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Forget the glass ceiling: women still struggling to break caricatures on the silver screen

Sex really sells. Last weekend, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon” received a box office opening of nearly $9 million despite producing most of the film in less than four. With a return of nearly three times his spending rate, it’s safe to say that Gordon-Levitt’s film is one of the best-selling pornographies ever conceived. “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” won the weekend, but the weather’s questionable all around when the millenials priding themselves on acceptance cash in on the misogyny. Unless, of course, our supposed stigma of selfishness is inevitably spot on.

Funny thing is, the movie wasn’t half bad. “Don Jon” came to campus prior to screens across the country. The University’s Student Publication Board hosted an advance screening the week of, in one of the UC’s more polished screening rooms, and attendance for the event was as staggering as you’d think it’d be. A room full of thoughtful, well-dressed people. Some snuck drinks under hoodies, and others shuttled significant others. Cell phones were supposedly prohibited, but fingers scattered underneath seats, and if you’d asked any row in the audience what they’d thought they were about to see, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that couldn’t give you the answer. Even less surprising was the number of those who stayed to see it.

The tune’s been sung for a while now: a woman can’t be prominent onscreen unless her male accompaniment’s beside or inside of them. You can’t pinpoint a major network circumventing the rule. Not one. It doesn’t matter if they’ve cast women debating the intricacies of triple bypass surgery, women temping the mid-’90s lobbies of several angry men or women negotiating the ins and outs of a zombie apocalypse: thoughtfulness amongst the fairer sex is strongly discouraged. And in the instances that do allow for some semblance of value in a female actor’s presence, she’s fired from the office shortly afterwards. Or it turns out that after several unsuspecting seasons, she’s actually schizophrenic. Or she’s shot in the neck with a howitzer. Or she’s bit in the arm by her daughter. Or she moves to Africa, has a baby and is never heard from again.

Anna Gunn has been a recent casualty of the onslaught. With the dust of her ongoing serial settled, “Walter White’s wife” could comprehend the loathing she faced in the realm of producing her show — but she often found herself encountering the same apathy outside of her character, and for her supposed worth as a human being. She “finally realized that most people’s hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives.”  In an op-ed written for the New York Times, she said she came to view the response as “vitriolic.”

“Thousands of people have ‘liked’ the Facebook page ‘I Hate Skyler White.’ Tens of thousands have ‘liked’ a similar Facebook page with a name that cannot be printed here. When people started telling me about the ‘hate boards’ for Skyler on the website for AMC, the network that broadcasts the show, I knew it was probably best not to look, but I wanted to understand what was happening.”

What was happening has happened in more lanes than one. Gunn found herself victim to the ongoing gender bias of her generation. It’s no surprise when a network marketed and run by near-middling men shares a near-middling man’s values, but the issue truly asserts itself when these expectations seep into the audience that follows. Chest beating on primetime television’s the kind of trend that develops over time, and if not in direct mirroring, then at least a subconscious expectation. When the expectation of archetypes becomes ingrained in leisure, it’s only natural for the expectation to spread. When the expectation spreads, insinuations become actions, actions prompt reactions and all of a sudden, you’ve found yourself in a roomful of Tea Party constituents.

But that’s only occasionally. The reality of the situation is that representations of blatant passivity aren’t helping anyone. Beverly McPhail of the University’s Women Resource Center has seen a hook in the trend. “If women are portrayed on screen,” she said, “they are often caricatures of women, the chubby best girlfriend or the sexy blonde.

“It does seem like we are advancing the representations of women, but often it seems like there are two steps backwards for every step forward. The quantifiable reason is that there are far fewer directors and writers who are women. Also, the people with the financing and positions of power to make movies and films are often men, so of course they are going to tell the stories that they know and resonate with them.”

Gordon-Levitt plays an Italian-American named Don. Don likes to go to gym. Don likes to watch the game. Don goes to the gym, watches the game and pulls Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore with both hands behind his back.

In a galaxy far, far away, this is a happy ending for everyone. We could do better for ours.

Senior staff columnist Bryan Washington is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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