Hollywood is a widely known brand of cinematography. It is considered to be the capital of modern western film-making. It is known for hundreds of famous pictures and thousands of talented actors that took part in them. At the same time, cinema has deeply rooted connections to the gender conflict throughout the history of humankind. Since the inception of cinema and its advance in America, it was always a male-dominated industry, with women holding secondary or tertiary roles, with the sole purpose of empowering the main (usually male) character, as well as serving as an attraction to the audience.
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The traditional and famous tropes of the damsel in distress, the token romantic interest, and the overly revealing and sexualized outfits have endured from the beginning of the 20th century and to the present day. The representation of women in cinema changes with the political currents of the modern-day world, but the notions of the sexualization of women have proven to be surprisingly resilient due to the surviving patriarchal notions mixed with realities of the market.
Sexualization of Women in Cinema in Relation to Patriarchy
Ever since patriarchy established itself as the dominant gender-political force around the world, culture was used to reinforce the submissive position of women in society. While intellect, strength, and bravery were some of the “masculine” traits cultivated among boys and men, beauty remained the primary feminine feature, required to get ahead in life. According to Poppi and Urios-Aparisi (295), cinema in Hollywood was used to establish the contemporary notions of feminine beauty of appearance as well as the choice of clothes, much like other forms of media (photography, paintings, etc.) did before.
One of the primary reasons behind such activities was that the majority of leading actors and producers were male, who were capable of influencing the production of movie pictures, inserting their own views and perceptions of beauty and sexualization into the movies (Traube 120). As a result, cinema in Hollywood served the same result as other forms of art and media before it – to reinforce the notions of patriarchy towards women as eye-candy and objects of desire, with beauty being their primary and only virtue.
Sexualization of Women in and Capitalism
Although cinema is considered to be a form of art, its primary purpose, just like that of any enterprise in a capitalistic society, is to make money. In order to do so, the product delivered has to correspond, in some degree or measure, to the expectations that the viewers have of it. As it stands, the percentage of moviegoers is equally split between men and women (50-50), but that was not always the case. King et al. (78) state that up until the 1990s, the percentage of male to the female audience was massively in favor of the former, balancing between 70-75% versus 25-30%.
As such, for the longest period of time in Hollywood’s history, men were the primary audience. The majority of movie critics were (and are) men, meaning that the product had to corral to a male audience in order to be successful. Karray and Debernitz (375) report that the use of sexualization in movies as well as advertising increases viewership, especially among the male audience. They also note that since the gradual increase in female viewership, the sexualization trends started to shift, improving the quality of appearance in male actors as well.
The hypothesis that female sexualization in Hollywood movies is based on the influences of patriarchy in combination with the capitalist perceptions of success and profit holds true. The evidence supports the idea on both fronts, highlighting the role of mass media in the subjugation of women as well as the use of sexualization as a profit tool. In order to stop the objectification of women, the watchers need to be conscious of these practices and their long-term effects on women.
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Karray, Salma, and Lidia Debernitz. “The effectiveness of movie trailer advertising.” International Journal of Advertising, vol. 36, no. 2, 2017, pp. 368-392.
King, Neal, et al. Gender in Film and Video. Routledge, 2018.
Poppi, Fabio, and Eduardo Urios-Aparisi. “De Corporibus Humanis: Metaphor and ideology in the representation of the human body in cinema.” Metaphor and Symbol, vol. 33, no. 4, 2018, pp. 295-314.
Traube, Elizabeth. Dreaming identities: Class, gender, and generation in 1980s Hollywood movies. Routledge, 2019.