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. 29 Comments.

  1. I agree that men can be hurt just like women. When it comes to masculinity it is assumed that women can’t be masculine because then they are lesbian. And men can’t be feminine because then they are gay. Gender can be non-conformity or non-identity, therefore it can be viewed, learned, and excepted in many different ways.

  2. I watch a film for it’s content, and not the gender of the main character.
    In India, we have had seen several female centric films, and women were “alphas” over there. Some were great and earned a good amount of money. Some were misandrist. Some were just crap. But isn’t this the same with male centric movies? Obviously yes.
    Going forward, I would love to see more films were women are the “Alphas”..
    The “Avenger” series movies are slowly turning to an ensemble cast containing mostly Female Leads. I loved Captain Marvel, and will love Black Widow as well, going forward..!!

  3. If there was better balance in the presence of genders on screen, surely there would be more of a balance in what people are being told they must be, and therefore, maybe people would be more free to chose who they are. However, I believe there is a problem with your example of male heavy dramas replaced with females in the lead role. Today in the film industry, there are moe female alphas, but it seems that they are not celebrating their femininity at all. Instead, women are being portrayed more like men, instead of woman. For example, Atomic Blonde and other high acton movies staring women are not appreciating what it means to be a woman. The idea of the film is “a female James Bond.” However, the star character’s behavior is that of the way we have always seen men presented. It does not express a female viewpoint or express the female gaze, but it shows a classic male presentation only with the presented body of a woman. I believe if the film was truly from a female perspective (which assuming it should be because the main character followed by the audience is female) the plot would be different, because she might make different choices than James Bond would. I don’t think that presenting females as more like men is constructive to the actual respect of woman. Woman should not have to “be more like men” to gain status in society or to have more successful movies. If we were to re-make Les Miserables with female characters, that would be a different show than Les Mis with an all female cast. Even if the characters appear to be women, their choices and behaviors would still mimic those of a man and therefore, it would still be a man’s story. We need more female alphas in our media, but they must be allowed to be female. They do not need to be expressly feminine, but their choices and their behavior must be allowed to be influenced by their intersecting identities, not crowded by personas we are used to seeing on screen (such as the James Bond character). I would love to see a woman, allowed to be successful and in a leadership role while not needing to “act like a man” and loose a part of her identity. If she is allowed to maintain herself, I believe we would have much richer cinema for audiences to ingest.

  4. Those who say women should be alphas are probably from self-absorbed men – and maybe from women who were brought up with the idea that men always dominated.

    Some men need to feel empowered or in charge to feed their ego and make them feel important. Women have always been seen as second next to a man with their last name. I’m not sure if taking a man’s family name was the law, but most did it because it was a norm. I’m glad no a days, woman have the choice to choose between taking the husband’s name or keeping her maiden name. It like a power struggle for men to accept that there are women who are the alpha types and are leaders. From my perspective, there are two types. Those who feel like they NEED to be in charge and those whose presence show who’s the leader.

    Quoting from the blog, “ 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.” This relates to someone I know personally and this mentality that she has adopted has controlled her how she viewed her partner. She was taught men were in charge and what they say goes. Her sole existence was to serve her partner and be selfless in regards to him.

    From personal experience, I’m a female IT manager in a tech company. In the beginning, there a was a power struggle between a couple of male techs. From my perspective, it was probably because they are not used to being managed by a woman. For me, my job was to lead the team and guide the team. At the end of the day, we all got our jobs to do and we are all in charge of our own tasks. I don’t believe once someone has a reached a manager role, they should take advantage of the role and abuse the power they are given to make people feel small.

  5. I am fascinated by the word “alpha.” The word alpha seems to be used more and more. The tone at which it is used when describing a woman feels akin to “bitch.” The connotation of a female alpha in business is deemed as “too assertive.” This needs to change. When men are called alphas it seems like a good thing, however comes often with a negative edge when used to talk about women. Between women, the alpha and beta comparisons are often used – something I have witnessed more and more among my millennial aged friends. Women I know are wanting to be thought of as an alpha and it seems beta is considered the weaker of the two. The thought experiment to consider common movies with different roles was fascinating. I would have felt even more empowered walking out of Argo, if a woman had orchestrated the release of the Iranian hostages. The films listed are very powerful and some show a hero’s journey. We need to see more female hero’s journeys.

  6. I watched this movie “Snow White and the Huntsman” years ago. I really like it because it interpreted the Snow White story in a very different way when compared with the previous versions, which settings were always in a patriarchal way. This movie gives Snow White the power to make critical decisions including the revenge/attacking strategies that were always made by males in majority movies. And this movie makes Snow White an intelligent woman that was respected by people including those intelligent males and soldiers, and even allows her to be a military leader in the marching scene.

    Most of the original Disney’s princesses are in a passive and powerless position. They can only gain power through men. For example, a woman fighter very hard is useless and even need to scarify her life for the willfulness, however, just a kiss from a man can give the woman great power such as destroy the poison in her body, and broken the bad luck and turn her happy. If without a man’s help, she will stay in a bad situation the rest of her life. These kinds of Disney stories can unconsciously educate the kids about gender differences, and eventually, internalized and believe that gender inequality is correct. So, I welcome these kinds of movies that newly interpret the old patriarchal movies in a more gender balanced (or even reversed) way so that the new generation can eventually removed some of the seriously internalized conservative points of views.

  7. How the world would be IF women’s were the ones in power, that would be interesting, yet not impossible. Would it be different from now? Since men had ruled the world since… forever?
    More than that, we have to educate ourselves in order to accomplish that. And movies are one of best ways, it creates controversy and awareness, and that have been a useful tool over the years.

    I wish someday you could do a review about Dr. Who, a British tv show in where there’s the Dr. and his companions. But that’s another topic.

    • You’re the second person who has mentioned Dr. Who. I guess I’ll have to check it out.

      There was a time when women and men shared power, And that’s what we need to return to. Not women in power. Not men in power. But shared power. But maybe that’s what you meant. I couldn’t tell.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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

  12. 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.


  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!


  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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).

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