Take a moment to think about this. When was the last time you watched a scene of a woman giving birth on screen? Or a scene of a mother acting in a gentle and nurturing way to children? Now think about the times when women are depicted as action figures, fighting baddies armed with guns with fiery explosions in the background.
It’s pretty obvious how the entertainment industry often mocks the idea of traditional masculinity. But what isn’t particularly obvious, is how authentic womanhood is also getting shafted in a lot of Hollywood productions today. This problem was brought up by actress, writer, and director Emma Thompson (from Sense and Sensibility, Nanny McPhee, Men in Black franchise, Harry Potter franchise, and much more) in a recent CultureBlast podcast.
In the interview, Thompson noted that filmmakers rarely depict women in innately feminine heroism. “Now women have to be badass — if they’re feminine in the way that they used to be, and they’re not badass, then they’re not welcome. Also, they’re not allowed to cry, apparently, anymore, because we’ve just got to be like the men.”
“All our heroism is hidden because what we’ve done is we’ve just given women the same parts as men.”
“Why are there no films about giving birth, for crying out loud?” she added. “Does anyone even know about that? No. No. It’s all hidden. All our heroism is hidden because what we’ve done is we’ve just given women the same parts as men, and that’s not the point. How do we turn into our own lives and make those stories heroic?”
Erasing Female Heroism
One of the innate powers of womanhood is our ability to bring a human life into this world. We don’t reflect on this today, but dying during childbirth used to be a common occurrence for women throughout history. Pregnancy and childbirth used to be so dangerous that most women back then would immediately write out her will as soon as she found out she was pregnant. A mother constantly faces the risk of losing her own life in the process of giving life to her newborn.
Men’s bodies are built to take lives whereas women’s bodies are built to give life.
Yet this was a risk almost all women bravely embraced throughout the history of womanhood. We take this journey of life creation for granted today because medical technology has advanced to the point where childbirth is now significantly safer and more predictable. The problem is, when we forget about the dangers that arise with pregnancy and childbirth, we will unknowingly erase one of the most valuable and unique parts of our womanhood and our feminine experience.
Fighting Is Stressful
I heard a saying once, that the fundamental difference between the nature of men and women is that men’s bodies are built to take lives whereas women’s bodies are built to give life. While it may not be constructive to make a generalization that men kill more than women, the murder rate does point to the fact that killings are done predominantly by men, and not by women.
Throughout history, men have dominated the killing and the fighting arenas. Warfare. Battles. Raids. Sieges. Men were sent to fight and die. Obviously, war is a terrible thing. But when faced with the threat of destruction, war is a necessary part of survival. Men will put themselves in the line of combat against other men who pose a threat to the people he cares about. Throughout history, it wasn’t uncommon for men would go to war to protect their women.
But have you ever heard of women going to war to protect their men? Probably not. And for good reasons too because it’s absurd to expect the physically weaker sex (women) to wage war on the behalf of men who are objectively physically stronger than women. This isn’t a sexist statement. This is basic logic. Expecting someone who is physically weaker to fight for someone stronger is as absurd as expecting children to engage in battle for grown adults.
Act Like a Man!
Yet, as Emma Thompson pointed out in her interview, female heroines are constantly portrayed in roles that accentuate the aggressive, warlike nature of men. Rarely do we see a heroic female character portrayed in roles that accentuates femininity. And believe it or not, this eradication of femininity from the media causes as much harm to a woman’s self-esteem as the mockery of masculinity does to a man’s self-esteem.
Our self-esteem takes a dive when we feel like we fail at what we set up to do. And nothing sets us up for failure more than being sold an unrealistic lie about our feminine nature. It’s unrealistic for a woman to knowingly put herself in a position of danger. But in the media today, we’re often fed images of “badass” women eagerly seeking, fighting, and defeating her numerous enemies (depicted mostly by men triple her size).
The True Power of the Feminine
Subconsciously, we know this is unrealistic. While it’s fun to watch a badass female superhero like Wonder Woman or Black Widow beating up bad guys every now and again, the problem occurs when this is the only representation of womanhood that’s offered to us by the media. Our feminine intuition registers this problem, which is why we feel exhausted when we try to emulate female heroes today.
We feel exhausted when we try to emulate the badass female heroes of today.
Society tells us that to be an “empowered woman,” we have to take up arms and do battle with the world. Don’t embrace softness. Don’t show fear. We have to be deadly. This is not only exhausting, but it’s also an unnatural way of life for a woman because being deadly goes against our uniquely feminine power of creating life.
In the interview, Emma Thompson said that screenwriters and directors need to explore the feminine more in order to tell heroic stories of women instead of putting women into counterfeit masculine roles. We need more films like Hostiles (2017), A Quiet Place (2018), and Little Women (2019). These films show the strength and dignity of women as women.
Motherhood, childbirth, being a pillar of loyalty and support to our masculine hero – these are just some examples of realistic female heroism that any woman can aspire to. More importantly, these are stories that women can attain. Sadly, for whatever reasons, it seems like Hollywood and the entertainment industry today are no longer interested in telling stories of true, authentic female heroism.