Minister of Science and Chief Protector of the Faith

Friday, April 20, 2007

Media Clichés: Men Seldom Make Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses

There are several stereotypes that support the notion that beautiful women can't be intelligent, and intelligent women can't be beautiful.

I've always loved the old classic horror films, and a prevalent plot device would pair a female

I've always loved the old classic horror films, and a prevalent plot device in these films would pair a female "ice princess" scientist with a rough-and-tumble masculine hero. The other men in the film warn the hero to not attempt to approach her, that she is too cold and distant. The female scientist is always all business and no hanky-panky at the beginning of the film. Invariably at some point in the film the female scientist is saved from the monster by the rough-and-tumble hero, at which point she melts into his arms, and now coos warmly and affectionately at the man she formerly scorned. Science and protocol fly out the window as the two profess their love for each other and the monster dies by the final reel.

Another version of this stereotype is called the 'Miss Jones Syndrome.' where a seemingly unattractive, bespectacled woman is told to take off her glasses and loosen her hair, and voila! 'Why, Miss Jones, you are beautiful.'

Another version of this stereotype is called the "Miss Jones Syndrome." where a seemingly unattractive, bespectacled woman is told to take off her glasses and loosen her hair, and voila! "Why, Miss Jones, you are beautiful."

There are many variations and parodies on this theme. In his music video "She Blinded Me With Science," Thomas Dolby did an homage to this Cliché with the line, "Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, you're beautiful!"

Two recent films explore this theme, '10 things I hate about you,' and 'She's all that.' Both stories revolve around female leads that are intelligent and witty. They are also considered unattractive, not so much because of their looks, but because of their independence and attitude.

Two recent films explore this theme, "10 Things I Hate About You," and "She's All That." Both stories revolve around female leads that are intelligent and witty. They are also considered unattractive, not so much because of their looks, but because of their independence and attitude. (Imagine that!) Their male suitors must tame them until they are brought under submission. This rather sexist storyline is actually a recycled version of "the Taming of the Shrew" by William Shakespeare.

How to get the Popular Boy Without Comprimising Your Unique Rebeliousness.

Another recent film that portrays these stereotypes is the film, "Not Another Teen Movie." The film is a parody, and the female lead portrays many of the cliches mentioned. The title of the book the character is reading in the center still in the photo above is "How to get the Popular Boy Without Compromising Your Unique Rebelliousness."

Independent women are portrayed on television as lead characters, but usually the same or similar stereotypes apply. Dana Scully is portrayed as very intelligent and perceptive woman in the television show

Independent women are sometimes portrayed on television as lead characters, but usually the same or similar stereotypes apply. Dana Scully is portrayed as very intelligent and perceptive woman in the television show "The X-Files." Her character seemed to have abandoned all femininity in the show, however. Any romantic encounters that she ever had on the show were merely foils to Fox Muldar's escapades. She is, in essence, the straight man to Muldar's goofy persona. She was not a romantic character. Even when she became pregnant in the series, the child's conception was a mystery. (Presumably the child was the result of an alien abduction.) Muldar was definitely the more sexual character of the two, as he at least had an extensive porn collection.

A stereotype seems to be fostered that states that submissive women are "rewarded" with romance, and independent women "punished" with a lonely and unromantic life. This stereotype is prevalent through out all media.

The same can be said for other strong female characters, such as Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, Uhura, and Seven-of-Nine. The message appears to be that if you are an independent thinking woman, you are not attractive.

A cold and distant librarian by day, Barbara Gordon eschews the Dewy Decimal System by night and becomes the confident and defiant crime-fighting Batgirl. Batgirl is hot, Barbara Gordon is not, but neither seems sexually attainable. Batgirl is brassy and defiant, Barbara is so intelligent that no man would find her attractive.

Batgirl From the old "Batman" TV show is an excellent case in point of this phenomenon. A cold and distant librarian by day, Barbara Gordon eschews the Dewy Decimal System by night and becomes the confident and defiant crime-fighting Batgirl. Batgirl is hot, Barbara Gordon is not, and neither seems sexually attainable. Batgirl is brassy and defiant, and Barbara is so intelligent that no man would ever find her attractive. Note also that Batgirl is another example of the "Miss Jones Syndrome," by way of Clark Kent. Take the glasses off of the librarian and put her in a clingy outfit and she is instantly desirable!

It's also worth noting that the Batman TV series was high camp and rather silly, and Batgirl's role was usually to get captured and the rescued by the final episode. She was only allowed to kick or push villains in a fight - she was not allowed to punch them. The writers thought it would make her look "unfeminine."

From the cartoon series 'Scooby Doo,' Daphne Blake (AKA 'Danger-prone Daphne') is the coy and demure ghostbuster that is eternally captured and saved by Freddie, the male lead that is cryptically wearing an ascot. Velma Dace Dinkley is the resident genius of the group, and is often the member of the team that deciphers the clues and solve the crimes. She is also lacking in self-confidence, clumsy, and is considered sort of annoying by the rest of the team. She is a comedic foil to Daphne's damsel-in-distress. The smart girl is unattractive, the attractive girl is not smart.

From the cartoon series "Scooby Doo," Daphne Blake (AKA "Danger-prone Daphne") is the coy and demure ghostbuster that is eternally captured and saved by Freddie, the male lead that is cryptically wearing an ascot. Velma Dace Dinkley is the resident genius of the group, and is often the member of the team that deciphers the clues and solve the crimes. She is also lacking in self-confidence, and is considered sort of clumsy and annoying by the rest of the team. She is a comedic foil to Daphne's damsel-in-distress. The smart girl is unattractive, the attractive girl is not smart.

Daria Morgendorffer and her younger sister, Quinn, embody the same stereotype that Daphne and Velma exhibit, except the lead of the show is the mousy girl in the glasses!

Perpetuating the same stereotype, but reverse, is the television program "Daria." Daria Morgendorffer and her younger sister, Quinn, embody the same stereotype that Daphne and Velma exhibit, except the lead of the show is the mousy girl in the glasses! Another show that has broken this same mold is "Ugly Betty."

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'Xena Warrior Princess' differed from these other show's in that the female leads in these two shows bend the rules of the adventure genre, in that a female is controlling the narrative and doing battle usually reserved for men. In these two shows the female leads are portrayed as fierce warriors, more able to fight in battle than their male counterparts.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Xena Warrior Princess" differed from these other show's in that the female leads in these two shows bend the rules of the adventure genre, a female is controlling the narrative and fighting the battles usually reserved for men. In these two shows the female leads are portrayed as fierce warriors, more able to fight in battle than their male counterparts. The appeal of the show is the novelty of a female character portrayed as a dynamic and heroic figure. Note also that thes are female characters portraying typical male character attributes, these are not realistic women portrayed in a natural setting.

Another stereotype the television portrays is called the 'Betty and Veronica' syndrome, where two girls are in love with one man, or two girls are compared based upon their differing attributes. Veronica is a vivacious rich girl with sex appeal, whereas Betty is more of a dependable, down-home sort of girl. The male then becomes the central figure of the trio, with the two females competing for his attentions. This plot device is used to create an eternal sexual tension between the male and female characters without resolution.

Another stereotype the television portrays is called the "Betty and Veronica" syndrome, where two girls are in love with one man, or two girls are compared based upon their differing attributes. Veronica is a vivacious rich girl with sex appeal, whereas Betty is more of a dependable, down-home sort of girl. The male then becomes the central figure of the trio, with the two females competing for his attentions. This plot device is used to create an eternal sexual tension between the male and female characters without resolution.

The TV show "Gilligan's Island" had a similar competitive duo, with Mary Ann as the Girl-Next-Door, and Ginger as the Hollywood sex kitten.

As a quick final note, I would like to point out that almost invariably female aliens from outer space are sexy, and male aliens are much more likely to be ugly, threatening and made out of theatrical latex.

As a quick final note, I would like to point out that almost invariably female aliens from outer space are sexy, and male aliens are much more likely to be ugly, threatening and made out of theatrical latex.

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12 Comments:

At Fri Apr 20, 06:11:00 PM, Blogger Evil Spock said...

Um, but Evil Spock was very attracted to Dana Scully, the women who played Velma in the Scooby Doo movie, and Barbara Gordon. Actually, Evil Spock is very attracted to librarian types. Mmmm . . . glasses.

 
At Fri Apr 20, 07:36:00 PM, Blogger Infidel753 said...

Personally I wouldn't describe any of the women in your pictures as unattractive. Some of them seem a bit cold and unapproachable, but that's not quite the same thing. Personally I'm not turned off by glasses at all. I don't know how common that is.

You have a good point about the aliens (I suspect about 50% of all the female aliens that have ever appeared on TV were seduced by Captain Kirk). The only big exception that comes to mind is the queen fron the film Aliens, which was presumably female in some sense, but not anyone's idea of a hot date.

 
At Fri Apr 20, 09:03:00 PM, Blogger Omnipotent Poobah said...

Everybody know that Velma and Mary Ann were the hot ones.

 
At Sat Apr 21, 08:23:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Funny how everyone is defending Velma and the concept of girls in glasses. Is no one offended by Daphne being called stupid? Or is being called stupid better than being called unattractive? ;o)

Evil Spock: I too am fond of Dana Scully, Velma, Daphne, and especially Barbara/Batgirl. The Dewey Decimal System is hot!

Infidel753: It is not a question of whether the actress is unattractive, but how they are portrayed in the script. Certainly a woman looks the same with and without glasses, but that is not what the script says. The question posed was in the way women are portrayed in the media. Why should their looks be that important an aspect of the script in the first place? Why can't the female lead just be an average looking girl, with or without glasses, who is merely funny or dependable or endearing like the male lead usually is? But of course there is Daria, who fits that bill, and yet we are reminded throughout the program that she is not as pretty and popular as her sister. That's the joke. The focus of the script still usually goes the same familiar ground, the girls looks, despite the set of characters.

The Magnificent Poobah:

Velma Dace Dinkley is definitely sweet
poor shipwrecked Mary Ann is always a treat

But I'll say it once, and then I'll say it again
I'll hold my breath and count to ten

I'll say it in a boat, and I'll say it in a tree
Betty Cooper is the girl for me!

(But don't tell Batgirl, OK?)

 
At Sat Apr 21, 09:39:00 AM, Blogger Becca said...

Very interesting!

I would never call myself a feminist but I must say I am very disatified with the way alot of women are portrayed on television. You are right in saying it's usually one of two ways...pretty and dumb or mildly less pretty with glasses and "smart".

I do have to say I adore Betty on Ugly Betty and 30 Rock's Liz Lemon. Sure Tina Fey and America Ferrera are very attractive but they play characters who are constantly berated for their looks but prove themselves as amazing human beings in other ways, humor, itelligence, creativity... They are characters who prove a girl doesn't have to be pretty to be pretty awesome.

And yeah what is it with the sexy girl aliens? I guess you can tie it into the rest of your post. There is an old story that ties into the casting of the lead in Flashdance. The producers of the movie took pictures of the few actresses they were considering showed them to guys in a bar and asked who would you like to fuck? The overwhelming response was Jennifer Beals and that's how she got the role...not because she was talented but because horny old men said they'd do her.

And I guess that's pretty much the same principle they use when casting any film or TV show, first how attractive are you, then who would you appeal to and finally how talented are you. It's kind of sad when you really think about it.

Of course from the opposite spectrum of things older women in movies seem to only be able to act in one plot thread...I've been scorned by a man and now I need to:

A. Prove him wrong and get my revenge.

B. Prove him wrong by becoming sexier and more fun loving and in my changing make him want me again and get my revenge.

It gets really old, really quickly...seriously women are capable of other things than falling in love with a man and letting it take over their lives.

And one of the worst parts of this whole thing is that alot of the most criminal of these "older women" movies are directed by women!

If someone is looking to see a movie featuring a strong woman who can be judged on the merrit of her actions and not on her looks or her love for a man is Contact. Jodie Foster is wonderful, the story is brilliant and while there is a romance subplot she does not let her attraction to a man hold her back from having her life.

Sorry I wrote alot more than I thought I would!

 
At Sat Apr 21, 10:07:00 AM, Blogger Infidel753 said...

If someone is looking to see a movie featuring a strong woman who can be judged on the merrit of her actions and not on her looks or her love for a man is Contact.

One could point to the Alien films as another example. For that matter, Planet of the Apes's most important female character was important for reasons having nothing to do with looks or romance (Zira).

 
At Sun Apr 22, 12:02:00 AM, Blogger spocko said...

Becca. Great points. I was thinking of some of the same ones! Right down to the "I'd do her story."

I think so much of this has to go back to the issue of WHO is doing the casting and who is doing the acting.

I had a friend who was the most brilliant actress I've ever seen. I asked her why she wouldn't go into the business since she clearly had the talent (she won awards with her roles and monologues)
She said, "Spocko, in this world I'll never get a lead. I'm just not pretty enough. Nobody will ever cast me in anything here in the US. Maybe in Europe I could work in the theatre, but not here."

She was right of course and we lost her talents in the world of acting.
The good news is that she was also a brilliant mind so she went on to be a doctor.

P.S. Evil Spock, nice goatee!

 
At Sun Apr 22, 10:20:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Becca: I wondered what you would think of this post! You bring up some very interesting points. Your "Flashdance" story about Jennifer Beals is very telling of the industry. That film was piece of schizophrenia on toast anyway. The script took place in a universe with two kinds of stripper bars, those that were wholesome (that Jennifer Beals worked in) and had inventive and amusing dance numbers, and those that were evil and run by Satan. The official category of this film should be science fiction.

Remember how there was a body double for the dance scenes in "Flashdance?" So it wasn't really Jennifer Beals' butt you were fantasizing about while watching the film, it was some dance professional. When I found out about the switcheroo after I had seen the film, **I felt so sordid and cheap.** (!)

You are definitely right about the film "Contact" with Jodie Foster. That is like the polar opposite of the clichés in the genre. The romantic subplot is totally counter to Hollywood convention as well. I must have seen that film dozen times... that noise that the alien message makes is creepy! An the big electric mixer as a "teleport" was brilliant.

You bring up a whole new category when you talk about these clichés for things older women in movies: "Prove him wrong and get my revenge, Prove him wrong by becoming sexier and more fun loving and in my changing make him want me again and get my revenge."

You sum up the issue well when you say "women are capable of other things than falling in love with a man and letting it take over their lives."

Infidel753: You are right about Zira in Planet of the Apes as well. Remember, Cornelius was always afraid of stirring up trouble, it was Zira who had the cahonés to stand up in court and later break Taylor out jail. That film broke a lot of ground in many ways. I commend you on your great choice of films to mention! ;o)

Spocko: Your story about your friend is sad but true. Male actors can get by on more that their looks, like if they are funny or whatever. Female actresses are always hemmed in by their looks. there is another factor in Hollywood though, nepotism. Drew Barrymore is one example.

I guess that it is a good thing for her go on to be a doctor and watch your paycheck shrink every year while the drug companies and the insurance companies tell her what to do all day. Who wants the glamour and wealth of Hollywood anyway?

Seriously, It's great that she went on to be a doctor, I am sure that it is far more fulfilling than acting. Hitchcock said that all actors are cattle. I think some actors are horses though, or at least the back half of one.

 
At Mon Apr 23, 11:09:00 AM, Blogger SamuraiFrog said...

In his book "Hollywood Animal," Joe Eszterhaus, who wrote Flashdance, talks about how the director of the film, Adrian Lyne, wanted to include the "brilliant" revelation that Jennifer Beals's character had been raped by her father as a teenager, and that's why she turned to stripping. Eszterhaus was vehement in his condemnation of the idea, and it wasn't a part of the film. He did hate the notion that the path of a woman's life can only be affected by male interaction, and then only in negative ways.

He also vigorously defended criticism of his movie Showgirls as being misogynist. Some critics famously had a negative reaction to a scene early in the movie when Elizabeth Berkely pulls a knife on a driver who's trying to touch her. As Eszterhaus pointed out, that's not misogyny, that's being sympathetic to a world where women HAVE to carry a knife when traveling alone because they might not always be safe.

 
At Tue Apr 24, 02:20:00 PM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Holy crap, Samurai Frog! Where do you come up with these great stories? You are like a fountain of pop culture knowledge.

 
At Wed Apr 25, 10:03:00 AM, Blogger eventsnoted said...

I forgot to twell you how much I enjoyed this post. And you Jesus conventionpost has me in stiches. You rock Doc.

 
At Wed Apr 25, 02:07:00 PM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Thank you, sir. That's very kind of you to say so.

 

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