Overexploiting female stereotypes is way more harmful than it appears to be. Not only does it alter the self-image of a woman, but it also affects us at a deeper level; in other words, the excessive use of the image of the idealized woman and feminine clichés can affect women's confidence and physical state.
This phenomenon can be found in movies that portray their female protagonists as clumsy and submissive, willing to "change the world" without changing it at all. Not to mention that, despite their "combative" attitude, the stereotypes these characters can reinforce the insecurities of many. Any cultural creation that names itself with the word chick in the title runs the risk of following these misconceptions. Yes, people, we're talking about characters like Bridget Jones, the heroine we all love but that makes us feel a tiny bit terrible on the inside.
Chick flicks show a regular disdain for empowered women in control of their lives and self-aware of true happiness. Beyond this movie genre, others must openly show women the "right" path they must follow because the "chicks" are blissfully unaware of the life decisions they must make. Since World War II, cinema has tried to consolidate in the audience's imagination, ideas about how women should behave and what life goals they should pursue, which is, a home life.
The effectiveness of popular culture as a means of entertainment lies in the fact that it portrays social values and "general wisdom." These films display discourses that have been so repeated that they slip into our minds without us noticing. Through their narratives about love, sex, and gender, these products try to convey a message endowed with a set of determined values. We all love these movies, even when they're not beneficial at all. However, movies are not the only ones to blame, for other artistic disciplines also portray this damaging image of women. Literature, of course, isn't the exception.
For many years, the female audience was the main target of romance literature, which was meant to entertain them during their household chores. These books dealt with classical plots where love is the magical key to a fulfilling life and forming a family was the ultimate life goal, not to mention that the protagonist's beauty or extreme makeover was essential.
According to a study conducted at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute by Robert G. Magee and Melissa J. Kaminsky, chick lit books where protagonists express negative feelings about their body only influence readers on how they must perceive themselves. Besides that, they also encourage them to seriously question their relationship status and life goals.
In that research both specialists modified a couple of these novels. Some were more dramatic than others, and what these variations showed was that, when women read about fit, attractive women, they felt less attractive. Also, when they read about the lives of insecure women, they would be more concerned about their own looks and weight. The study's conclusion was that textual representations of body confidence have a severe impact in the reader's own worries. This may happen because these novels promote self-analysis and push readers to dive in their most intimate emotions and highlight their hidden flaws. So, they end up identifying with the "funny looser" of the novel.
The romance genre has probably been as stereotyped as women themselves. For some decades, these texts have fought, firstly, to demonstrate that their readers aren't thirty-something, lonely, and devastated women, but critical and confident beings. Secondly, that these products aren't only consumed by women as most people believe, and that the audience is as diverse as that of other popular genres. And thirdly, that due to the diversity and mindset of the audience, writers have shown their texts, and thus the genre, are constantly evolving in relation to all the social transformations the world is going through.
It's obvious that we're still living in a patriarchal society where women are still objectified and stereotyped. Even when there are tons of movies, TV shows, and books out there with these damaging images, it's important to know that there are also texts that are breaking those clichés and actually give their readers the tools to become aware and critical about their contexts.
Take a look at these 10 Must Reads for Intelligent Women.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards