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Paul Haggis: We Put Women in Boxes

Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

Writer and director Paul Haggis, best known for the movies Million Dollar Baby and Crash, stood up for women when he participated in a documentary entitled Miss Representation.

Miss Representation was released in 2011 to expose and discuss the unfortunate, and sometimes dangerous, ways women are portrayed in the media. The documentary also aimed to explore women’s lack of representation in positions of power and influence. Women make up about 51 percent of the United States population, yet they only make up about 19 percent of Congress.

The media has an overwhelming tendency to focus on a woman’s physical attributes instead of her mentality or accomplishments. This intense media focus causes young girls to believe that their body and looks are the only parts of them that matters. In fact, young girls “who consume more mainstream media place greater importance on sexiness and overall appearance than those who do not consume as much.”

According to statistics, only about 5 percent of women possess the body type that is often portrayed by the media in the United States. Because of this, almost 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies. When we talk about women, we also tend to focus on many of the common stereotypes we use to describe successful women. For instance, when women are assertive they are more likely to be seen as aggressive, bossy, and uncaring.

In the documentary, Haggis comments on the differences between how we portrayed women in movies and TV shows in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s versus how we portray women in movies and TV shows today. He says, “[Hollywood] had many more interesting characters onscreen in the ‘20s, ’30s, and ’40s than [Hollywood] does now. And we allowed women to really embody all the contradictions that [made] up a human being back then. They could be the femme fatale, [sic] and then turn around and be the mother, and then turn around and be the seductress, and then turn around and be the saint. And we accepted that. They were complex human beings. Now [Hollywood] likes to put people in boxes.”

Haggis continues to say, “As men, we do it because we don’t understand characters that aren’t ourselves and we aren’t willing to put ourselves in the skin of those characters and women, I think, terrify us. We tend not to write women as human beings. It’s cartoons we’re making now. And that’s a shame.”

The more women are able to share and write their own stories, the more we can change the way women are portrayed in Hollywood and in the media.

Featured Image by Yann Caradec on Flickr

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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