It's very simple. You only have to meet three steps:
1. Are there at least two women with names in the film? If yes, proceed.
2. Do those two women talk to each other in the film? If yes, proceed.
3. Is at least one of their conversations about a topic OTHER THAN a man? If yes, then HURRAY! Your film has met the bare minimum requirement for representing half of our population.
|Women! It's almost like they're people!|
|Women! As it turns out, they are people -- just 0.8% of the time!|
Gone with the Wind passes.
The Godfather does not.
Knocked Up squeaks by.
28 Days Later passes.
The Departed does not.
Watchmen does not. (For a moment, I thought it did. Then as I mentally replayed all the conversations Laurie has with her mother Sally, I realized they all involved talking about men: an anonymous comic collector in Mexico, the Comedian, and Dr. Manhattan.)
I could not think of a single romantic comedy besides Bridesmaids that passes, which is a depressing thought.
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (yes, I saw it, despite my protestations) does not pass. What's more, despite it ostensibly being about FEMINISM, not only does it fail, but it fails steps 2 and 3: not a single, named female character in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo ever has a conversation with another female character, regardless of topic. Every woman who speaks in that film speaks to a man or a woman without a name (hello, lesbian bar hookup).
Paranormal Activity 2 and 3 pass.
True Grit barely passes.
3:10 to Yuma does not pass.
The Dark Knight does not pass.
The Big Lebowski does not pass.
No Country for Old Men does not pass.
The Hunger Games passes.
And the funny thing is, as far as I can tell, this is purely a film issue, because television programs (good, bad, cheesetastic alike) inevitably pass.
The Vampire Diaries passes. Lost passes. Modern Family passes. Game of Thrones passes. Downton Abbey passes. Revenge passes. Jersey Shore passes (I assume). Hell, even The Bachelor passes. (Sometimes they talk about how much they hate the other women.)
I don't bring this up to make people feel bad about the movies they love, but I think it's important for people to be aware of the media they consume. Most viewers are aware that the women they see in magazines and movies have been altered -- digitally enhanced to remove flaws and whiten teeth, the film stretched in editing to make them appear both thinner and taller -- and if you didn't know that, seriously, you can hop off the treadmill now. You're comparing yourself to something that doesn't exist.*
But most of us just accept the way women's personalities are also marginalized in film. Most roles for women in films fall into the wife-or-girlfriend-of-hero category, or bitter-type-A-personality-single-shrew category, not-conventially-attractive-but-at-least-she's-funny-comic-relief (if she's lucky) category, or Lifetime-original-series-staring-Meredith-Baxter-Birney. Any role that doesn't fit one of those four molds is heralded as REVOLUTIONARY (see, Girl With The Dragon Tattoo--gasp! a woman can be badass! Bridesmaids--gasp! women can be funny!) despite any other failings it might have.
So the next time you're out for a picture show, raise your jumbo-sized Diet Coke to the Katniss Everdeens, the Margaret Thatchers, the Skeeter Phelans, the Kristy Reys, and the Annie Walkers of filmography. They may not be perfect, but at least they sometimes think about survival/politics/civil rights/demonic possession/unemployment, respectively, in addition to men.
*For some more (more educated, more interesting) reading on images of women in pop culture, please see Beauty Redefined.