Women Shouldn’t Be Alphas!

Kristen-Stewart-Snow-White-Huntsman-armour[1]I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta. Where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.

Frank Parlato wrote that email soon after becoming editor of The Reporter.

The New York Times says it was Snow White and the Huntsman that set him off.

(It) struck Parlato as emblematic of “a Hollywood agenda of glorifying degenerate power women and promoting as natural the weakling, hyena-like men, cum eunuchs.”

He must not have seen the film.

Luckily, The Reporter is just a small weekly in upstate New York. But I’ve been thinking about this with the Oscars approaching.

Fortunately for Parlato, movies are mostly the way he likes them. But that’s not so fortunate for the rest of us.

Quick thought experiment: how would you experience yourself after watching popular Oscar-nominated films if gender roles were reversed?

  • What if we watched President Mary Todd Lincoln fight to abolish slavery and save the union?
  • What if CIA operative, Tonya Mendez, led the charge to liberate female diplomats from Tehran during the Iranian hostage crises in Argo?
  • In Zero Dark Thirty a male CIA agent finds Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. A highly-skilled female unit then finds and kills bin Laden.
  • Our heroine explores spirituality and survives the good part of a year stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Rachel Parker in the Life of Pi.
  • In Les Misérables ex-convict Janette Valjean undergoes redemption while pursued by police inspector, Monique Javer, who doubts the possibility of transformation.
  • In Silver Linings Playbook bipolar Patricia leaves a mental health facility where she’d ended up after nearly beating her husband’s lover to death. Next thing you know, she’s fighting thugs at a Philadelphia Eagles game. In the end she enters a dance contest and gains love.
  • Django Unchained follows Sally Django, a freed slave who crosses the United States with bounty hunter, Kate King, on a mission to rescue her husband from a cruel and charismatic plantation owner named Lenora Crawford.

If these were the movies would you experience yourself as a more powerful woman? More in control? More the main event? As a man would you feel more disempowered and marginal?

Plenty of things in our culture create the same psychology, such as “man” and “he” referring to us all. Or, “woman,” “she,” and “her” are consistently placed after “man,” “he,” and “him.” A wife takes her husband’s name. The list goes on. Living in a world where the power players in business, government, religion, the home and beyond are mostly men adds to the effect.

I grew up with a mother who’d grown up in a world where women were even more passively presented than they are today. She couldn’t change things, she thought. Others had to create a good place for her or she was out of luck. She felt powerless and depressed. That didn’t help me and that didn’t help my brother. (So yeah, males are harmed, too.)

Surely, balance would be better.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 22, 2013, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I would love to see more alpha females on the screen. I might be one myself and have often been perceived as a …… (denigrating words).

  2. I like your alpha female movie ideas. What about Disney animated films portrayals of females?

    • Luckily women are becoming more empowered in Disney films over time. So now they’re actually going against the flow. And they get into kids’ minds at an early age. However most of society’s flow is still going in the other direction — though slowly changing.

  3. Being awkward, what I’d like to see is women in women’s films. Rather than women “taking male roles”. I think the whole “one man against the world” schtick is a very male ego-trip, and it’s been done to death.

  4. It’s definitely a healthy exercise to imagine swapping things around like that and see what reactions we feel inside. It would be great, as you say, if we could get to the point where the gender is not a issue. So often when there’s a random tough chick in a film it’s so obvious that she’s there as the token female which is just as silly as there not being a woman there at all.

    I watch a lot of Japanese Anime and it is filled with strong, smart, natural female protagonists and supporting cast. There is also a lot of “fan service” but that’s more of a trope, or for comedic relief. I think of Mai Hime, Ghost in the Shell, Evangellion, Appleseed, Ouran High School Host Club, Lucky Star and so on. Ouran in particular is all about ambiguous gender roles, questioning what male and female really are and so on, really fun and clever show.

    On the surface anime can look very exploitative however it is equally as often the females saving the hapless males as it is the other way round. And of course things like homosexuality and transgendered people are not a big deal at all.

    Japan has some very bizarre and ethically questionable laws and practices in other regards, it’s not all flowers and sunshine. But in most anime at least the females are more likely to be talking about saving the world than chatting about guys and shoes, which is more than can be said for Hollywood I think.

    Just my 2 cents :)

    Thanks for sharing!

    Rohan.

  5. More alpha Female roles would be amazing it I would like to see them more often. I think this would cause more females to watch action movies, and i think it will build on their self-esteem to feel that they can be heros in like rather than being the damsel in distress.

  6. Not this alpha crap. No such thing in humans.

    • I don’t think “alpha” is a real thing. But others use the term to describe personality traits like “confident,” “domineering,” etc. They may think it’s real.

  7. I don’t see anything wrong with women having a powerful role. I feel it should be an old mentality by now that the women are the damsels in distress. I guess male egos are going to get hurt and feel that they have to be the powerful ones but they need to learn that they are not the only powerful ones anymore. We have more rights even if we are constantly forced by society to behave and do certain things. I want more powerful roles for women so the idea starts to get around and is seen as less odd. oh and from the previous comment i think the ouran host club is a great example of changing gender roles like the twin brothers.

  8. I dont think that there is anything wrong with women being portrayed as alfa. but you asked would it change the way things are if this were the case, yes i think it would. Sadly, but true. Unfortunately society has led us to believe that this is not the norm, that men are suppose to be the hero and women the damsil in distress. if this role changes, i think that men do feel a sense of emasculation, but on the other hand it gives women a sense of empowerment that i think they have a right to have. I for one am glad that were starting to see a shift in this direction and it doesn’t need to make men feel less masculine, but should mean that women can be seen as equal, not superior to, men.

    Thanks,

  9. Your post is very insightful and I agree that women being portrayed as strong isn’t a bad thing.

  10. Iliana D Jacobo

    I would like to see more alpha women on the big screen; I think most women could agree too. I watched Zero Dark Thirty and I was in love with the persona of the CIA agent that followed the case. It good to see a women take on such a powerful and serious role. I rooted for her the whole time (probably annoyed everyone around me); you just don’t come across films that portray women that have taken on what could “normally” be considered a male role. More and more films have been portraying women as dominant some in evil and some in good roles, but it’s a change. I think the one problem that comes out of this, is that the women that are shown in these dominant roles are supposed to be considered “sexy.” And that is still an issue women have to face in the media.

  11. I think it would be great to see more ‘alpha’ women in movies as that is one way to start a societal evolution towards accepting women in more dominant roles. Why can’t women be the leaders and heros and men the followers and help mates? To me, that would seem like a natural order for things.

    With regards to Disney films, they have made some awesome animated movies with girls as the heros. The only problem is that young boys refuse to go to these films. I know because my two young guys always refused when they were younger.

    • Well, women increasingly are leaders in the real world, and in movies. I don’t see why it would be the natural order for women or men to lead and the other to follow. Some societies have been egalitarian. And I know a lot of boys who do watch Disney films, including my brother, my cousins, my nephews, boys I grew up with…

      Many studio executives think boys won’t watch girls in movies and TV, but an awful lot of them do. But when they choose not to portray girls, kids get used to seeing boys as leaders and learn to think of boys as leaders and as superior.

  12. I would agree if you were talking about the 90s and lack of female alpha roles in movies or tv. But since the 2000s, especially this decade, you see more women being one’s to kick ass. Ever see the show, Alias with Jennifer Garner? She was part of the CIA, but she was the fighter in it and main character and the other guy didn’t really fight and she saved him sometimes I think. There’s a movie called Veronica Mars, about an investigator and she’s the main character and she helps save her friend, who then becomes bf, that was wrongfully accused of the murder of some woman. You see these action or fighting movies now with women being a main part of just as active in the fighting sequences.

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