In an era where Hollywood is bombarding us with a large number of high-budget culture defining releases every week, female roles still only account for a fraction of the characters in movies and series. According to a study conducted in San Diego University (Buckley, 2018) women accounted for 24 percent of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing domestic films of 2017.
Even if female characters do have notable roles, their characterization often leaves something to be desired. As someone who is a voracious consumer of movies (With the existence of Netflix...who isn’t?) I am constantly disappointed by female characters in movies falling into the trap of archetypical clichés. The one cliché that has consistently exasperated me has been the tired portrayal of working women as the ‘Careerist Bitch’.
The Careerist Bitch characters are often seen as overly ambitious, callous and detached from all the people in their life. They absolutely do not have a sense of humor or a personal life because, as everyone knows, it is impossible to have a job and life at the same time. The movie montage always shows these characters being an absolute powerhouse in their jobs while wearing high heels and looking pristine perfect. However, at the end of the day they come home to an empty penthouse and sit contemplating their spinsterhood because that’s the price they pay for caring so much about work.
The most notable portrayals of these characters include Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in the Devil Wears Prada, or Jessica Chastain as Elizabeth Sloane in Miss Sloane. A common thread that seems to run through these characters is the message that femininity and ambition are incompatible. It’s almost as if spending time curating a successful career excludes you from being a caring individual who is able to maintain healthy, social relationships. A women being able to handle more than one priority at a time is seen as shockingly unrealistic.
This archetype seems to constantly vilify or critique women who chose their careers as their primary focus in their lives. The fact that they remain unmarried and friendless are shown as evidence that they remain incomplete due to their ambition. In effect, the movies seem to frame these female characters in a negative light for exhibiting exactly the same characteristic as their male counterparts.
Now, you might wonder, why is this even important? The average viewers of movies watch them as escapism, a way to entertain themselves and avoid reality. Why is this type of portrayal of women relevant? Well, women have struggled to break through to male-dominated careers for decades due to stereotypes about their personalities. These stereotypes can be deepened by the influence of various types of media. If professional women continue to be represented in the media as being a 'bitch' for being assertive in the workplace, then people assume women in leadership roles are authoritarian.
While female led movies like ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Ocean’s 8’ have broken records in the box office in the past year, filmmakers must continually make strides to produce authentic and interesting female characters that don’t keep falling into these boring stereotypes.
Nafisa Islam, VP of Finance