Flashing the Audience

strong female characters

Can I tell you one of my least favorite things? It’s that moment—you know the one—when you’re watching a trailer for such-and-such action movie, and there’s EXPLOSIONS, and there’s CAR CHASES, and there’s sweaty close-ups with a tough-looking guy muttering something cliché like “here we go again,” and all of a sudden there’s a brief, almost subliminal flash of a female actress taking her shirt off, and you’re like “what?” but they’re already to the next shot and/or the graphic title of the movie.

Sometimes the woman’s face is shown; sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a recognizable, hot actress, a Zoe Saldana or a Scarlett Johansson. Sometimes it’s a love scene. Sometimes it’s T, sometimes it’s A. But it always feels incredibly gratuitous, like a really transparent non sequitur. It’s like a big, “HEY! Hey guys! There will also be hot women wearing very little clothing! Just in case that influences your decision to spend money on this movie.” (Operative word being “guys”: I don’t discount that this marketing might also appeal to queer women, but there’s a definite exclusion happening in the message that both ignores and potentially discomfits and alienates the female demographic.)

So I was reminded of this when I saw this week that GQ’s Man of the Year issue, which has multiple covers, will feature one cover with Rihanna completely naked save a very open leather jacket, while the other two covers feature very clothed, close-cropped male actors (Channing Tatum and Ben Affleck). Seeing as how GQ is basically the journalistic equivalent of an action film in terms of its gender appeal, it’s not entirely surprising.

But, as Jezebel puts it: “Just imagine a little girl who looking at the three covers and wondering why the lady is the only one with no clothes on. What message is she getting about her body? What has she learned about a woman's worth?”

As I mentioned in a previous post on pretty comediennes, it’s disappointing that women in entertainment, no matter their talents or personality, are expected to play sexy on magazines, in movies, on red carpets. Rihanna may be more in control of her hypersexual image than most—but the juxtaposition of her “Obsession of the Year” cover and the two male-dominated covers is revealing. It’s that wink at the audience, that barely coded message to men that says, “Hey! We have women in this issue—and those women are not wearing any clothes.”

Watch for it next time you see an action or thriller trailer. They think they're being sneaky, but it's easy to spot if you're looking for it. What I'm hoping is that . . . that moment, that shirt-taking-off moment, will more and more seem like a harsh dissonance, a “where the hell did that come from?”, and will be less and less employed. Or hey, at the very least, let's have a little more male objectification to keep things equal. What's good for the goose is good for the gander! (I kid. Kind of.)