Feminist media: why we need more women taking the lead on screen
On-screen role models inspire us and make us more confident. Today, girls and women might have many leading women to look up to but we've a long way to go before we get an equal and diverse representation of women in media.
Throughout the ages, popular culture has influenced, positively and negatively, the way kids see themselves. However, for decades, women, among other marginalised groups, have been grossly underrepresented on-screen.
A report titled ‘SuperPowering Girls’ by Women's Media Centre found that 63 percent of girls aged between 10 and 19 believe there aren't enough role models of their gender; 65 percent think there aren't enough relatable or strong characters of their gender, and a whopping 85 percent said they want to see more female sci-fi/superheroes on screen.
"Girls say their favourite superheroes make them feel strong, brave, confident, inspired, positive, and motivated. Watching female superheroes makes them feel like they can achieve anything they put their mind to."
Although movies don’t provide the ultimate solution for an equitable world, they definitely have the potential to encourage positive change. Having icons and role models to look up to on the big screen can help young girls and women gain confidence and feel strong.
Speaking with HerStory, Puspanjalee Das Dutta, a blogger and mother, says,
“Growing up in a sleepy town in the 90s when the only colour TV in the neighbourhood belonged to us, I hardly had enough women role models to look up to. The only characters I strongly remember are two women from a show called Aarohan. I couldn't relate to any other female characters on screen.”
She also says she looked up to characters in books like Emma by Jane Austen and Eowyn from Lord of the Rings, and the female news readers of Doordarshan. “If we can show them that boys and girls are equal and that girls can be role models too, future generations will learn to be more compassionate,” she adds.
Dipti Daryanani Ahuja, an entrepreneur and mother, says she was raised in an equal environment, and had strong female influence around her. But, she feels that more female role models would have made us a far more diverse and a progressive society.
“I feel other than what you watch, what you read and the conversations you are surrounded by, have a very crucial role to play in the person you eventually become and the way you view the world around you. Media and similar influencers are very instrumental in changing mindsets and creating an equal environment that is not consumed by gender biases,” she says.
Dipti also says that she makes conscious efforts to get her daughter books that talk about female role models. Her seven-year-old daughter reads 'Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls' and speaks fondly of Captain Marvel.
Characters like Rosa Diaz and Amy Santiago from the TV show Brooklyn 99, Cristina Yang of Grey’s Anatomy, and Elena and Penelope Alvarez from Netflix Original One Day At A Time inspire many young women today because of their grit and go-getter spirit. Many also feel empowered by female protagonists in video games and animated series, such as Evie Frye from the game ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’ and Katara from the show ‘Avatar’.
Sneha K, a 21-year-old sociology student, points out the lack of representation of women who aren’t heterosexual.
“Due to lack of representation, I felt suffocated and it was so difficult coming to terms with my sexuality. When I saw a woman-loving-woman (wlw) movie for the first time, it activated my imagination and made me realise that it was okay for me to love a girl,” she says.
According to research by the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film at the San Diego State University, the percentage of films featuring women protagonists amounted to 31 percent, while men in leading roles accounted for 52 percent. While these numbers are far from being equal, things seem hopeful, as the number of women-led films in 2018 marked an all-time high.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)
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