Women in Films: Sidekick or Equal

Chris BeecherArgument, Film and Media, New Voices, Responding to a Text, Social Criticism, Visual Rhetoric

Analyzing images helps deconstruct the message the image is trying to convey and helps us understand why everything is portrayed the way it is. As Jack Solomon explains in his article, “Reading Visual Images Actively,” “In analyzing images, you will develop the ability to identify specific telling details and specific evidence” (33). Supremacy is the quality of being superior and more powerful than those around you.  Most films portray a certain character with such power. Take for example, the movie poster for the film Iron Man 3. The main character, played by Robert Downey Jr., is placed right in the center looking dominant, while wrapping his arm around a girl who looks terrified. The background behind him includes three other male characters who also look powerful and ready to fight. Overall, there are four main male characters and just one female character present in the movie poster. This advertisement makes it clear to the audience that Robert Downey, Jr., as well as the other male characters, will play the lead role of fixing the problem within the film and saving the day. As for the woman, we are getting the sense that she is only there to support whatever the male characters are doing.

In relation to gender roles, the movie poster of Iron Man 3 is the perfect example of how men and women are expected to behave. It is simple: if you are a male, you must be strong, confident, and take action in the situation going on around you, while if you are a female, you’re there to support the male character and congratulate him for all the work he has done. In the article, “Gender Roles and Society,” Amy M. Blackstone verifies how “the social construction of gender is demonstrated by the fact that individuals, groups, and societies ascribe particular traits, statuses, or values to individuals purely because of sex” (335). Your sex defines everything; it is the key to how you are expected to act, as well as where you stand in terms of the gender hierarchy. Blackstone develops an idea which not only works for the film industry, but works as well for the real world.

In the film industry, being a male means more freedom to do as you please. George Carlin said, “Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.” However, the equality Carlin tried to convey in this quote doesn’t exist as it should. This aspect of freedom between males and females was discussed in the documentary, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, in which a group of filmmakers and actors came together to talk about the unequal ratings placed upon films, because of gender, by the Motion Picture Association of America. Kimberly Peirce, filmmaker of Boys Dont Cry, indicates how her film initially received a rating of NC17, meaning the studios would be unable to release it to the public. As she said in the documentary, “in a construct where most movies are written by men, directed by men, they are mostly the male experience…. even in sex scenes I think it’s from a male perspective…. As Peirce stated, the film industry is widely composed of men, and the perspective of a woman doesn’t get as much recognition because of this. Although both parties work and put equal effort into what they do, in this case, the male film makers receive more leniency on ratings and power about the direction of the film.

Another film which ties into the idea of inequality between men and women is the documentary Hot Girls Wanted. This is a documentary about young women who have been drawn into the sex trade and how easy it is for a web-savvy generation to end up making porn. Young women between the ages of 18-20 explain their experience of what it is like to enter the amateur porn industry. The women explain how they are just seen as processed meat, toys being played around with, and how every scenario is all about the guy. One of the young women explains how “the girl is just there to help.” This not only applies to their industry, but to the film industry as a whole. These inequalities present within films relate to reality since some people find these representations of men and women to be accurate. Unfortunately, this unfairness between genders continues today and will most likely carry on due to society’s views on gender roles.

Although most films portray the male character as the dominant one, there are cases where the female character is as powerful as the male. Take for instance, the advertisement for the film How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The two main characters, played by Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, are present right in the center of the movie poster. They are both dressed formally, standing back to back, giving each other a determined look. Text at the bottom of the poster states, “One of them is lying. So is the other.” Right off the bat, the advertisement is telling you that both characters are the same. The designer also presented Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey’s names centered equally, right at the top. It is as though they are both indicating to the audience that neither one will let their opponent win. In this case, Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson are represented as equals; one character is not more or less superior to the other. It is very rare within films to see equality between men and women. Typically, it is the man showing dominance or a woman being independent, standing on her own. When they are both playing a lead role it is normal to see the man as the heroic figure while the woman is just there for guidance and support.

Societal expectations and gender roles have a great influence in how many things are built. As a woman, there are certain societal expectations placed upon you, for instance, in how you should behave, speak, and treat others. These societal expectations are used in films to portray the way female characters should act. Blackstone explains how “Traditionally, many Western societies have believed that women are more nurturing than men. Therefore, the traditional view of the feminine gender role prescribes that women should behave in ways that are nurturing” (337). This is the perfect reason why women receive the less powerful and sideline roles within films. They are portrayed to be nurturing, soft, and supporters in real life, so it is only right for film makers to use this expectation and tie it into their films.

Media has constructed a certain outlook on both males and females. The image media creates is influenced by society’s gender roles and can even be viewed as an accurate representation of what it means to be a male or female today. Society’s typical expectations of a man depict him as being strong, independent, hard­working, and a problem solver, while a woman is nurturing, supportive, frail, and helpful when she is most needed. These representations tie into the film industry in the way they are expressed in movie posters, the content of the movie, and the character, as well as the role they play.

The movie advertisements for the films Iron Man 3 and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days show the negative and positive outlooks that are typically shown in movie posters. A woman usually gets the less-powerful role and stays the sidekick while the man is the dominant character, and most times takes the lead. Although this is not always the case, it is the case much of the time actors play their parts. Overall, gender roles have a tremendous influence on the shaping of media today. Media not only reflects its content upon these gender roles, but creates an influence on the public on how they view both the female and male population.


Works Cited

Blackstone, Amy. “Gender Roles and Society” Human Ecology: An Encyclopedia of Children,

 Families, Communities, and Environments. Edited by Julia R. Miller, Richard M. Lerner, and Lawrence B. Schiamberg. ABC-CLIO, 2003.

Hot Girls Wanted. Dir. Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus. Netflix, 2015.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: The Movie. Advertisement. IMDb. Amazon,

Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.

Iron Man 3: The Movie. Advertisement. IMDb. Amazon,  Accessed 2 Nov 2016.

Solomon, Jack, and Sonia Maasik. Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for

            Writers. Macmillan, 2011.

This Film is Not Yet Rated. Dir. Kirby Dick. Netflix, 2006.