How Bird Box Fell Short For Me

There currently seems to be a wave of female-led films. (If you don’t believe me, here’s a list of someone’s Top 100 Female Led Films of 2018). This is all fine and dandy, but in my opinion, it is not enough to throw a woman in as the lead and call it good. In order for any of this to be considered actual positive change, these movies must portray women as real women, who are often so different from the women we see in films. These movies also need to send messages about women that are positive, instead of furthering misogynistic ideologies that we passively internalize as we consume entertainment. As I began watching Bird Box, with Sandra Bullock as the lead, I thought maybe I’d found a movie that portrayed women in an accurate and positive way. By the end, I realized we still have some things to learn before we will have perfect female-led films.

As I started Bird Box, I was excited because Malorie represented a type of woman that is so often missing from mainstream media. Malorie is pregnant and unhappy about it. The pregnancy was unplanned and unwanted and she doesn’t feel any connection to the fetus growing inside her. This lack of connection confuses her sister and her doctor and while they don’t overtly show harsh judgment, it is definitely there. While there are many women who feel instantly connected to their baby, there are plenty of women who resonate with Malorie. Pregnancy is so often described as “magical”, “a miracle”, “beautiful”, and many other positive narratives. I am not saying pregnancy can’t be magical, miraculous, and beautiful, but it often can be very hard on women, especially when it wasn’t planned. When women are unhappy with being pregnant, they often feel guilty or like there is something wrong with them. I thought this movie would offer some comfort but it instead frames Malorie as a damaged woman incapable of feeling what she should feel. This becomes obvious when Olympia, another expecting mother, is introduced to contrast Malorie. Olympia is thrilled to be pregnant, the way it “should be.” Olympia acts as a reminder that there is something wrong with Malorie and the way she feels toward her unborn child. I may have been projecting because I would not want to be pregnant in any context, let alone an apocalypse. Overall though, there is nothing wrong or unusual with how Malorie feels about being pregnant or the unborn child.

The unfeeling, tough Malorie is the perfect example of what Hollywood thinks is a strong female lead. She doesn’t get caught up in the emotions that women usually do, and she is a straight shooter, telling it like it is. While yes, this is a strong woman, I’m quite tired of the absence of feeling making a woman a strong character. Olympia’s emotional demeanor is what leads her to feel like a burden, and Malorie expresses disdain for that type of feminine behavior. Women are strong because of their feminine qualities. Their emotional intelligence is an asset, and their tendency to care is what makes women who they are. Movies often think in order for a female character to be strong she needs to fall into a more masculine role. A common narrative is that in order to achieve masculinity, she must’ve been damaged. As human beings, we all go through some sort of damage, but abuse is so often shown as what conditions a woman to be strong. Women are strong. Point blank. This narrative that a strong woman only arises from some deep trauma teaches women that they must embrace masculinity in order to be strong. There is nothing wrong with masculine women but there is also nothing weak about feminine women. In my version of Bird Box, Olympia with her perfect childhood, caring parents, and loving husband would’ve been just as strong as Malorie.

I’m grateful Hollywood has been including more women as leads, however, it’s gonna take some time to get to where we need to be. With every movie that portrays well developed female characters, we get closer to true representation that teaches young girls and women to love and embrace themselves for who they are. I know women who are very masculine and extremely strong and would’ve kicked ass in a Bird Box type apocalypse. I also know my mother, the pinnacle of femininity in many ways, would’ve kicked just as much ass. Bird Box didn’t do a terrible job of representing women, but they could do better and we all can do better personally.

 

Image Sources: Netflix