Table of Contents
2. What is gender
3. The Power of Media
4. From the early cinematographic stages till „Wall Street “
5. Wall Street
5.1 The Film Analysis
5.1.2 Women in “Wall Street”
5.2 Gender Equality in real life Wall Street
Human mankind has always tried to improve in every possible sector. That is how ideals and standards came into being and are still held up today. These ideals reflect our collective thoughts and capture the Zeitgeist of the era and place we live in. Because of that, being American, as for being Italian or Chinese, has a certain connotation to it. The list is long, but some of the most outstanding ideals and values that concern Americans are: patriotism, religion, exceptionalism, heroism, and so on. However, there is something else that has to be added to the top 20 of this list. A certain architype of man and a certain one of woman has also been transmitted from one generation to the other. This is best displayed in movies, as it is one of the propagandistic tools which shows to the world the face of the own nation. Therefore, the essence of what it means to be manly or womanly in America was transmitted through the actors/actresses from the early stages of Hollywood filmmaking.
However positive the rising of the film industry has been, there is still one problem to this system. Not only do movies “seemingly” represent our reality, our desires and thoughts but it, first and foremost, creates those desires. Humans are of an imitative nature and will copy whatever they see and take, for example, films as an unchangeable reality. Furthermore, as we are talking about short film sequences and not everyday life, it is difficult to reach the standards which are displayed in movies, as for clothing, money, looks and behavior. This will lead to people getting really influenced by movies and consequently frustrated when they realize that the ideals cannot be easily reached. Considering all these facts, one could argue that movies are not just leisure but have a lot of power, one that we often underestimate.
That is why the aim of this research paper is to prove that movies have a great influence on how women and men see themselves in real life and that they reinforce gender difference by stereotyping the characters. It will be further suggested that these seemingly superficial differences do indeed make damages in real life, for example resulting in unequal job distribution. First, a definition of gender in general and the different nuances of manliness and womanliness will be given, following a chapter about how we underestimate the power which movies exert over our lives. In a brief section it will be explained how gender differences were portrayed in movies, from the beginning of Hollywood cinema till the making of “Wall Street” (1987). To round out the topic with a good example, the film “Wall Street” of the year 1987 will be analyzed, looking at the gender stereotypes that leak out. Last but not least, a light will be shed on the real life situation in Wall Street around that time and nowadays, focusing on the gender inequality that reign in this working space.
2. What is gender
To start this definition, a major difference has to be cleared: sex vs. gender. People often mix these two terms up, thinking they are the same or not gasping the meaning of both. Starting with the term sex, there are two definitions. On one hand, it describes the sexual act, and on the other hand, it describes the “biological makeup” of humans (Benshoff 5). Contrastingly, gender has to do with the “social, historical and cultural roles” that we create (Benshoff 5). These roles have always tried to separate the whole world in two counterpoints or extremes: men and women. To sup up, sex is something given whereas gender is something “socially constructed” (Benshoff 6). But this revelation is fairly new; for a lot of centuries these 2 terms were seen as one, making people think that all behavior was to be traced back to our biological being (Benshoff 6). For example, if men were more prone to show no feelings than women, this was not attributed to the social environment men grew up, but to the simple fact that men were of a less sensitive nature, therefore born with that trait.
Only recently, gender studies have started to bring this misconception to the public, focusing on the fact that one`s gender is learned and not given by nature. This “learning process” starts from the very moment we are born, for example when babies get wrapped up in either blue or pink blankets. The ideal girl has to like pink, wear dresses, play with dolls, not fight and so on and so forth (Benshoff 7). The list is long, and it does not take long for the first reprimand, should one not fit the mould.
The damages are great in both camps, and, as already mentioned, humans are of an imitative nature and that leads to the biggest problem: this system is self-repeating and helps to sustain the “sexist hierarchy” that we live in today (Benshoff 7). Strong women will often be referred to as unfeminine, and men who show feelings are unmanly. But in the end, it was and still is more difficult for women, as they encounter these differences also at the work place, resulting in an unequal job distribution. This problem will be further analyzed in chapter 5.2.
What is furthermore important to understand why women are portrayed in a certain manner is the definition of its opposite, thus the term “masculinity” (Zeglin 43). What is considered masculine can change over time and depends on the part of the world one lives in. To sum up, it is the social discourse that defines masculinity (Zeglin 44). In general, masculinity describes a certain set of behavior, feelings and values men should show in order to be called manly or masculine. The definition of what masculinity meant around 1987 in America will be analyzed by looking at the film “Wall Street” in chapter 5.1.1.
3. The Power of Media
As already mentioned in the Introduction movies do not only depict what we consider real but shape and create that same reality. This influence and the damage it can cause is best described by this quote: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” (Zehner). This means that for example women will have a hard time to rise in certain types of jobs when the media only shows men in high positions, like in the financial campus of Wall Street.
Let’s look at some examples that show how influential media can be. After the film “Top Gun” had been released in 1986, the naval aviation recruitment increased up to 500%. Furthermore, “75% of today’s forensic scientist graduates are women”, all thanks to the large number of women in series like “CSI”, “Bones”, “Navy CIS” etc. (Potter).
Therefore, it is no wonder that when it comes to real life Wall Street, it is a male dominated world. On top of that, these men are not the nicest kind, as they have, at least once in their life, aspirated to become like Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street”. The real life situation in Wall Street will be further analyzed in chapter 5.2.
But what is the most typical way women get depicted in movies? By analyzing most of the series and movies nowadays, for example “The Middle”, “Desperate Housewives” etc., it gets obvious that women are often portrayed in the house-wife role. This image influences all kinds of humans around the world and results into people still seeing women as that part of the couple who should stay at home to look after children and the house (Benshoff 4).
When taking into account all the facts about gender mentioned above, it is no surprise that male actors have been privileged in the Hollywood film industry, as it is them who get the starring role most of the time. (Benshoff 3)