March 30, 2010

"Strong Female Leads"

When I browse the film selection on Netflix, the site offers me the following categories to "mix and match": Comedies, Crime, Dark, Dramas, Emotional, Independent, Romantic, Showbiz, Strong Female Leads, TV Dramas, TV shows. This list is based on the "Taste Preferences" I set for myself. Recently, I've been getting a lot of suggestions from the "Strong Female Leads" category, which got me thinking. The more I think about it, the more it pisses me off. I mean, I
do prefer films with strong female leads. But this category seems problematic to me. It suggests that a film with a strong female lead is distinctive from other films with female leads because of her strength. Strong as opposed to... weak? They don't give you the option to prefer "Weak Female Leads." If the "Strong Female Lead" category is seen as a subset of the "Female Lead" category, the implication is that the majority of cinematic female leads are not strong. Not to mention that since this is a "preference" option, it means that people can decide, No, I don't prefer films with "Strong Female Leads." I prefer all the other films, you know, with the normal, non-strong women in them.

This probably wouldn't bother me if they gave you the option of a "Strong Male Leads" preference. Why isn't there a "Strong Male Leads" category, and what does its absence mean? I see only one option, really: male leads are strong. It's as if to say, "Strong Male Leads!? Isn't that repetitive?" This isn't actually true. I can think of plenty (plenty) of films with weak male leads. Of course, these films tend to be about said male's transformation into a stronger male (sometimes with the help of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and sometimes with the help of sports montages.)

It's also worth mentioning that if you take a look at the "Strong Female Leads" category, there are some films in there that sort of make you go, Huh? Like, Twilight. No. I'm totally serious. Twilight. Films like The Nanny Diaries, My Best Friend's Wedding, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days seem to mock the more appropriate inclusions. These are strong female leads? The inclusion of other films like, Monster, Grey Gardens, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? make me wonder if "Strong Female Lead" = "Insane Female Lead." Which is even more alarming. Sure, Aileen Wuornos was a memorable woman in history, but I wouldn't house her under the same umbrella with, like, Queen Elizabeth. That seems to imply that any woman who doesn't stay in some kind of 1950s conception of the normative female gender role belongs in the same category, whether she was a serial killer or the Queen of England. Bella Swan = Erin Brokovich. I kind of want to meet whoever is in charge of the "Strong Female Leads" category. I am really, really curious at this point. I mean, 27 Dresses is in there with The Silence of the Lambs. It is sacrilegious.

Doesn't it just make you hurt? This whole thing sort of makes me hurt. I think it is positive to support and encourage cinema that depicts women as strong, but I don't think Netflix's "Strong Female Leads" category is helping us out. It's really just symptomatic of the popularity of destructive depictions of women in film (specifically in film marketed to women.) So what combative strategies are there? I think the best thing to do is to celebrate film made by, for, and about strong women, and hope that this industry won't continue to profit by depicting women as weak.

Speaking of depressing, has anyone seen the trailer for ABC Family's made for TV movie starring Hillary Duff, entitled, Beauty and the Briefcase? Fuck you ABC Family. Fuck you very much.

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