feminism film MeToo

The Effects of the #MeToo Movement on the Male Gaze in Hollywood

The male gaze has dominated film, TV, and media in general for the last 100 years. The male gaze is most commonly defined as the portrayal, definition, and sexualization of women from a masculine, heterosexual lens; whose goal is to present women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer. The male gaze has influenced every aspect of Hollywood and filmmaking from what films are made, who is making them, how women are portrayed, to even how films are marketed. This structure has been such a powerful force within the industry and is seemingly untouchable as it has also warped the female perspective as a whole.

Nina Menkes in her essay for Filmmaker explained the influence perfectly as she states: “The actual language of cinema, the shot design itself, the way that women are photographed, creates a sort of subconscious indoctrination that all of us absorb, women and men.” Women have been overly saturated with media that has portrayed them in such an inaccurate and negative light, that they themselves have subconsciously adapted those inaccuracies. However, this commanding structure has been shaken by the recent #MeToo movement that swallowed Hollywood and forced it to recognize the manipulation, misrepresentation, and abuse happening to women both on and off screen. With a movement so monumental as #MeToo and a perspective so corrupt as the male gaze, one has to wonder: has the #MeToo movement had any effects on the male gaze and how the female experience is captured on screen?

To some extent, yes. However, the male gaze is a perspective that has been in place for so long that there needs to be years of extensive change and conscious effort in order to make a dent in its hold. Historically, the male gaze has been the result of the majority of films being created by men and men creating a power dynamic that discourages female filmmakers. Many female roles considered as classic characters, such as the eye-candy, the girl next door, the sidekick, and the adoring girlfriend have all stemmed from the perception of women in relation to men, instead of by themselves, that the male gaze has created. Not only have the types of characters written for women been regulated by misogyny, but so have the way they are filmed. In regard to cinematography, the viewer is used to seeing the camera follow the female body more than anything else. Lingering shots on female form, chest, legs, and behind have become the norm, however the male form is never objectified in such a way. Women have been given a 360-degree view of what they are “supposed” to look like rather than being presented with a character of substance.

While all of this has been common ground for most of Hollywood and is still apparent today, the rise of #MeToo has made the film industry take strides towards a future focused on female empowerment. First and foremost, Hollywood has distanced itself from the more “traditional” female roles as they have come under intense scrutiny with the broadcasting of the mistreatment of women within the industry. Which female roles become popularized has been taken more seriously as of late. As have the types of stories being told and from whose perspective. Films like I, Tonya, Birds of Prey, and Bombshell in their own right demonstrate the growth since #MeToo when it comes to the male gaze.

I, Tonya takes an unreliable female protagonist’s story and tells it from multiple narratives/perspectives and allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions. Rather than projecting a story with a woman at the center (who is also based on a real life individual) from one perspective and truth that would have most likely been adapted to fit a narrative that works in relation to the male characters and in turn the male gaze, the film tells multiple stories. Because when in doubt, Hollywood will revert back to what it knows best. This structure choice allowed for Tonya to be at the center of the story without being influenced by the male gaze, but also ultimately compared her story to those of the men in the film, commenting on vast differences between the perspectives on the story as a whole, but Tonya as a woman as well.

Birds of Prey as a whole subverts the male gaze by going against many tropes that have plagued women in superhero films for years, and in its predecessor Suicide Squad, which was filmed before the #MeToo outcry. The film rejected the idea of sexiness when it came to its main heroine Harley Quinn and created a look that represented the character’s personality and growth by labeling her clothing in her own name, instead of by someone else, as can be seen in Suicide Squad. The cinematography of the film refused to objectify its female characters’ bodies and instead highlighted their skills and how well-developed their fighting was. The film used it’s predecessor, which highly objectified its female characters, as a blueprint of what not to do.

Bombshell is an example of the female experience finally being taken more seriously. The film is based on the accounts of women who worked at Fox News, that set out to reveal the sexual harassment surrounding Fox and its biggest perpetrator, Roger Ailes. The film is an account of the real-life struggles women faced at Fox; the type of behavior that fueled #MeToo in the first place. The film also contains a controversial dress-lifting scene, which many male directors were quick to label as problematic. However, what they fail to see is how they misrepresent women in films constantly and this scene in particular was so effective because it made male (and female) audiences so uncomfortable, which is also the reason it is highly criticized. Bombshell is the type of film that would have been difficult to make before #MeToo and represents the types of stories we need. What all of these films highlight is that there is progress being made in the development of the female gaze and the male gaze has is slowly being disassembled.

These films focus on the generality of the male gaze; details like how women are filmed, the type of characters they play and the stories they are a part of. However, since #MeToo there have been extensive developments in a more specific area of the male gaze, that being how violence against women is portrayed on screen. “Violence as a release of fantasy has worked as an immortal trope in Hollywood for decades, making the link between real-world sexual violence and depictions of violence against women in movies cause for ongoing interrogation” (Hope 2018). Women have been depicted in violent situations casually, never truly as victims, and more so as warm bodies very consistently since the early eighties. Even in situations where women should gain the sympathy of the viewer, the male gaze has cautioned the viewer against it. Furthermore, the sexual nature of these violent images has some physiological standing. In 1984 the New York Times published a story (“Violence Against Women in Films”) that examined a study from the American Psychological Association confirming that, “violence as a sexual stimulant for men, as well as a survey, which found that “one in eight movies commercially released in 1983 depicted violent acts against women, a sharp increase from 1982 when the rate was one movie in 20” (Hope 2018). The male gaze and psyche have contorted the way we look at women in relation to violence, almost making it seem natural and as if any violence is justified.

However, this was not always the case. In the early days of Hollywood and the Production Code era, women were sexualized, but not in a violent way. The “censorship codes required that the kinkier and more aggressive modes of expression would remain either unexpressed, or buried firmly in the underground” (Hope 2018). Going back even further to the pre-production code era, writers, many of whom were female, wrote films with violence against women as the subject in hopes that if “a men knew what women really went through, they would be kinder and more empathetic towards them, and there would be less domestic violence” (Hope 2018). Although, after the codes were lifted, male filmmakers had the opportunity to express everything they had held back before, that being an “explicit sex and violence, and anger and frustration towards women” (Hope 2018). Since then the relationship between sex and violence has only gotten closer and has warped societies attitude towards real life women in violent situations.

The age of #MeToo has brought much criticism to this immoral sub-division of the male gaze and has condemned the leading user of this trope, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino is known for illustrating gory, disturbing, and graphic violence on his female characters. His most recent film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, also released during a time of peak awareness for the female experience, was the topic of many contentious conversations. The film tells the story of the tragic murder of Sharon Tate. During the film’s climax two women, Katie and Sadie, and one man, Tex, from the Manson Family cult attack an actor and stuntman, Booth and Dalton. The two are seen defending themselves against the cult members, but the violence against Tex in relation to that of Katie and Sadie is drastically different. Tex “gets mauled by Booth’s pitbull in a series of shaky, unclear shots: a moment of comedy is sprinkled in when the dog goes for his crotch” (Collins 2019). Katie directly attacks Booth, “which leads to various extended shots of a perfectly still camera as Booth picks her up by the hair and smashes her face into the countertop multiple times” (Collins 2019).  The contrast in cinematography demonizes Sadie, while making Tex seem unthreatening, even though he is the one holding the only gun in the scene and in-tern should be the most threatening. The scene continues with Sadie burning to death dramatically as Dalton uses a flamethrower on her. “While we get two extended shots of Katie’s mutilated face and Sadie’s charred body, Tex’s corpse remains unseen. It is clear that, while we get a laugh out of Tex’s death, the extended, gory shots for these women are the more joy–sparking” (Collins 2019).  The lingering shots on the women’s dead bodies are disturbing to say the least and show a complete disregard for any type of true justice, as the most dangerous and dominant person, Tex, does not receive the same treatment and fate. Tarantino is a perfect example of the corrupt gaze and personalities that control Hollywood, and how that perspective can have detrimental real-life consequences in how women are treated and perceived.

While it was bold for Tarantino to make that choice in the era of #MeToo; his status was predominantly why he was able to make such a film that was not completely rejected for its portrayals of violence. However, in the past year especially, a film like that would not have been as accepted with recent conversations of not only violence against women, but violence against minorities. A more recent film, A Promising Young Woman, reclaims the trope of violence against women and displays the expansion of the female landscape and the changes coming about because of #MeToo. The plot follows the main protagonist Cassie Thomas, who dropped out of medical school to take care of her best friend, Nina, after she was raped, as no one believed her. Cassie gets her revenge on the “bastards” of the world by feigning drunkenness at clubs, waiting and allowing men to think they have the upper hand and take her home, only to confront them as her sober self when they try to take advantage of her. The film reverses the situation that so many women experience and put the men, literally, in the female experience. Cassie is given all the power, and in turn control over situations and the violence that takes place.

In a drastic turn of events, as Cassie is getting revenge on Nina’s rapist, Al, she herself is murdered. Although, in the end it was revealed that she had precautions in place if such a thing happened, and ends up getting her revenge, as Al’s life is ruined. In the moment one might think Cassie finally met her match and lost her grip on violence she clung to. When in actuality the opposite occurred, Cassie seemingly in a way let herself get killed-making the decision herself, having full control of the violence taking place- in order to give Al the full extent of punishment she could, a life of pain, alone in jail. A fate worse than death. The film has been highly recognized by the academy, proving that films that renounce and subvert the male gaze can be successful and project a more accurate understanding of the world we live in for both men and women.

The #MeToo movement has become a catalyst for so many changes in Hollywood. The number of female directors and writers has increased over the last couple of years. The female based stories that have been told have much more substance and social impact. But most prominently, the male gaze has been truly challenged for the first time in Hollywood’s history. Misconceptions and inaccurate portrays of women have finally been challenge and confronted. However, the number of women behind the screen is nowhere near the number it should be, female experience stories still have a difficult time being created and the male gaze still reigns dominant over Hollywood. While it is important to acknowledge the changes brought about, there is still a long way to go in order to achieve a more inclusive, accurate and positive Hollywood. The film industry has had many trials and tribulations and will continue too, but with the rise of #MeToo, there is hope that the viewers that makes these films so successful, also have the power to transform the current power structure in place and force Hollywood to create stories that reflect the actual world we live in.

Works Cited

Collins, Anna, and Anna Collins. “’Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ and Tarantino’s Violence Against Women.” 34th Street Magazine, 34th Street, 3 Sept. 2019.

Dawn, Randee. “Filmmakers Work to Reframe the ‘Male Gaze’.” Variety, 24 Jan. 2020.

Hope, Clover. “The Effects of #MeToo on Film’s Violent Male Gaze.” Culture, 6 Apr. 2018.

Liu, Rebecca. “‘Yes, Girls, We Love Your Corpses’: Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman’.” Another Gaze: A Feminist Film Journal, 22 Apr. 2021.

Rahman-Jones, Gurvinder Gill and Imran. “Me Too Founder Tarana Burke: Movement Is Not Over.” BBC News, 9 July 2020.

Valenti, Lauren. “How Promising Young Woman Uses Bold, Candy-Colored Beauty to Further Its Powerful Message.” Vogue, Vogue, 19 Apr. 2021.

Wardlow, Ciara. “How ‘Birds of Prey’ Deconstructs the Male Gaze.” The Hollywood Reporter, 13 Feb. 2020.

feminism MeToo television

Whedon Part Two: Misogynists Behind the Feminist Mask

In today’s patriarchal society, it is men who are often recognized for their feminist efforts above others. When a man embraces the title of ‘feminist,’ everyone “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” at his bravery and thanks him for his efforts, despite the effort often just being the statement of feminism. The reality is, many male “feminists” do little else besides claiming the title of feminist. In fact, many men use the title itself to avoid being “#MeToo’d” or to evade being questioned as sexist. In particularly insidious instances, such as the case of former New York politician Eric Schneiderman who voted in favor of laws that would advocate for women’s rights while at the same time abusing his wife and mistresses, these men will actively participate in advocating for feminist issues while being horribly abusive and misogynistic behind closed doors.

In the entertainment industry, the man in the hot seat of this issue right now is Joss Whedon. Whedon is perhaps best known for one of his earliest works, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. By placing a bubbly, meek-looking, shoe-loving teenage girl in the driver’s seat of this action-packed monster-of-the-week series, Whedon subverted all expectations of gender roles in television at the time. Since the show aired, it has been analyzed and beloved by academics for its gender-subverting themes and outwardly feminist ideals, which have been explored in its own academic journal, Slayage, created by the Whedon Studies Association. However, since Whedon’s darker side has been coming to light in recent years, it’s important to take a closer look at the underlying messages Buffy was actually sending to the girls and women who grew up looking to this show as their image of girl power and feminism. What does it mean for viewers when a closeted misogynist makes feminist media? What lessons can we learn twenty years post-Buffy; is the damage already done? How can we as consumers and creators of media prevent misogynist ideals from seeping into our work and our society?

Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a force of nature, both the show and the character. In watching the show, Whedon’s feminist merits are clear and it’s immediately obvious why so many girls and women love Buffy. One important point of the show was that despite being the “one and only” slayer, Buffy never worked alone. Whedon surrounded Buffy with powerful women allies like Willow, an extremely powerful witch with a knack for hacking and technological research; Anya, a former vengeance-demon whose emotions are arguably the most powerful thing about her; Cordelia, who, despite being your stereotypical popular mean girl, proves to be a fierce fighter; Dawn, Buffy’s younger sister who starts as a meek child but blossoms into a primary researcher and confident fighter; Tara, a kind and empathetic witch; as well as countless other fierce women who come and go throughout the series.

Whedon has been praised for these consistent displays of powerful femininity in its many different forms and for putting women in positions of power while pushing men into the passenger seat. In fact, acts of toxic masculinity are not only discouraged but actively punished within the show. One of many Buffy academics, Angelica Divito, states in her essay “I Want to be a Macho Man’: Examining Rape Culture, Adolescent Female Sexuality, and the Destabilisation of Gender Binaries in Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that “Whedon routinely punishes macho masculine fantasies and behaviour in BtVS when they centre on diminishing women to inflate male illusions of power.” Additionally, unlike other sci-fi or action stories of prior days, Whedon chose not to masculinize Buffy for her to be considered a “strong woman.” While it can be argued that Buffy performs masculinity in the violence she ensues and therefore is reaffirming patriarchal superiority, she still maintains her own personality and femininity in her style, way of speaking, and interests. Despite being violent, aggressive, and blunt, she still has emotional breakdowns, leans on her friends for emotional support, and indulges in fun, teenage activities like having movie marathons and going to prom. All of this subverts the expectations of an action hero in general, especially subverting the expectations that a female action hero needs to be masculine in order to be as effective as the traditionally male heroes. Whedon wanted to not only challenge the idea of “the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie” to “create someone who was a hero where she had always been a victim,” as he detailed in the DVD commentary for season one, but also to resist the invincible, masculine hero stereotype and to “keep that quirkiness, that vulnerability… She’ll make the joke, she’ll get scared, she’ll be a person in that situation and not just Superman.” Due to these subversions and emphases placed on women being powerful because of their womanhood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a fast favorite amongst teenage girls looking to see themselves reflected in media. Subsequently, Whedon became the face of feminist television of the late ’90s and early ’00s, even being honored by Equality Now for his “outstanding contributions to gender equality in film and television,” speaking on multiple occasions about his passion for gender equality and affinity for representing powerful women in his stories.

Obviously, things have taken quite the turn since then. The shift in public opinion of Whedon began in 2017 when Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole published a blog detailing his extramarital affairs. Initially, fans and critics were resistant to the idea that a private affair had anything to do with Whedon’s feminist accolades. In the letters Whedon wrote to Cole in which he admitted to the affairs, he wrote, “when I was running Buffy, I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” While one’s marital issues are in no way necessarily correlated to their stances on feminist issues, this line is rather incriminating, as he describes himself as unable to resist his sexual urges towards young women as a person in a position of power. He knew his authority made any romantic or sexual interaction with coworkers or actors an act of coercion, yet he could not resist. More recently, in 2020, actor Ray Fisher took to Twitter to say that Whedon’s “on-set treatment of the cast and crew of Justice League was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable…”, a statement backed by Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa who both worked on Justice League alongside Whedon and Fisher. Following Fisher’s statement, Buffy actress Charisma Carpenter released her personal experiences of the abuse she faced at the hands of Whedon primarily on the set of the spin-off series Angel. Carpenter’s experiences were backed by Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as countless other Buffy actors like Michele Trachtenberg, Amber Benson, James Marsters, David Boreanaz, Eliza Dushku, Buffy stunt double Sophia Crawford and stunt coordinator Josh Pruitt, and writer Jose Molina. To sum up, these actors and industry professionals all assert that Whedon was routinely “casually cruel,” “not appropriate,” “threatening,” an “ego-maniac” and a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals.” 

Now that we are equipped with this knowledge of Whedon’s true nature, what else is lurking in the subtext of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? One main pattern that runs continuously through the series is how Whedon uses female pain as plot devices. It could be argued that this is inevitable considering the titular character is a woman who battles evil daily. However, stacking it up next to what the men in this show experience will reveal a frightening lack of equality in trauma experienced. First of all, when seventeen-year-old Buffy has sex for the first time, it’s with her first love, the 240-ish-year-old vampire, Angel. In addition to the statutory rape angle, Buffy is immediately punished for having sex when Angel turns evil due to the act and proceeds to mentally torture her and her friends for the remainder of the season. He kills one of Buffy’s most coveted allies, the powerful “technopagan” and teacher, Jenny Calendar just to send a message; the first of the entirely unnecessary female deaths. The most notable being Willow’s girlfriend, Tara, whose death happened suddenly and without warning after being an established and beloved part of the show for two seasons.

Whedon maintains that Tara’s death was “necessary” in order for Willow to hit “rock bottom” so her character could complete her full arc, fulfilling the bury-your-gays trope. In the same episode — universally everyone’s least favorite episode — Buffy becomes a survivor of sexual assault after her vampiric former enemy-turned former lover, Spike hits his rock bottom in a harrowing scene that left many of the actors and viewers scarred. Whedon never allows Buffy to process this and the audience never gets to see the effects this has on her. “You tried to rape me — I don’t have the words,” Buffy said and Whedon wrote, refusing to take this opportunity to address a reality that many women experience and take a stance on violence against women. She never speaks on it again. However, Spike in turn gets a major story arc from this assault, leaving Sunnydale to get his soul back in a journey of redemption. The viewers are supposed to forgive him of these actions as Buffy does. Buffy’s involvement in this plot point had very little to do with her or her story. If the series were combed with a fine-tooth, so much more hair-raising, vomit-inducing anti-feminist messages would be discovered. As far as male trauma in the series goes — Buffy’s advisor experiences a great loss when Jenny is killed, as they were romantically involved, and that’s about it. The series explores past traumas of Spike and Angel, but none happen during the time the series takes place that has a lasting impact on the characters or the plot. Whedon almost exclusively uses the trauma of the powerful women he claims to admire and advocate for as the basis of his entertainment.

So what can be done now that we see the misogynistic imprint Joss left throughout Buffy? Unfortunately, there’s no way to ensure that rampant sexists don’t make popular television shows. However, we can continue to look at new media with the critical eye that many will denounce as “political correctness” or “cancel culture.” It is exactly this harsh examination — in real-time, not twenty years too late — that will help us evaluate the themes we’re consuming as a society and weed out the harmful ones. Teaching children media literacy will be a huge tool in this. Children absorb and internalize information at astonishing rates and in ways we still don’t fully understand. According to research compiled by Common Sense Research:

“In adolescence, media use is associated with more tolerant views of sexual harassment and more support for the belief that women are at least partially responsible for their own sexual assaults… including the tolerance of sexual harassment, acceptance of dating violence, and the endorsement of rape myths, a set of beliefs suggesting that women’s behavior and choices are to blame for rape.”

Adolescents watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer would not only internalize the deconstruction of gender roles and the images of powerful women who own their womanhood, but they would also take in the ideas that women’s trauma is a necessary part of life, that sexual assault isn’t a big deal, and that while men may not be a central part of the narrative, a woman’s decisions are always revolving around them. While Whedon imparted some important and valuable ideas of girl-power into the youth of the ‘00s, he also did them a huge disservice by serving up violently misogynistic themes alongside the feminist ones. Unfortunately, they flew under the radar while he hid his hatred and objectification of women behind a mask of equalism.

Dazed writer Marianne Eloise sums it up best by saying that “Being a good ally to women isn’t as simple as calling yourself a feminist: it’s actions, it’s words, it’s actually defending the rights of women. It’s elevating the voices of women you don’t want to fuck. It’s being willing to be challenged.” We can’t erase or ignore Whedon’s significant impact on television and women in media, but we can keep a watchful eye, teach one another how to interpret the media we consume, and continue to challenge ourselves, our peers, and our leaders to listen to the voices of those we’re telling our stories about, and to only tell stories that reduce harm and make a statement.

feminism film MeToo

The Casting Couches Are Talking…

Casting couch culture. What is it really? I know we have all heard of Harvey Weinstein and his role in casting couch culture, but besides his horrific acts what is the exact definition of casting couch culture? The technical definition is: “a situation in which someone has sex in return for getting a job, especially in show business.” As a woman, I’m in support for people to be able to do whatever with their bodies. However, when it comes to sexual favors for things in return is it ever truly consensual? My point of view on this situation is that there is definitely a power play when it comes to casting couch culture. Phrases like “you are never going to work in this industry again” sway people to make rash choices. Three big factors that come into this conversation are consent, hierarchy, and the stories told. One of my biggest fears coming into the industry is powerful people who can make life-altering decisions based on your actions. Many people have and are speaking out about their stories when dealing with casting couch culture and the people controlling the room. It’s time to hear what happens behind closed doors and give the casting couch a place to wither away.

The casting couch has been a part of the industry for a very long time now, and before you even ask it did not start with Harvey Weinstein and nor did it end with him. Luckily, putting Harvey Weinstein in prison brought a much needed microscope to the conversation. Cari Beauchamp wrote the book Without Lying Down: Francis Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. She delves into the story of Louis B. Mayer who, long before Harvey, was known for mistreating women and destroying their careers in any way he could when told no. Beauchamp explains that the abuse doesn’t stop at the casting couch, and it continues with producers telling people that they can’t get jobs without looking a certain way. Now I am aware that these are all non-consensual instances but allowing the casting couch culture to continue with its already blurred lines could lead to another Mayer or Weinstein. I’d like to bring in the example of teachers, where you have someone of authority and students who mind this authority figure, the chances of a student making the decision to do favors for the teacher are higher than a student saying no. When in show business you may not have the age difference, but you still have the hierarchy there, which leads me to believe that consent in this situation is based on the menacing factor of authority.

While I do think the casting couch should end, will it ever really end while we still have people in positions of power? Removing the statue of Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch isn’t enough. I think the best way to mitigate the effects of casting couch culture is to start putting either social workers in the rooms or intimacy trainers who are trained in protecting people from assault. This is just one way that I believe will help the industry overall. Another way people are finding help is through the Violence Against Women Act. This act allows their voices to be heard and not silenced. However even with all of these ways of protecting people we still seem lost on who to blame and how to maneuver these cases. One of the biggest concerns is how people find safety when put in this position. We would immediately assume that you could turn to the people running the audition rooms or sending you on these jobs, but that isn’t the case. Most companies don’t take responsibility when complaints are made and some even turn them away to avoid liability. So, finding a safe haven seems impossible to new timers and even veterans of the industry. Having a middle person in any of these situations could prevent these traumatic situations from happening and finding the people OR COMAPANIES at fault will be a big step for the industry.

Not only does the perpetrator not take responsibility but the companies involved don’t as well. When looking into the legality of everything coming out about casting couch culture there is an obvious (but silent) party lurking in the back. SAG-AFTRA a union meant for actors working in the industry. The technical definition of union is “an organized association of workers formed to PROTECT and further their rights and interests; a labor union.” With this in mind SAG-AFTRA has worked diligently to stay out of the light when considering their actors’ safety. This is another reason to consider why stopping the casting couch is a smart idea. The “authority” figure is taking advantage of the people that come into the room, but the company sponsoring these rooms and putting actors in them is SAG-AFTRA and they aren’t doing anything about the complaints. Women have spoken out about the abuse they have encountered when auditioning for new jobs and SAG-AFTRA has turned them away to avoid the liability. The lack of care given to these actors causes them to leave the industry all together. Is continuing the casting couch culture, under the idea of “consent”, a respectful reason when all these people have spoken about their horrific stories when dealing with it? NO. To continue to allow companies to get away with not protecting their employees is despicable.

The fact that people can give consent isn’t enough when we are discussing people’s futures and their “bosses” or soon to be bosses taking advantage of them. It’s manipulation at best. SAG and many other companies should start taking the fall for hiring people who think manipulation and assault is okay and being aware that it’s happening all around them. We should be taking steps to prevent this from happening, but large companies have other things that matter more.

Many people in the industry are guilty of this unspeakable crime and some producers even suggest putting sex on the table before even walking into the room. “…one of the producers suggested that she write “willing to give BJs” on her résumé if she really wanted to get parts.” Is this really the industry we all want to work in? Knowing the casting couch culture is still alive is terrifying to most aspiring actors; me being one of them. For many people in the industry this is an ongoing uphill battle. My goal for my future is to work as an actor in this, already rigorous, industry, but knowing the truth behind the table is discouraging.

I’m willing to bet I will come across this one day and all I can hope for is that I have the courage to stand up for myself and others because who knows if someone else will. I want to come into the industry knowing that people are fighting to stop this play of power and that people are being held accountable for their actions or lack thereof. “Hollywood is a business of freelancers going from one project to the next, a set that makes predators difficult to contain and blowing the whistle especially risky.” I think we are slowly but surely heading in the right direction to change this culture, but it’s about time we start holding people accountable. In any law case regarding sexual assault, it is known knowledge that you would be going after not only the people in the room but also the company. The #MeToo is causing a change in how people, and industry workers, view this culture. Soon enough there will be an uproar for justice.

The impact on projects and actors is severe when considering what they are put through. How does this directly affect the industry? It will soon start to be documented and many people will start to lose their jobs. Rightfully so, because many people left their hopes and dreams out in LA to avoid casting couch culture. An article from The Guardian says that “a survey found that 94% of women employed in the American film industry have experienced sexual harassment or assault.” This ranges from all different types of sexual harassment or assault, including: “unwelcome sexual comments, jokes or gestures” to being “forced to do a sexual act.” Women should feel comfortable when stepping into any room, but instead are given ultimatums. The Guardian also reported “that only one in four made a complaint, and that of those who did, only 28% said their situation improved as a result.” How will the actions of others affect the women being violated? “’When it comes to sexual harassment or sexual assault, our study shows that lived experiences may have a serious impact on women’s health, both mental and physical,’ Rebecca Thurston, a professor of psychiatry at the Pitt School of Medicine and the study’s senior author said in a press release.” Low morale causes for all sorts of issues in our lives. Personally, finding a way to put an end to casting couch culture will allow everyone to breathe a little more freely. This doesn’t change the fact that people will have to live with their memories forever.

The lasting effect will forever live on in every spectator and victim. This is just another reason for casting couch culture to end, and for people to fight for justice. Watching the trials on Harvey Weinstein was just a broadcasted version of what is happening every day in the industry. The stories are important to hear but very traumatic to tell so giving people the peace of mind knowing there is support out there is so important. While the big companies may not be any help, I hope that people can find their voice to speak out through the support of their agents, loved ones and community. Victims have to go through years of counseling and therapy and not everyone can afford treatment especially when a union doesn’t provide healthcare. There are hotlines for people to reach out to that provide information and support such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE). Creating a conversation for the general public to hear will allow people to become more knowledgeable and better support systems. Killing the casting couch is a must and it can only begin when everyone involved stops being silent… and that means big companies like SAG-AFTRA.

My overall point of view is to end casting couch culture and I’m aware that this wont happen overnight, but small steps are a huge success within the industry. Fighting for a positive change in the industry is worth all the trials and tribulation. There is no consent when dealing with an “authority” figure that has the power to manipulate. The play of power is the most detrimental thing within this industry. Harvey Weinstein being put in prison was a win for many women, but people are still being taken advantage of. The microscope on the industry needs to become much larger now that we have heard many stories, and we need to keep talking about this awful part of the showbusiness industry.

As a soon-to-be graduate, I feel the need to prepare myself for the worst and it’s an atrocious feeling. I hope the word keeps spreading to make this a well-known thing. I recently got to speak with a few working actors, and they wanted everyone to know that even if someone says that if you don’t do something you won’t make it in this industry, you will. Don’t let an angry person sway you to do something you aren’t comfortable with. Fight for what you believe in and speak out. It’s time to be the voice for the voiceless and find your own voice to END CASTING COUCH CULTURE.

Works Cited

Adams, Thelma. “Casting-Couch Tactics Plagued Hollywood Long Before Harvey Weinstein.” Variety, 17 Oct. 2017.

Fisher, Luchina. “How Hollywood’s Casting Couch Culture May Have Contributed to Weinstein’s Alleged Behavior.” ABC News, 12 Oct. 2017.

“A Guide for Friends and Family of Sexual Violence Survivors.” PCAR.

Haring, Bruce. “‘The Casting Couch In Hollywood Was Not Invented By Harvey Weinstein’ – Attorney Benjamin Brafman.” Deadline, Deadline, 3 Mar. 2018.

Harris, Elizabeth A. “How #MeToo Is Smashing the Casting Couch.” The New York Times, 30 Jan. 2020.

Pulver, Andrew. “94% Of Women in Hollywood Experience Sexual Harassment or Assault, Says Survey.” The Guardian, 21 Feb. 2018.

Yurcaba, Jo. “Exclusive: Violence Against Women Act to Offer Support to LGBTQ Survivors.”, 17 Mar. 2021.

Zimmerman, Amy. “Inside Hollywood’s Abusive Casting Couch Culture.” The Daily Beast, 10 Feb. 2019.

feminism film MeToo television

Are You Uncomfortable Yet?

As a woman, I’m always trying to define what a woman’s place is within the industry. When on set are we meant to feel uncomfortable or is it our job, nowadays, to make YOU feel uncomfortable? When I think about the roles that women play, I usually come up with a few coming-of-age roles, a ton of mean girl or sad girl roles, and the majority sex appeal roles. I was recently talking with a friend about how I love Margot Robbie for her part in I, Tonya and the only thing he could recall of her work was, of course, Wolf of Wall Street. Is this purely part of the dreaded “male-gaze” or is it a bigger issue within the industry?

In The Hollywood Reporter, Billie Piper delves into her own personal experience as a woman and how she genuinely feels about the roles she has been given. “Disingenuous” is the word she uses to describe the many sex scenes she had to take part in. Over many years women have felt objectified while in the industry, but now more than ever women are starting to create their own work that offers characters and plots that allow them to feel comfortable when on set. People are coming together to support causes that fight for their rights and actors like Billie Piper, Keira Knightley, and many more have been making a huge difference. How are women using their feminism and vulnerability to make you uncomfortable? It all comes down to people being afraid of what true womanhood looks like when it’s put on display, such as, breast feeding, masturbation and honestly the power that women hold altogether.

Billie Piper has worked on many different productions that have focused on her sexuality, while also not giving her a say in how its presented. Throughout society women are put into audition room after audition room being told how to look and act. Billie Piper delves into the character study of I Hate Suzie that was created by her and Lucy Prebble. She mentions to The Hollywood Reporter that “up until a few years ago, character studies like I Hate Suzie didn’t get the green light unless they were made by men.” Just like in I Hate Suzie women are constantly being robbed of agency and not only does the show touch on this topic but women are fighting to have this conversation every day. Sociologically, agency is a right given to everyone to make their own free choice. However, regardless of who you are and what you look like the industry takes that away in some ways from everyone. To make a living, women are going out for roles that don’t suit their personal morals and ethics. Due to recent societal changes people are now being given the chance to create their own work and women are taking the liberty to due so. Billie Piper speaks on the topic of perfect looking women gaining traction more than women who may not be as symmetrical as others. Why is this, you may ask? For the longest time the people behind the table were rich men who had enough money to control the decisions being made. Actors like Piper are sticking it to the man by going through with the characters she has created and plots that may make people see sides of women that “upset” them. What matters to the actors is becoming more prevalent in conversation now that women are speaking up. Creating work that stands out isn’t about selling tickets anymore, it’s about the audience relating to the characters.

Kiera Knightley is another woman that has had to make drastic changes to her way of approaching new productions. Since becoming a mother “Knightley added a ‘no nudity clause’ to her film contracts.” Kiera brings up an idea that she is portraying the male gaze when given roles that involve sex. Similarly to Knightley, Piper wants to make a change to the industry when considering the woman’s point of view. Piper speaks on the idea of selling sex and the aftereffects of sexual violence, but through a woman’s perspective. The drastic difference of how women are perceived through the male’s perspective is quite large, and therefore many women choose to not partake in sex scenes when directed by men. I think this decision is a strong start to more women feeling comfortable within the industry.

People think they own the right to feeling comfortable by the natural state of a woman, but that should never be the case. However, our society chooses to view women as someone who needs to tend to men’s comfortability. I believe Piper has the right idea when creating projects that delve into the mind of a woman. While these experiences are only one of many it still aims to please no one but the people who feel comfortable with vulnerable and strong women. So honestly it is our job to make people feel uncomfortable and be contemptuous for MEN. Because WOMEN are beautiful even in the darkest parts of our lives. After reading this article my gut reaction is to do everything in my power to make men see the true sides of women. Might even partake in free the nipple or breast feeding in public (obviously when I become pregnant) … Who knows what my next steps to this new version of me will be, but I’m excited to see the reactions I will be given. Piper will and has already inspired new creators to speak out about their experience in Hollywood and this is the start of a revolution.

feminism film

The Evolution of Women Representation in Horror Films

I was interested in horror films before I became interested in feminism. Since my youth, horror has been my favorite film genre but as I’ve gotten older, I have started to notice an evolution in the representation of women in the genre. Despite having more roles for women compared to other film genres, horror films are oftentimes criticized for the overtly misogynistic way that female characters are represented. Classic horror films such as Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist all featured female leads, but presented them as vulnerable, naïve, and powerless victims. Nowadays, modern horror films such as The Witch, It Follows, Hereditary and Midsommar have shifted that stance to portray women as survivors and strong protagonists. The primary focus of this study is to analyze the roles women play in horror films and how its representation of females has evolved over time. Women used to be underrepresented or cast into stereotypical roles in the film industry, but that has now transitioned into more nuanced performances that offer commentary on societal issues.

Since its beginnings, the horror genre victimized women. Films from the 1920s featured women who were fragile and defenseless, such as in Nosferatu (1922) when Ellen opens her window to let a vampire in, and she immediately faints from the shock. The gender roles that manifested in the 1930s began as a trend that ultimately led to almost a century of gender roles in film. Over the last century, films have depicted women as weak and men as powerful in almost all horror movies. University of Southern California Communications Professor Stacy Smith, who researches depictions of gender and race in film and TV, found that of the 5,839 characters in the top-grossing films released between 2006 and 2011, fewer than 30% were women. But there is one genre in specific where women not only take on increasingly prominent parts, but they appear and speak as often as men: horror films (Younger). As the film industry progressed over the years, it has turned women from being damsels in distress to becoming the heroines of their stories.

Nevertheless, before today’s heroines, came yesterday’s objectified females who suffered by the hands of male villains. Beginning with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror Psycho, women’s roles in horror films began to be sexualized for the pleasure of male audiences. Psycho paved the path for the birth of the slasher sub-genre by helping create the archetype of the disguised, mentally deranged killer who preys on innocent – if sexually indiscreet – young women (Horror Fandom). Psycho was so influential that many critics see it as a turning point in cinema history. However, although Psycho directly inspired slasher films, the sub-genre doesn’t officially exist until 1978s classic horror film Halloween (Vorel). Subsequently, this led to the introduction of the Final Girl – which slasher films tended to feature.

By the late 1970s, the Final Girl trope was introduced, and heavily featured in horror films. Friday the 13Th Director Sean S. Cunningham defined the concept of the Final Girl by saying, “The Final Girl in these little morality tales is the person who has embodied the moral code that society thinks allows you to go forward in life.” (Vitelli, Psychology Today.) As Caroline Madden from The Buzz explains it, the final girl is “the last one standing, and either escapes or kills the killer. Most final girls share certain characteristics – they are usually virgins that avoid the vices of the other victims, such as drugs or sex.” One of the main examples of the Final Girl is Laurie Strode from Halloween, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in four of the franchise’s films. Romeo Vitelli related the Final Girl phenomenon to rape myths that still remain in society today – where the “good girls” manage to survive, while the “bad girls” somehow deserve their gruesome deaths because of their sexual behavior.

The slasher sub-genre set a stereotypical perspective of female sexuality which was executed through the Final Girl trope as a way of killing female characters who had sex are first while women who were virginal survived until the end of the film. However, as the trope evolved, some feminists noticed that through this device, the males in the audiences were forced to identify with a woman in the climax of the movie, which in itself became a very powerful sword to wield (Hellerman). When women survived at the end of a movie, they forced men to watch them step into their own power.

One of the primary examples of Final Girl female empowerment comes from The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers. Many film critics and viewers even consider it to have set a new standard for horror films. The film tells the story of Thomasin (Played by Anya Taylor-Joy), an adolescent girl in Puritan New England. At the beginning of the film, she moves with her family away from civilization and into the wilderness. Misfortune after misfortune befalls the family and eventually, Thomasin finds herself under increasing suspicion from her parents. A major point of suspicion is her growing into female adulthood and sexuality. Ultimately, her entire family is killed and she decides to reject her Puritan lifestyle and becomes a witch. Despite being set centuries ago, the film speaks to issues we still face in modern society. In a way, it is a coming-of-age story with themes of slut-shaming and societal pressures on women, where the final scene can be interpreted as Thomasin ascending into womanhood. David Sims from The Atlantic states that “the film’s exploration of patriarchal power was the key to unlocking Thomasin’s story. As a woman in the seventeenth century, she’s entire stripped of agency. She exists only to work and help her family, and eventually be married off and bear more children.” But she is led down a different path. Historically, women who didn’t conform to the strict values of patriarchal society were labeled as witches. The Witch is praised for showcasing a young woman rejecting a patriarchal institution and gender-based suppression in order to live eternally free.

Another main example of a feminist modern horror film is Midsommar. Written and directed by Ari Aster, Midsommar is considered to have reimagined the scream queen concept. A scream queen, as Evan Romano explained in a Men’s Health article, can be many things, but we tend to think of it in terms of someone who can be easily identified with an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind horror movie performance. Urban Dictionary defines the term as “a female star of a horror film; so named because she spends a lot of time screaming.” In Midsommar, Florence Pugh gives a transformative performance as Dani. The film begins with her losing her entire family in a tragedy, and follows the story of Dani, her boyfriend Christian, and their group of friends as they go on a summer trip to Sweden. On the surface, Midsommar is a cult horror fable, but at its core, it is a tale about an unhealthy relationship. Before her family’s tragic death, Christian confesses to his friends that he wants to break up with Dani; and afterwards, he fails to provide any meaningful support, he repeatedly denies Dani’s emotions, steals another student’s thesis, speaks insensitively of Dani’s mentally ill sister, pressures Dani to take hallucinogenic drugs when she is sure she will have a bad trip, talks about her incessantly behind her back, and commit many more microaggressions. One of the ways in which Midsommar is thought to be a feminist film lies in its foregrounding of female desire and subversion of the male gaze.

Horror films of the past had been plagued with the hyper sexualization and objectifying of women as a result of the male gaze. In Midsommar, however, Dani spends the entire movie in shapeless shirts and bottoms that more so obscure her female form rather than enhance it. She doesn’t wear makeup, her hair is not done in a fancy updo, and she is neither trying to impress nor seduce anyone. She is not trying to be sexy; she is just herself. Dani is relatable for being a female character that represents not what men want to see in a woman, but what women recognize in ourselves. Additionally, when the camera focuses on Dani, it points to her face, not her form. In one scene where Christian is drugged, naked, and pushed into performing ritualistic intercourse, the room is surrounded by naked women chanting a fertility spell. The film continues its subversion of the male gaze by featuring honest, real life female bodies. Their bodies are not being exploited for men’s enjoyment to watch. Midsommar is, simply put, two-and-a-half hours of audiences witnessing Dani’s anguish, heartbreak, and reclaiming of herself. No longer do we encounter Hitchcock’s female characters who were the objects of the killer’s desires and desperately needed male heroes to save their lives – we now have women who play strong characters who have fully realized backstories (Beebe).

It is important for female audiences to see themselves represented not as weak and defenseless, but as powerful and ambitious individuals who deserve to live. A study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and J. Walter Thompson Company shows that female role models in film and TV are hugely influential in driving women to improve their lives. Historically, women have been drawn to the horror genre. Noah Berlatsky from The Guardian describes that in 2013 “The Conjuring had an audience composed of 53% women; The Purge had an audience of 56% women. Mama was 61% women. Even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake showed to an audience that was less than half men.” This indicates a correlation between the horror genre’s interest in women, and women’s equal interest in the genre. Beth Younger explains that we have veered away from slashers and torture porn to more substantive, nuanced horror films that comment on social issues.

The Final Girl and the narrative to punish sexually active women saw a turning point with the release of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2015). The film follows Jay, a teenage girl who is pursued by a supernatural entity after a sexual encounter. Brendan Morrow believes that in fact, It Follows critiques rape culture by highlighting the trauma or how rape survivors are often treated by culture, friends, and family (Bloody Disgusting). It Follows is critically acclaimed for allowing Jay to be the kind of girl who represents women in an empowering way: she investigates, fights back against the predator, and ultimately prevails (Younger). This allowed women to see themselves to be represented as multifaceted beings, instead of being reduced to a singular emotion – fear – as it used to happen with scream queen slasher films.

How women are generally presented in horror films correlates to how they are perceived by society at the time in which the film is created. The search for cinematic gender equity will continue for years to come, but the evidence presented in this study shows the shift in horror films to feature more well-written female leads who have became stronger and more powerful has already started. As filmmakers continue to do a better job of understanding women and portraying female representation, the horror films of this day and age should be applauded for their more feminist approach to filmmaking that features strong female leads, subverts the male gaze, positions women as survivors, and continues to break the mold.

Works Cited

Beebe, Jessica. “How Modern Horror Movies Rescued Women From Hitchcock’s Hysteria.” ScreenRant, 3 Oct. 2020.

Hellerman, Jason. “A Deep Examination of the Final Girl Trope.” No Film School, 23 Nov. 2020.

Madden, Caroline. “The Evolution of Women in Horror Films.” The Buzz, 24 Apr. 2013.

Morrow, Brendan. “‘It Follows’ Is Not About STDs. It’s About Life As a Sexual Assault Survivor.” Bloody Disgusting, 27 Apr. 2016.

Romano, Evan. “The 23 Best Scream Queens in Horror Movie History.” Men’s Health, Men’s Health, 30 Oct. 2020.

Scream Queens.” Urban Dictionary.

Sims, David. “How ‘The Witch’ Became a Story of Female Empowerment.” The Atlantic, 24 Feb. 2016.

Slasher Film.” Horror Film Wiki.

Vitelli, Romeo. “How to Survive a Slasher Film.” Psychology Today, 23 Feb. 2015.

Vorel, Jim. “What Truly Was the First ‘Slasher Film’? A Paste Investigation.” Paste Magazine, 23 July 2020.

Younger, Beth. “How Horror Films Are Bringing More Gender Equality to Hollywood.” Yes! Magazine, 18 July 2017.

feminism MeToo television

Whedon’s Fallout: Is “Big Bad” Buffy Creator Finally Getting Dusted?

Joss Whedon’s reign of terror may finally be coming to a close. For decades now, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator has perpetuated the abusive standards tolerated in the entertainment industry by verbally assaulting, coercing, manipulating, and generally abusing those he’s worked with, his actors in particular. Last year, actor Ray Fisher opened up about his experiences with Whedon on the set of the 2017 film Justice League. Since then, several actors, including most Buffy alumni, have come forward to echo these sentiments and support Fisher in speaking out, detailing the cruel and unusual behavior he inflicted upon them. Whedon isn’t the first man in the industry to use his talent and status to intimidate those around him, but his decline in status and reputation signals a sign of better times.

Hollywood is no stranger to power-based interpersonal violence. For decades, powerful men have reigned with minimal oversight and maximum control. Historically, consequences aren’t something white men in Hollywood have had to face. Now, however, we find ourselves in a time where power-based abuse is no longer being tolerated as it has been. Former Weinstein Company head Harvey Weinstein was not only fired from his production company and suspended or expelled from all the other accredited groups he was part of, but he was also locked behind bars after over a dozen women came forward in 2017 to share their experiences of sexual assault and rape. If a powerful mogul like Weinstein is no longer welcome in Hollywood, there is no longer room for anyone perpetuating abuse.

However, counterintuitively, it may be the smaller players like Whedon, those not quite on top of the world like Weinstein was, that prove to be trickier to drive out. Adam B. Vary and Elizabeth Wagmeister wrote in their Variety exclusive that Whedon’s shows “‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ aired in the late 1990s and early 2000s, long before the #MeToo movement, when the industry more freely abetted on-set misconduct to keep top talent happy and working.” They also echo that Whedon’s talent for writing dramatic and traumatic supernatural stories is evident, and pertinent to the excusal of his behavior over the years.

Whedon quickly established himself as a feminist with Buffy, a show centering around the spooky trials and ooky tribulations of a bubbly blonde teenage girl who has the super strength to battle vampires night after night, the brains expel demons back to hell, to travel through dimensions, and even come back from the dead herself. Despite his “girl power” mantra, Whedon consistently harassed the women of Buffy, playing mind games with the cast and crew to establish and maintain his idea of the pecking order. Charisma Carpenter detailed her experiences on the Buffy spinoff series Angel, divulging how Whedon was enraged to find out about Carpenter’s pregnancy, harassing her, and killing her character off the show in revenge. Following Carpenter’s brave and detailed post, other Whedonverse actors stepped up to show their support or share their experiences. Notably, Michele Trachtenberg, who was 14 years old at the start of her Buffy career, revealed that following an undisclosed incident, there was an on-set rule that Whedon wasn’t allowed to be alone with the 14-year-old actress any longer. The extent of his perversions is truly sickening and baffling — but it flew under the radar due to his success, his self-asserted and surface-level feminism, and his ability to mask his narcissism around higher-ups. 

As a self-proclaimed Buffy fanatic, Whedon’s offenses weigh particularly heavy in my mind. It’s painful and difficult to reconcile the fact that a show that has been so empowering to so many girls and women was built on abuse and toxic masculinity. Whedon weaseled his way into feminist media during a time when women and girls weren’t often the main characters of an action television series, and he was regaled for it. Despite many harmful underlying ideas circulating in the plotlines of Buffy, it was ahead of its time in many ways and provided an oasis for girls in the middle of a male-dominated entertainment desert. It’s actually encouraging to imagine if Buffy was created new in today’s world; so much of it would be ripped to shreds online. While many feel that today’s society is too critical, picky, or “politically correct” in our discussion of media, the harsh scrutiny is serving a higher purpose. Too often have offensive, ignorant, and violent narratives been overlooked in television and film. The critical eye of today’s youth plays a crucial role in holding creators accountable for fallacies they may be perpetuating. People are sick of the abuse, on-screen and off-screen.

Watching Ray Fisher stick to his guns with his catchphrase “Accountability over Entertainment” and encourage all of these other actors to come forward to halt the spread of the “casual cruelty” exhibited by Whedon and men like him is simultaneously exhausting and inspiring. Uprooting systemic and traditionally accepted interpersonal power-based violence is not an easy task, but it’s obviously one that many of today’s stars are up for and impassioned by. Their courage is inspiring. As creators, administrators, heads-of-companies, and general industry cohorts, it’s all of our jobs to support those who speak out about industry abuse and to speak up ourselves if we come across these injustices firsthand. Abusive and power-hungry creators like Joss Whedon have always existed and will always exist — that doesn’t mean they have to exist within Hollywood. Thankfully, Whedon’s reputation is now marred, with no projects currently in the works and legal penalties potentially on the horizon. All that is left to do is to don our crucifixes, sharpen our stakes, and keep slaying the exploitative, power-hungry demons that emerge.