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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

For as long as movies and TV shows have run on air or in theaters, females have been represented in very specific ways. Oftentimes, women are side characters with no proven value towards the plot of a film or they carry negative and sexist stereotypes. Until the late 90s/early 2000s, women succumbed to very specific tropes like “man-stealers,” “evil stepmothers,” “love-obsessed,” or the “psycho ex-girlfriend.”. Since the early 2000s, women have been fighting to take back their narrative in film to create female characters with more complexity and dimension than before. 

Strong Female Representation

Legally Blonde” (2001)

This movie is one of my top five favorite movies of all time. “Legally Blonde is one of those movies that I strongly believe has withstood the test of time. Elle Woods is one of Hollywood’s most iconic characters – not just for women, but for everyone. Woods defies the sexist stereotype of being a “dumb blonde” when she studies and prepares for the LSAT test to get into Harvard Law school where her ex-boyfriend attends. Warner Huntington III – her ex boyfriend – dumps Woods because he doesn’t think that she’s smart enough for him and he wants to avoid dealing with her when he attends law school and while she’s busy being the president of her sorority. This is the defining moment in the development of Elle Woods’ character: she proves him wrong. She gets into Harvard on her own and she spends the entirety of the movie proving her worth and power to her peers, professors, other lawyers and interns, and herself. Woods first begins trying to prove to her ex-boyfriend that she is worth his love and attention. She soon realizes that he’s not worth the amount of effort she was putting in to impress him and she starts becoming a badass lawyer for herself and herself only. Even the New York Times classifies “Legally Blonde” as a “feminist masterpiece” and asserts that Woods “remains an emblem for challenging stereotypes and embracing female empowerment in the face of misogyny.”

Someone Great” (2019)

“Career girl – doing the damn thing.” 

Jenny Young (played by Gina Rodriguez) is an intensely authentic representation of a woman in her journey through fresh heartbreak and self-discovery. Jenny and her ex-boyfriend Nate Davis break up after nine years because he doesn’t want to go long-distance with her after her recent job promotion at the Rolling Stone. In the beginning of the movie, Jenny is irrational, emotional, petty, impulsive and raw – and that’s just about right. She is real. Good female representation in film does not always have to highlight the positive parts of life. Life is messy and unpredictable. “Someone Great” captures all of that. Female characters are complex and they are not always meant to be perfect because in real life, no one is perfect. Jenny is heartbroken and she acts irrationally on those rampant emotions for the majority of the film with drinking the entire day, smoking and doing molly, but that is not the entirety of who she is. She goes from being convinced that she’s going to marry the love of her life sometime soon to being completely alone in the span of one night. She deserves to feel whatever she needs to feel. What makes her a strong representation of females, though, is the fact that she’s heartfelt and heartbroken, yet she stays strong to herself. She leans on her support systems and even though she copes in various ways, she never ever turns against her best friends or herself. 

Barbie” (2023)

I can’t discuss female representation in the media without talking about “Barbie.” The inclusivity and diverse representation was off the charts in this marvelous sensation directed by Greta Gerwig. The women in “Barbie” range from doctors, presidents, and stereotypical Barbie to real women with real-world issues, like not being seen as intellectually equal to men, constantly walking on the fine line of attractiveness and physical appearance, and just existing as a woman. America Ferrera’s speech is honestly one of my favorite scenes in cinema because it captures the complexity, passion, and emotional rawness of trying to just be a woman in our society. It’s the devastating truth. For so long, women have faced an “unspoken problem” (Betty Friedan in the “Feminine Mystique”). The unspoken problem was best described as “was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning ” What wasn’t  good enough? They question themselves asking “Why don’t I feel fulfilled?”. Women face this problem every day because society expects us to be perfect with unattainable expectations. Greta Gerwig brought it to light through passionate empathy. It is no longer unspoken. Women have to be attractive but not too attractive, be smart but not smarter than their male peers, be kind but not a tease, and I could go on. Ferrera delivered the intensity of the truth beautifully. Every single female character in Barbie was given their time to shine and it was truly a beautiful movie. Greta Gerwig represented females of every age, race, weight, career, and ambitions in “Barbie” – and for that I say it was a masterpiece.

Poor Female Representations

The Little Mermaid” (1989)

Don’t get me wrong, “The Little Mermaid” is one of my favorite Disney movies. I still thoroughly enjoy it every single time I watch it. I grew up WISHING I could be Ariel and have my prince charming like Eric. However, it does not set the best example for the little girls watching it. Ariel is portrayed as boy-obsessed and the whole movie follows Ariel risking her entire livelihood and ability to speak for a man whom she convinced herself that he was the love of her life (after not even having one conversation). Ursula, the evil sea witch, takes her voice and Ariel is left speechless. After that, she has to rely on her physical attractiveness and batting her eyelashes to charm Prince Eric instead of her intellect or her personality. Women are much deeper than their surface appearance. As much as I adore this movie, society cannot rely on it to best or most accurately represent women in the real world today.

My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997)

 If you like this movie, there is no hate towards you at all. I simply do not like this movie. I don’t like the main character, Julianne Potter, played by Julia Roberts simply because she is not a girls’ girl. She’s appointed maid-of-honor to Kimberly (Cameron Diaz) who marries Julianne’s boy best friend, Michael O’Neal (Dermont Mulroney) and Julianne actively tries to stop the wedding because she realizes she’sin love with Michael. I mean, fair enough – have you seen Dermont Mulroney? Anyways, Julianne spends the entirety of the movie trying to break the couple up so that she can have Michael all to herself. 

This movie was very difficult for me to watch because Julianne stands against everything that I believe females have to be for other females. She doesn’t support other girls, she’s unprincipled, and she fits the stereotype that women have been trying to fight for years in film: the stereotype that women only exist for men and are in constant competition with other women for promotions, respect, and limited spots in a male’s gaze. Julianne can’t put her own feelings aside to be happy for her new friend Kimberly; she tries destroying Kimberly’s dream wedding day, all the while leading Kimberly to believe they were friends. I understand the complexities of love and being in love with someone you cannot have, but Julianne goes against girl code and tries to get with Michael behind Kimberly’s back. Julianne is a deceitful, manipulative, and selfish character and I don’t think that she’s a good example of women in film.

10 Things I Hate About You” (1999)

Bianca Stratford is defined by boys and her looks throughout the entire movie while her sister, Kat, takes time to develop her personality and sense of self before the movie discusses her relationships. Even when Bianca’s focused on boys throughout the movie, she spends more time wanting Joey Donner, the narcissistic pretty boy that doesn’t care about her more than his looks, instead of Cameron Jones, the boy who’s infatuated with her without talking to her first. He learns French for her. I mean come on! However, she’s more focused on going out to impress Joey and to hang out with him than trying to establish her own character without a boy obsession. The boy-obsessed stereotype for female characters throughout Hollywood is slowly being phased out with modern movies today – just not in time for Biana Stratford to truly get her time to shine in her character development.

I harbor no hatred or distaste for any of these movies and I still love (most) of them because the plots and additional characters are lovable – I simply enjoy watching them. But, we still have to look out for female representation in film. I believe that it is starting to become stronger with productive depictions of women as more women are becoming directors and holding higher positions of power in the film industry. Women are incredible and we deserve to be represented as such.

Lachlan is a new member of the Her Campus Chapter at CU Boulder this 23-24 academic school year. Along with being a new writer, she is also on the social team, working with a team of fellow writers to create posts for the HCCU Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and VSCO. Lachlan is a first-year student at CU Boulder majoring in Psychology with a minor in Business. In HCCU, she hopes to find a new passion and to expand her creativity. She's very passionate about anything food/coffee related, feminism, discussing social media, and mental health. Outside of writing and school, she loves to cook, read romance books, listen to new music, stalk her Spotify Daylist, and explore new restaurants and coffee shops. You can usually find her either watching the same 3 rom-coms on rotation or scrolling through Pinterest.