It is remarkable how frequent the “women as helpless weenies” appears in movies and TV shows. A man is engaged in a life-and-death struggle with a criminal, a murderer, a maniac, a wild animal or a monster, and the woman, often a young and healthy woman, just crouches in terror doing nothing more useful than wimpering. I remember this bothered me when I was a child. My mother wasn’t like that; indeed, I’ve never known a woman like that. It’s not just cowardly to be a bystander, it’s stupid. If “her man” loses the fight, what does she think will happen to her?
Over the last several decades of this trope has faded away, and thank goodness for that. It was insulting to women, and to the extent that popular culture influences gender roles in society, the representation of women as helpless damsels who could only wait and pray that their champion prevailed was archaic. The cliche was also boring. One of the better feminist role-models was Marion (Karen Allen) in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” She could throw a punch and knocked out a German (using aircraft wheel blocks) when he was about to shoot Indiana Jones as he fought off a Nazi goon. Now the woman coming to the rescue of an imperiled man is pretty much standard, even very young women, as in the “It” and the Netflix movie, “Enola Holmes.”
Good. It’s about time.
However, an equally annoying and perhaps even less realistic trope persists: women emitting blood-curdling screams at any provocation: surprises, monsters, villains, dead bodies. I see little diminishment in the employment of this ancient cliché. “Law and Order” and its progeny, as well as all the “CSIs” and the remaining procedurals, used and still use it constantly. Men are never shown screaming when the discover a corpse, only women and children. I’ve taken some unscientific surveys, asking women I know if they have ever screamed as adults, how many times they have heard female acquaintances scream, and what makes them scream. Most have said that they have never screamed.
In the procedurals, women always scream when they discover dead bodies. Men, in contrast, stop, think and investigate. One of the few reasons old “Murder She Wrote” episodes are tolerable is that Jessica Fletcher (Angels Lansbury), never screams when she finds a body. (True, she found one every week for ten years…) She looks shocked, thinks, and, just like a man, investigates. I think that’s what most adults do, and I speak as someone who has discovered more than one body, including that of my father.
I’m not talking about women screaming when a maniac attacks them in a shower with a butcher knife while dressed as an old lady—hell, I’d scream at that. But 90% of the time female screams on TV and in films is gratuitous, and it makes women seem like little girls. Where have the feminists been during all that screaming?
It’s high time Hollywood and its supposedly woke screenwriters and directors stopped having women scream like Fay Wray for the cheap visceral effect. It’s lazy, and it’s a damaging stereotype.