The Female Western
The movie "Thelma and Louise," when released in 1991, was much compared to an all-female version of "Bonnie and Clyde." "Time" magazine writer Margaret Carlson suggests it's quite difficult to embrace these women as heroines because the characters use violent and careless behavior to achieve their goals, paired with a general theme of "male equals enemy". As Carlson states, the characters "act more like Clint Eastwood than Katharine Hepburn" (57). Does this tear down of the female role really matter in the big scheme of going to the movies?
Women portrayed as heroines in today's films are often viewed as anything but liberated, regardless of the director's intention. Often, the female lead is portrayed as the vixen, the criminal, or even the murderous psychopath. For some, a female lead would be the role-model feminist, showing the world she is strong, independent, intelligent and highly capable without a male leader, this is not the type of character that is always appealing to a vast audience.
The modern audience does not want to see their female leads in traditional roles, according to author Richard Corliss, who also acknowledges the lack of good leading roles for females. Men have been playing the action hero for centuries; a woman in that role can make for a much more interesting character (58). The audience can empathize with the additional obstacles she faces in that role due to her gender alone, thereby emphasizing the heroic quality of the character. A male portrayed as a criminal is seen as natural and expected. A female portrayed as a criminal is seen as demeaning to women, or sometimes viewed as heroic and liberating to those non-feminist viewers. The same character, yet completely different perceptions.
The portrayal of a heroine clearly does not always correspond with an ideal female role model. Even something as exaggerated as the female action-heroine character is taken seriously by the feminist viewer at times and pulled apart for observation. Naturally it would be great to be a strong, crime fighting, ass-kicking female who is also, moral, intelligent and sticks to her values. Who uses her mind, not her looks and body to achieve her goals. But would this do-gooder sell movies? Not as much as the perfectly structured, half-dressed, feminine heroine who uses her curves more than her punches to conquer her opponents. Sex sells, end of story.
But the truth is, and always will be, that a movie can only be profitable so long as the viewers are willing to pay to see what has been created. What lures a viewer is what will be depicted in film, hence it can be said that a movie is much more influenced by its society than the reverse belief that society is influenced by the film. Of course feminists have very strong, valid points in many of the crusades to liberate and free women from inequality. But perhaps the crusade needs to remain in the realm of reality, where it belongs. For as many people you will find claiming inequality of women in film, you are sure to find just as many with valid arguments in opposition. With many women film roles often pointed out to be "male-bashing," or females said to be taking on "male-like behavior" when their portrayals have a negative connotation, can it really be said that the sexism always truly lies in favor of the male?
What you enjoy on film is not necessarily a reflection of your values and beliefs in the general or feminist sense. The female lead may not always be what we wish to see as far as being a role model, but male lead roles are not always made to look in a favorable light either. They are all simply characters intended to appeal to a target audience, bring enjoyment, attract praise from the critics, and generate profits. That is why we cannot get caught up in the seriousness of something so oblivious to the world. There is a reason why these characters are exaggerated and so unlike ourselves. It is called entertainment and maybe we should just sit back, munch our munchies, and enjoy the unreality of it all.