’s wearing throughout her day.
Sadly, media has made it seem as if blondes are the stupidest of them all, and they’ve even made jokes about them. I’m not a blonde, but I do have a lot of friends who are, and I remember seeing their faces and noticing how insulted they were whenever they made a joke about a blonde. Blonde is just a hair color. Nothing more, nothing less. This film did a great job at showing the stereotype of a blonde woman, but it was also so great in showing the audience how a woman can grow from that stereotype and prove everybody who thought of her but no more than a girl with money, that she is capable of doing anything that they could do as well, just in a different manner of course.

Reese Witherspoon portraying Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (2001)

There was one quote that I read in an article written by A.O. Scott for the New York Times, “It’s funny — in that slightly queasy, un-P.C. Doris Day kind of way — to watch her suffer tearful humiliations, and also funny to watch her recover her dignity and tell off the snobs and hypocrites who have underestimated or maligned her.” This quote, made me think of the entire movie, yes they showed that any woman can do whatever they want, but A.O. Scott says that they can recover, and this movie showed Elle recovering from herself and everything that she’s been through and all of the situations through this movie. There was one scene, where she is speaking to her professor and he makes a move on her, and she storms off, furious, and soon quits his service and basically quits Law School. Soon after, she recovers with the help of her friend and wins the case that she was working on with her professor, all by herself and by being the person who she always has been, not the person they wanted her to become.

Anybody heard of Facebook? No? I didn’t think so.

The Social Network is all about Facebook and how it came to be such a huge success all around the world. It focuses on all of the men at Harvard who came together to build this massive website, except it wasn’t so massive when it first started. It started off as a little website that helped all of the students at Harvard connect with each other, then it grew to all different schools all over the country, then it became available to everybody around the world. It’s an outstanding movie, great actors, and great team of everything. The only thing that wasn’t so great was when Zuckerberg got so upset and he decided to make a blog of all the women and rate them because of his girlfriend who had just broken up with him. As Roger Ebert stated in his review for this movie, “For the presence of Facebook, we possibly have to thank a woman named Erica.”

Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara in the Social Network (2010)

Yes, Erica was out of line by calling him an asshole and just walking out of their date, but Zuckerberg was also very out of line. I mean, stealing photos from Facebook to just rate them on a website called the Harvard Connection? That’s just wrong. But, it did lead to it become the great Facebook. As stated by Roger Ebert, “He programs a page where they can be rated for their beauty. This is sexist and illegal, and proves so popular, it crashes the campus servers. After it’s fertilized by a mundane website called “The Harvard Connection,” Zuckerberg grows it into Facebook.” Women are being seen as just a distraction through all this. Oh she broke his heart, oh she is such a horrible person by breaking up with her boyfriend, she’s a woman, there’s nothing different.

Barden Bellas during their first performance in Pitch Perfect (20102)

Now, let’s fast forward to 2012, the movie Pitch Perfect was just released and the media and the world is praising it; the singing, the dancing, and the comedy. Oh, who doesn’t love comedy? Well, this film begins with women being shown, as classy and together. It’s nice, and it adds a little to the comedy of the film by them also being the most boring. Fast forward to the next school year, Beca is just beginning her first year at the university, not wanting to be there. Her father basically forces her to join any group in order for him to pay for her life if she was to move to California. By that, she joins the Barden Bellas. Of course, she thinks they’re weird in the beginning, since they did keep the same song that they completely baffled their previous season. But, she later grows to love and befriend all of the other girls. First of all, as much as I love this movie, they showed women in such a horrible manner. Yes, they are strong and independent and they can be winners as well, but they are shown to basically just be sex symbols. They go from looking like the image above, to this image below here.

Barden Bellas during their last performance in Pitch Perfect (20102)

They show a fairly diverse group of college girls, but they’re all still beautiful and the only one who would be considered “not beautiful” is probably Fat Amy, which is completely wrong in the eyes of the media, because then they make the viewers think that all she’s there for is just the comedy, and not anything else. All while the other girls are being interpreted as beautiful and sexy. It’s like they made the fat girl, the funny girl, all because the media has made it seem as if the fat girl has to be the funny girl because that’s what the media thinks they’re only good for, the comic relief. Which is pretty horrible. It’s like the stereotype of blondes. All they’re good for is to look pretty. I was reading some reviews on concerned parents regarding the movie and its rating, which is completely fine, since it is rated PG-13. There was one review that really stood out to me, written by an adult with the username woodberries on the website commonsensemedia.com and published on February 12th, 2013 that stood out to me, “Children who see this will be learning many new ways to be immoral and vulgar and obsessed with sex. It’s 90% about sex and 10% about relationships and singing.” Obviously, parents aren’t okay with this movie. Yes it’s a great movie, but for those who are probably 16 and older. The way that women are shown, it’s pretty disgusting at times, like the final performance shown above. It does show women being more entertaining, but they don’t always have to entertain their audience in a sexual manner.

There was one article that caught my attention while I was doing some research for this topic, “Gender Stereotypes Persist in Films on a Worldwide Scale”, by USC Annenberg staff. They talk about all sorts of things of how women are portrayed in films, and it compares a lot to the movies. “Women aren’t portrayed as lawyers, doctors or teaches.” This line just hit me right in the gut. The fact that women can’t be taken as serious as men would, it’s insulting. In all three films that I analyzed, the women were never portrayed to be like that, at least not in the beginning. In the case of Legally Blonde, the movie shows the work that she went through to become a lawyer. But, for the other two films, women are seen as only an item and only good for their looks. Yes, a lot of women are fun to look at, they’re beautiful. But, it’s not like all us women do is look at men all day. Yes, Magic Mike was released not too long ago, showing men in a very sexual way, but other than that, there aren’t many movies that show men in that nature. As for women, there are a lot, such as Avengers, The Mask and even Star Wars. The women in these films are all seen as sexy, all while making the men look more heroic and better at almost anything than a woman. Legally Blonde, the guy already has a career started for him and Elle has to work for it harder than anybody else. The Social Network, all the guys are the smart ones and the girls are the ones that have an attitude and they’re basically only good for sex. Pitch Perfect, the girls are all innocent and professional in the beginning of the movie, but later are pushed to become more entertaining so they get sexier and basically take their clothes off.

BeFunky Collage
Left to Right: Cameron Diaz in The Mask (1994), Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983), Scarlett Johansson in Marvel’s Avengers (2012).

This whole research is so important, it doesn’t only show me how women are being portrayed in films, but it’s also showing me that there hasn’t been much change in these last 15 years. Gender stereotypes are such an important topic, not trying to sound like a feminist, but it’s nice to appreciate a woman for who she is as a person, not who is by her looks and one little action. I know a lot of women are with me on this when I say that we want to see a movie that makes the female awesome. Make a fat, nerdy, business woman the lead. A skinny, ugly woman the superhero. Anything! Because in the end, each woman is beautiful, and we all need the chance be the person that everybody’s looking at for who they are, not what they want them to be.

Important Learning Moments
The text that we had to read in week three, “American Advertising: A brief history”, really stood out to me because I don’t think any other text compared to my research as much as this one did. This text talks how advertising has been changed so that the consumer only sees the goods of the product, or whatever they are trying to advertise. In comparison to the movies, they only want to make their main characters look like the good guys all while making them look attractive. Such as Legally Blonde, Elle is a beautiful, petite woman, and she’s the main character. The “nerds” of the movie and everybody else around her isn’t as beautiful as she is. This is one way of advertising, not bashing on any beautiful actresses, because they are, beautiful, but the movie industry just hires beautiful and petite actresses for the main role if they want their audiences to watch the movies. Usually, but not always, if an actress isn’t in their standards, it’s for a completely type of movie or their only there for a comic relief. Such as Pitch Perfect, Fat Amy is really only there for the audience to laugh at her, while the stars of the movie are petite and beautiful. One good example of false advertising that would connect to this text well would be the advertising of all burgers on commercials, such as Burger King or McDonalds. Everybody is always let down when they get their food and it looks nothing like their advertisements.

Works Cited

Legally Blonde. Dir. Marc Platt. Perf. Reese Whiterspoon. MGM Home Entertainment, 2001. Film.

Pitch Perfect. Dir. Kay Cannon. Perf. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Banks. Universal Home Entertainment, 2012. Film.

The Social Network. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Jesse Eisenberg. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2011. Film.

Ebert, Roger. “The Social Network Movie Review (2010) | Roger Ebert.” All Content. 29 Sept. 2010. Web. 7 Nov. 2015. .

Scott, A.O. “Legally Blonde (2001) FILM REVIEW; A Rich Ditz Has Both Brains and the Last Laugh.” New York Times. New York Times, 13 July 2001. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. .

Ebert, Roger. “Pitch Perfect Movie Review & Film Summary (2012) | Roger Ebert.” All Content. 26 Sept. 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2015. .

“Member Reviews for Pitch Perfect | Common Sense Media.” Member Reviews for Pitch Perfect | Common Sense Media. Common Sense Media, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. .

“Gender Stereotypes Persist in Films on a Worldwide Scale.” Gender Stereotypes Persist in Films on a Worldwide Scale. USC News, 22 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.


One thought on “Female Student Stereotypes in Films

  1. Hey Arely, I think you chose very fitting artifacts! The Social Network is an interesting addition because it shows men in the media really interacting with these stereotypes and how their actions can reinforce our preconceived ideas. I also think you did a nice job at creating a relaxed atmosphere in your blog. You are clearly present in your writing and it’s refreshing! Thus, your writing really felt like a conversation!

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