The 'Not So Hilarious' Part of Comedy

By: Emily Zhang

The Bechdel test serves as a commonly used measure for the way women are portrayed in film: are they seen as objects, or real people? Are they underrepresented? When women are included in movies, do their characters revolve around men?

Nonetheless, I feel as if this test often under-looks the imbalance of romantic comedies. While they were once films by women, featuring women, and for women, a very formulaic mold has been adapted: women make comedies for women. Men make comedies for everyone.

The same approach is always taken to creating the Ideal Female Protagonist. Her plotline revolves around having a crisis over choosing between work and her personal life or getting a guy. Traits are mutually exclusive: A woman can only be “dumb” and a sexual object; she has to be “high-strung” or “crazy” to be funny; she has to choose between work and her family (and usually sacrifices work for family).

I’m not annoyed because these characters are a part of “women’s” comedies. I’m annoyed because they’re a part of every single one of these movies. Generally, for movies to be enjoyable, filmmakers must assume that the audience members can empathize with characters, or at least like them, and it seems as if producers and directors think these are the characters necessary for a successful film. I’m annoyed because the traits of the Ideal Female Protagonist are limiting to females, and because these characters create the notion to everyone that this is what women should be.

These are the dangerously isolating characters that romantic comedies define as “real girls.” On another end of this spectrum, women are being objectified as these characters, their “traits” manipulated for comedic props where the justification and punchline is their gender.

But what’s even worse is the way men are molded into the plots. Men are the plot catalysts; they are in control while the female characters never are.

There’s nothing wrong with one film featuring these aspects, but it’s every film assuming that this is the ideal and imposing it on viewers. Women with traits that diverge from the mold are rarely found in comedies, and this is ridiculously detrimental to the way women, especially young girls, perceive themselves.

It’s time that these movies use a fresh new approach to characterization—and what’s more real than diversity?

Attend or host event Volunteer