Hollywood sign black and white

The Evolution of Women in Film

  • "New Womanhood"

    "New Womanhood"
    The idea of more independent female characters began to enter the literary field. This “New Womanhood”, featuring women who worked in wage labor and engaged in other seemingly unfeminine behavior helped set the tone for the rest of the century. Moving into the rise in film entertainment, the strong female character took on different personas, adopting different but similar characteristics. "The Perils of Pauline" was a published serial that perfectly embodied the idea of "New Womanhood".
  • Post WWI Women

    Post WWI Women
    After World War I, independent flapper figures became very popular. In the 1927 film "It" starring Clara Bow, the idea of a sexually liberated woman is explored, but Bow's character still has the traditional goal of marriage and children at heart.
  • The Great Depression

    The Great Depression
    In response to the economic depression, women were used to create a fantasy dichotomy, starkly contrasting the harsh economic conditions in the real world with lavish female characters on the big screen. Greta Garbo (pictured) was a popular actress during this time, as were Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. Strong female roles were very prevalent, but these characters were still largely focused on marriage and children as ultimate goals.
  • Film in the Forties

    Film in the Forties
    Nearing the Second World War, women were shown as hard-working wives, securing the country for when their husbands and sons returned from war. Women were depicted as hard-working and strong, yet very feminine. During this time period, stars like Betty Grable caught the public's attention. Although she was fresh-faced and embodied the "girl-next-door" idea, she was still sexualized.
  • Post WWII Women

    Post WWII Women
    Following the Second World War, women were depicted as "femme fatales", plotting the downfall of men with their sexualities. Any woman whose values did not coincide with the traditional family life was labeled as dangerous and volatile.
  • The 1950s

    The 1950s
    In the 1950s, the film industry gave women two choices: becoming a sex symbol or becoming a domestic goddess. This dichotomy left little to no room for career-focused characters. Popular actresses during this time include Marylin Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Jane Russel, and Jane Wyman.
  • Sexuality in the 60s

    Sexuality in the 60s
    In the 1960s, society had adopted a more accepting attitude towards female sexuality in the film industry. In the 1968 film "Barbarella", Jane Fonda plays a sexualized agent sent to find a missing inventor in space.
  • The 1970s

    The 1970s
    During this decade, women were most often portrayed as independent women, detached from the domestic sphere. The film industry largely blamed the institution of marriage for women's oppression.
  • 1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back: The 1980s

    1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back: The 1980s
    In the early 1980s, Reagan's reign of cultural conservatism served to revert the portrayal of women to traditional and domestic characters.
    In the 1987 film "Baby Boom", Diane Keaton plays a power-hungry businesswoman whose life gets flipped upside-down by her inheritance of her late cousin's baby. Keaton's character goes from being 100% invested in her job to being 100% invested in raising a child.
  • The Rise of the "Chick Flick"

    The Rise of the "Chick Flick"
    The 1990s introduced a genre of film where women bonded and formed friendships over mutual hardships. These films were dubbed "chick flicks". In the 1991 film "Thelma and Louise", two waitresses go on an adventure when Louise shoots and kills a man who tried to rape Thelma. This is a more dramatic example of a chick-flick, but the two characters do bond over mutual hardship.
  • The Turn of the Century

    The Turn of the Century
    In the 2000s, box office hits have featured women in supporting roles of action heroes, often being hyper sexualized to sell tickets. In 2007, the "Transformers" franchise focused on the young male's attraction to beautiful women and beautiful cars. It is painfully apparent in the films that the intended focus of the audience is the slow motion shot of Megan Fox's breasts as she runs away from the alien robots, and not the aliens themselves.
  • The 2010s

    The 2010s
    Most recently, with "Jurassic World", many felt that the depiction of the leading female character fell short of the portrayal of women in past films of the franchise. In the most recent film, the leading woman is Claire Dearing, who is pictured during the entire film wearing high heels. There is one scene where she is running from a T-rex that made quite a splash by blantantly sexualizing an innocent scene.