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Female Movie Characters In Glasses: A Feminist Lens

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

Like many college students in these overly-coined “uncertain” times,  another quarantine movie night befell my roommates and I. So, like any rational, semi-functioning adult would do, we selected the always-funny, concerningly-PG Pink Panther following our viewing of Madagascar 2. What can we say? Uncertain times call for uncertain measures. In a movie flooded with unique, over-the-top antics and Steve Martin’s superfluous French accent, one moment in the film was all too recognizable.

Woman in White Bed Holding Remote Control While Eating Popcorn
Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

As Inspector Jacques Clouseau narrowed in on catching the killer who was attempting to shoot Beyoncé at some movie-concluding, high-class function, his female assistant aided in the chase by warding off a suspicious bystander. In their exchange following her successful evasion, she does it. She takes off her glasses. Then, and only then, after a multitude of scenes and interactions between the inspector and his assistant throughout the movie, does he note her beauty and dip her into a choreographed kiss. First of all, his priorities are way out of whack if he’s even hesitating a second to stop someone from killing Beyoncé, and secondly, why is it that for female TV and movie characters, glasses act as a blockade to romance?

You don’t need glasses to see that this is not the first, nor the last, time this has happened on-screen. To name a few: Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries, Laney Boggs in She’s All That, which is further satirized by Not Another Teen Movie, Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, Velma in the live action Scooby Doo, Selina Kyle in the Catwoman that has Michelle Pfeiffer and Agent Gracie Hart in Miss Congeniality. These are just some of the glasses-specific “transformations” of women in film. I mean COME ON. Are glasses really the tipping point between “I’m not interested in you at all, you are as attractive as a stale saltine and remind me of a librarian or my grandmother, or my grandmother who happens to be a librarian” and “you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, let’s run away into the sunset, elope in Maui and adopt two golden retrievers?”

But where exactly does this relationship originate in film? Well, if there’s anything in common with JFK’s marital woes and the correlation between female specks and attractiveness, it’s that we can place some of the blame on Marilyn Monroe. In her film How To Marry A Millionaire, which by the title alone you can tell was written in 1953, her character states, “men aren’t attentive to girls who wear glasses.” Even before Miss Monroe’s statement on the silver screen, a similar tale of woe was displayed in 1946’s Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. As character Jimmy Stewart takes a trip to an alternate reality, it’s revealed that the worst has happened: his wife was infected with specks. A true travesty. And, if she wears glasses you know what that means: she’s also a librarian, because all women who wear glasses are actually librarians. You’re welcome. 

What I’m not going to do is sit here and place the blame on the women who read the script written by the men in a studio surrounded by the men to present to a world dominated by, I bet you can’t guess, the men. At the end of the day, the pen was paternal. Men controlled the narrative of how women in glasses were perceived. 

After all, if a woman who can’t see well wants to get glasses so she can read and become informed and aware of the world around her, that’s too threatening! What will happen next? Independent thought?! With women wearing glasses and their march toward world domination, the men had to stop them. And so, women who had any idea or potential of being more intelligent than men, whose frames full of fury make them easily distinguishable, were deemed unattractive on the silver screen and beyond.

Photo by Myicahel Tamburini from Pexels

However, in this recurring movie reveal, there seems to be an equally recurring plothole. Can the woman in question even see when she takes off her glasses? First and foremost, glasses are used to help you physically see the world around you. So when the dream guy inevitably professes his love as he’s bound to do and you whip off one of your five senses, can you even see his superficiality with your own two eyes? Yes, you can hear him instantaneously profess his love to you, but when it’s coming from an out-of-focus blob, it’s just not as romantic. They address this in some films with the introduction of contact lenses, but in the spur of the moment reveals, one is left physically blind while the pursuer is blinded by lust. With one sense removed, the reveal makes the female character just one step closer to intended objectification.

I say we adjust our prescription. It’s time we have female characters with happy endings that don’t involve stripping their sight. We need more characters like Tina Fey as Liz Lemon in “30 Rock” or Jessica Day in “New Girl.” They are just as desirable, driven and worthy as those gifted with 20/20 vision. In preventing women with glasses from being sought after on screen, young women who watch these movies through prescription lenses of their own start to believe they have to change to get the role of lead love interest in their own lives. But, lasting change of how women are represented on-screen, beyond glasses alone, won’t happen until there’s more female representation in Hollywood.

So I say, keep your lenses on ladies! Just because male-dominated Hollywood wants you to take them off, doesn’t mean you should. After all, when it comes to feminist representation in film, they’re the ones who are truly blind.


Courtney Loth

Wisconsin '23

Student at the University of Wisconsin: Madison studying Journalism and Communications.