Sexist Tropes in Movies

By Anamika Dutta, Culture Editor

Movies get a lot right, but often give into stereotypes when it comes to portraying women in a realistic multi-dimensional manner. The representation of women as either only career-oriented, only focused on love, only a feminist icon if she is allegedly “anti-men,” or forced to choose between love and her career, is problematic. Stereotypes are dangerous because they become far too easy for an audience to believe. Many of these cinematic pieces are intended to be comical, which is even more problematic; since when are one-dimensional representations of women funny?

Sexist tropes are omnipresent in cinema. Some are even present in our favorite movies. While this might not stop us from watching them, it is important to be aware of the misogyny that is perpetuated through cinema and call it out when we see it. Here are examples of overdone, unnecessary, and harmful sexist tropes in movies:

  1. The Cold Heartless Business Woman

In this classic trope, the successful businesswoman or boss is detached from other aspects of her life. She appears to give no care for her coworkers’ or employees’ feelings and cannot be bothered with love, be it through family, friends, or significant others. Although portrayed as motivated and intelligent, the cold businesswoman seems to show no emotion, unless a man shows up and tries to tear down her heartless exterior. It is odd that the media seems to equate being a successful boss or businesswoman with having an apathetic and robotic personality.

Examples: Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada,” Margaret from “The Proposal,” and Claire from “Jurassic World”

  1.    From Awkward to Popular

With this storyline, the awkward girl with stereotypically unattractive style finds herself

changing everything from her personality and character to her values either to become popular and attractive to her male crush, or for a different reason. The male crush doesn’t notice her until her transformation. She undergoes a transformation into a version of herself that will be everything the guy wants her to be because there’s just no way a movie could exist where the male lead falls in love with the female lead for who she is.

Examples: Sandy from “Grease,” Josie from “Never Been Kissed,” Mia from “The Princess Diaries”

  1.    Manic Pixie Dream Girl

This is the bubbly, shallow, and free-spirited woman that exists solely to teach a quiet soulful man to embrace life and become more adventurous. Essentially, she is a stereotypical male fantasy. She typically has no character development, no goals, and strives to exist for the male’s happiness, not her own. The man is the hero; the woman is the sidekick. By the end of the movie, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl has transformed the man into seeing life with new eyes and breaking his shell; she, however, remains completely unchanged with no plotline of her own. For young women, this suggests that they exist to inspire men and not themselves. Young men learn that they can only see the true meaning of life if a quirky woman stands besides them, encouraging them to open their eyes. Shockingly, women exist for purposes that do not include changing a man, and men do not need women to “transform” into a better version of themselves.

Examples: Summer from “500 Days of Summer,” Claire in “Elizabethtown,” Ruby in “Ruby Sparks”

  1.    The Career-Woman Caught Between Career and Love

Finally, an ambitious, efficient, and hard-working woman who both loves her job and is

highly successful at it. She has worked incredibly hard to earn her position in her workplace and also manages a relationship or family outside of work. She dedicates time to her job and time to her boyfriend/husband/children. However, when she receives a promotion or her responsibilities increase, her work life begins to take some time away from her relationships. Rather than understand the demands of her work life, the man in the picture is unable to accept her responsibilities. He either gives her an ultimatum: me or the job, or undermines their relationship by cheating or wanting a divorce. Why does she have to pick? Both work and relationships are important to her; yet, she has to choose because the man is seemingly uncomfortable with her success. We don’t typically see this in a role reversal.

Examples: Andy from “The Devil Wears Prada,” Jules from “The Intern”

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