Perhaps since the beginning of cinema, the calling for better representation of women on screen has been loud and insistent. In recent years, the box office has seen movies featuring women outearn those that feature men, and the industry as a whole has seen an increase of interest in movies and television shows that center around well-rounded, nuanced female characters.
There’s a bit of added depth to a storyline that features an honest woman, flawed and imperfect but kickass anyway. There’s something to note about how maybe this shouldn’t be amazing to us at all, after all, women are real and half the population of the world.
It shouldn’t be a milestone to celebrate every female character who is written to be more than walking pair of Victoria’s Secret-cladded breasts, and yet, it is.
There’s something to celebrate in that, in the slow revolution of the industry’s landscape to open itself up to women. It’s tragic that it comes so slow, that women find themselves the victims of sexual abuse and assault when they try to progress, that they find themselves uncelebrated, written away in the final cuts. Off the top of my head, I could list several male directors, but can think of only two women. Perhaps the women work under the radar, silently ploughing at the field, trying to change what they can.
It’s not to say that we haven’t seen the differences in the past few years. The industry (not just Hollywood) has produced a mass of works that celebrate and do justice by women. Wonder Woman, for example, has proved itself to be a movie of critical acclaim. From the space Diana is allowed to take up, to the placement of Steve as a complementary figure in her life, as opposed to a defining one, Patty Jenkins created a movie in which a woman is… realistic. Even as a superhero, she is realistic.
The same can be said of the women in the Fox comedy show, Brooklyn 99, or CW’s Riverdale and Netflix’s Jessica Jones. It can be said of Mindy Kaling, of the women in Shadowhunters and the women in Teen Wolf, and yet… it cannot be said enough. There is still some overwhelming absence of representation of women in media. But maybe, one could argue, this should be enough.
Can we put down our torches and stop demanding for more, for better, when what we have now is more than women thirty years ago would’ve imagined getting?
The thing is, I’m aware that it may sound like I continuously criticize progress and insist it’s not enough, but how will we be better if we don’t hold ourselves to high standards at all times? Take the wins for what they are, but to aim for bigger wins, better wins. There has been progress, wondrous progress, from female Ghostbusters to Jodie Whittaker as the first female doctor, it is not progress fast or diverse enough.
The search for better representation won’t end until we see the eradication of harmful tropes and stereotypes when characterizing female characters. The funny fat girl, the skinny ditzy socialite, or the anxious giggly nerdy girl have long since lost their charm. And as for diversity, well. Diversity, again? Yeah. Diversity. Again. Most of the women on our TV’s are white. They fit into a similar body type, appeal to Eurocentric beauty standards. So yes, diversity too.
Where are the South Asian women, the Latina women, the Black women, the East Asian women? Where are the well-rounded daughters of immigrants, the single mothers of three, the curvy women, the women with mental illnesses?
Where are the landscapes of women, all of different shapes and sizes, complexities and capabilities?
The thing is, we won’t stop demanding to see them because we know they exist. We are them. We sit beside them on subway trains and share offices with them, we meet each other on social media and find each other in bookstores. And so, this is the reason for another feminist rant: the women we see on TV are not even a quarter of the women we know exist.
We know that adding these women to your stories will make for better, more interesting stories, stories with the depth of reality. These women are not unrealistic, they do not take away from the “reality” of a fantasy TV show and so, we want to see them on screen.
We won’t stop demanding to see them on TV, and we won’t rest until we do.