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  • Angelique Jones

Unlearning the idea of "woman" as told by the movies...

I’m on a journey to un-learn what I know about what it means to be a woman. I was brought up on films. They formed a HUGE part of my “education.” Offering me an escapism, a sense of community, connection and that (very rare) wondrous ability to see characters like myself reflected back at me. It’s a beautiful feeling when you see your own humour presented to you on screen - it feels like your own private joke, just for you, like someone wondered into your mind, laughed, loved it and then kindly placed it into the film to share with the world and celebrate how funny you are. Obviously.

Through watching films as a tiny girl, all the way through to be a fully gown adult, I learnt what it means to be human. Specifically, I learnt what it means to be a woman...well, the idea of “woman”...usually presented by white men. As a young girl, I drank up all these films, mostly the ones where women weren’t even included because the ones I saw that did involve women were usually rom-coms where all the women wanted was the love of a man...and I thought that was silly and naturally, connected to the male characters in films. I wanted to be an Aragorn or an Ethan Hunt (two, very white, “bad ass” men, who in hindsight, are also very unrealistic representations of men in film - how many guys are trying to live up to an unattainable ideal of man?). And I related more to the “funny” (in hindsight, not funny at all, just offensive, immature and lazy) guys in Will Farrell films (argh). The women in films I did like were usually just women acting like men (how clever). I experienced life through the male gaze, viewing women as silent (often annoying, unreliable, stupid etc etc...) objects of it. Yet, I was an ardent feminist. A contradictory feminist. Angered by the mis-representation of women in film yet unaware that I was still buying into the false idea of womanhood by watching (pretty much) solely films made by white men, starring men, about men. A lot of my favourites a s a child didn’t even have women in them, or they did, but their role and agency was so minor they may as well not have bene there (but of course, pretty women sells, right?)...I didn’t even know women made films. They were just in them, in front of the camera - the object of the male gaze. I assimilated an idea of the role of women in society. I learnt that women who go far in life are typically beautiful, toned and slender, usually WHITE, and young. They tend to think and talk about men a lot and seem to really want to get married and have babies (NOTHING wrong with this, but it’s actually, believe it or not, not EVERYTHING we want). I learnt that women usually need the help of a guy and they tend to ask stupid questions. I learnt that women only eat lettuce leaf salads and that men enjoy food more than women. I learnt that women care a lot about the size of their bum. I learnt that women get very stressed and whiny and that they tend to wait around for their husbands a lot - and that husbands are bored or their wives. I learnt that women are typically victims. That they fear being a lone. That it’s dangerous for a woman to be a lone in her house because she’ll probably get raped, murdered, or kidnapped. I learnt that women don’t seem to get older than 40. And then they suddenly become very old frail women about to die. I learnt that women make very loud noises and strange faces during sex, but that they always look very good. I learnt that women spoke less than men. That women weren’t as funny as men. That women feel guilty all the time. That women fear their mothers. I could go on forever. So I’ll leave it with one final point - I learnt that women were bitchy and fought with their fellow women. I learnt the most dangerous lie of all: that women must fight other women to be successful. I learnt that there is only one place for a woman (singular). Not women (plural). I saw women as isolated. Stuck behind a glass screen, screaming to get out and BE what they are in the world and bask in their own size, colour, class, sexuality, morals, desires, and so on. I grew up with one, very morphed, mutilated, un-finished, bullshit, narrow-minded idea of woman (who, by the way, was usually always white).

As I grow into this idea of being a woman myself, I realise that my process is trying to shed and unlearn much of the stories I’ve been told about women (and men) through film. For the past decade and more, I’ve been on a mission to highlight the mis-representation of women in film and the media and encourage others around me to be an active participant in the stories and images they are consuming. This has been a very modest and quiet mission so far, involving writing film reviews and features for women-led online journalism platforms; and turning pretty much every conversation with friends, family and colleagues, and just anyone I can have a conversation with, onto the subject. Sadly for them, a lot of films have been ruined with my incessant commentary and debunking the myths of women that the media and good old fashioned literature presents too. I started actively searching for films made by women, about women...and wow, a whole new world has been opened up - and the world in general, as each creator brings their perspectives from their corners of the world and illuminates untold stories.

The more I searched, the more I found. I had previously been taught that men made films and that’s where it began. But in fact, women were making films long before the “golden age of Hollywood” dominated our notion of filmmaking. I’ve met some amazing women along the way, including Holly Tarquini (founder of F-Rated) which led me to other sites like Reclaim the Frame and much more.

Now, we can find a wealth of female filmmakers like Celine Sciamma, Andrea Arnold, Dee Rees, Jane Campion, Ava Duverney, Meera Nair, Lulu Wang... (and so on, to name a few) redefining, reimagining what it means to be a “woman” today - there is no such thing as one definition, duh!

Unlearning the ideologies and stereotypes of “woman” could be one of the most liberating endeavours of all...

What is "woman" when she has the freedom and space to play...

I'll leave you with an insightful Ted talk by the wonderful Holly Tarquini - because Stories Shape Us!

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