Four Movies You Don't Realize Are Sexist Until You Watch Them Again

March 7th 2016

Mackensie Graham

It's the weekend. You have a big bowl of popcorn in your lap, remote in hand, and you settle in for a Netflix night. You turn on an old favorite film — only to drop popcorn out of your mouth.

A trite, sexist stereotype suddenly appears on screen. How is it that you never noticed this cleverly disguised sexism before?

Inequality in films can be challenging to spot, and, in many instances, it pops up through small actions or symbolism, whether intentional or not. But many classic movies have a biased approach to gender. Here are just a few.

1. "Jurassic World"

There is no denying that dinosaurs and Chris Pratt in one film make for an exciting, enticing movie.

But woman don't get fair representation in this action film. The first problem is the shoes — those damn high heels — that make an appearance in way too many scenes. Claire Dearing, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is a successful, enterprising woman who is pretty darn great at her job as Jurassic World’s operations manager. She even helps save the day by releasing the terrifying T. rex to fight the bloodthirsty Indominus in the climactic dino brawl.

But while Claire is being a badass and running like mad, she’s still in these uncomfortable-looking heels. All the shots with the heels seem to reinforce the idea that a woman has to wear such shoes no matter what the situation is.

That being said, Howard has defended the choice of footwear in an interview with Variety. “I think my dad is going to be more scared that I ran around the entire film in high heels than any dinosaur chasing after me,” she said. “At the beginning I was kind of against the idea of wearing them, but then one day while looking at the terrain prior to a shoot, I just looked at Colin and said, ‘I think I’ll keep the shoes on.'" The actress actually declined to wear a pair of platform wedged sneakers that were disguised to look like her nude pumps and stuck with heels.

Beyond the hellish heels, there is this pervasive feeling of sexism, particularly when Claire and Owen (Pratt) share a scene. Despite Claire’s executive position, she’s portrayed as an uptight, ice queen compared to Pratt's dino wrangler, who is energetic, brave, and down to Earth. The gender roles are reinforced through the characters' dialogue: Owen tosses in sexual innuendo about discussing "business" in his bungalow. When Claire declines, Owen shifts the conversation to recounting how she's overly controlling and blames her for not having a second date. (Watch in the clip below.)

For his part, director Colin Trevorrow acknowledged that the main characters are "stereotypes," speaking in a statement to Bad Taste. But in a response to comments by director Joss Whedon, Trevorrow insisted that the stereotypes are broken down through the course of the film.

"I wasn’t bothered by what [Whedon] said about the movie and, to be honest, I don’t totally disagree with him. I wonder why [Universal] chose a clip like that, that shows an isolated situation within a movie that has an internal logic. That starts with characters that are almost archetypes, stereotypes that are deconstructed as the story progresses. The real protagonist of the movie is Claire, and we embrace her femininity in the story’s progression. There’s no need for a female character that does things like a male character; that’s not what makes interesting female characters in my view. Bryce and I have talked a lot about these concepts and aspects of his character."

Could "Jurassic World" have had characters who break stereotypes from the the beginning and then continue to evolve?

2. "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"

This movie is the classic rom-com: it's fun, cute, and downright enjoyable (especially if you’re into Matthew McConaughey or Kate Hudson).

But the sexism is there. For an article in a Cosmo-like magazine, Hudson's sexy, smart, independent character sets out to alienate McConaughey’s character by doing things a supposed normal woman would do. If she succeeds with this nonsense — doing things that "make" men flee — she might be able to write about politics and "real" things at her magazine. McConaughey’s character, meanwhile, has made a bet with his pals that he can get any woman to fall in love with him in exchange for a chance at a big advertising account. Of course he sets his sights on Hudson's character.

What are the things Hudson's "normal woman" does? Redecorate his bathroom in pink, talk endlessly during a movie and blame him for her eating disorder.

Yes, it’s funny at times. But the idea that this is normal female behavior is simply sexist. Yes, some women listen to Stevie Nicks and love romantic comedy marathons, but many men do, too. This idea that it's the woman who always messes up the relationship with overbearing actions and erratic emotions that goes too far. Both women and men are at fault for the end of relationships, usually because of poor communication or dishonesty, rather than a dying love fern or tampons in the bathroom!

3. "Sixteen Candles"

The 1984 classic starring Molly Ringwald is easy to adore. It has all the elements of Eighties teenagedom that made high school a backdrop for drama. However, "Sixteen Candles" also has roaring elements of sexual assault and lack of consent. The hunky boy, Jake, that Ringwald's Sam is passively pining for encourages the date rape of his girlfriend Caroline. After a house party, Caroline is visibly intoxicated and Jake tells Ted ("the geek") to drive her home and "have fun with her." Jake (who may be the absolute worst), precedes this by saying that if he were into her anymore he would "violate her 10 different ways" when she's passed out. Ted then replies, "What are you waiting for?" (Sigh.)

Ted, apparently acting out some classic cinematic nerd revenge and clear misogynistic illegality, takes Caroline to his friend's house where they encourage her to drink more and take pictures with her.

Later the audience sees Caroline's dress is bunched up around her underwear and it becomes clear in the morning scene that the characters did indeed have sex. Ted asks Caroline if she enjoyed it to which she replies, "You know, I have this weird feeling I did!" Are we suppose to accept this blatant nonconsensual sex as hilarious and okay because it involved a "nerd" and a "popular girl?" A resounding no.

The movie is also incredibly racist with the constant gong-introduction and jokes about the Chinese foreign exchange student, but we'll save that for another article.

Silver lining: Ringwald's smart character Sam doesn't undergo a makeover that makes her suddenly attractive...unlike so many other films.

4. "Her"

With tools like Apple's Siri it's not impossible to imagine how a man like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) could fall in love with the artificially intelligent female voice of an operating system, AKA Samantha. And, it's easy to let the sexism slide by in "Her" because Twombly is an emotional, sensitive man, (the final scene is especially apologetic, gorgeous, and redeeming). But, this film is centered around him much more than "her." We see this idea of a woman presented in an overly idealistic way. The "how may I help you?" mentality, ability to clean up the man's messes, and constant doing of chores for the man represents the objectification of women that is flawed. Yes, of course, we can take this one and chalk it up to an entirely different situation—one of technology this is inherently owned, not a person. Yet, when the best partner for the man is organized, simple, predictable (anything but a messy, complicated, real woman) it's clear to see that misogyny runs throughout the film. Then there's the point Jezebel made: Why do we have to constantly sexualize technology that is otherwise without sexuality and gender?


Case in point? The main character feels hurt and betrayed when Samantha doesn't respond to his affections in the way he wants after she's gained the ability to choose and leave.

Combating Sexism in Hollywood.

You can argue that this is small stuff, compared to the actual sexism that rears its ugly head at people in business, relationships, and just about everywhere else. But it's all intertwined. Subtle sexism in films reinforces the idea on an unconscious level that sexism (in all of its forms) is OK. That's regressive, not progressive, for society. So how do you begin to change this? Start by recognizing sexism in films like these, then zoom out and look at the big picture ... say hello Hollywood.

This theme plays out on-screen as well as the off-screen contracts. Jennifer Lawrence, among other A-list actresses, have drawn attention to the wide, and un-substantiated gender pay gap in the industry.

In a conversation with FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver about her book, Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg touched on the pervasive sexism in tech as well as Hollywood.

“The data on gender equality in every industry is horrible. It’s bad in Hollywood, and it’s bad in my own industry, technology, as well. Women became 50 percent of college graduates in this country in 1981. That’s decades ago—that’s plenty of time for women to get to the top in the same numbers as men. It hasn’t happened," she said. "What’s really holding us back are these stereotypes. We don’t believe women should lead, so when they do, we react negatively. We don’t believe men should be caregivers, so when they do, we tell them to man up.”

Many female (and male) stars and industry people have spoken out recently about the stubborn sexism in the film business. That bias applies to celebrities as well as directors, writers, and show creators.

In May 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union called for an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission into what they deemed the “systemic failure” to hire women directors in the TV and film industry. (In a study commissioned by the Women In Film Los Angeles and the Sundance Institute, just 1.9 percent of directors were women for the 100 top-grossing films in 2013 and 2014.) By focusing on hiring more women in key decision-making roles, the idea is to cut through the perception and practice of a gendered marketplace in Hollywood. With more women making managing decisions in media, different perspectives and the implicit biases that worm their way into directing and character writing can grow more diversified.

More women involved behind the scenes is one place to start; another chance for change would be to have more women on-screen (even as extras). Actress Geena Davis cited that the ratio of male to female characters hasn’t changed since 1946 while speaking up about limited opportunities for women in Hollywood.

But, not all is lost. Campaigns like #AskHerMore are looking to go beyond the stereotypes. The initiative is run by The Representation Project and "inspires people to call out sexist reporting and suggest ways to re-focus on women’s achievements." Instead of, say, who they're wearing or dating or their beauty regimine.

Next time you watch a film, analyze it with the Bechdel Test. (You can even apply it to Disney princess movies, as these linguists did.) It asks this simple question about a film: Do two women speak to each other about something than a man? If not, that should tell you something about the movie's inherent sexism.