What Do Women Want (From a Film)?

By  · Published on February 17th, 2010

I admit that, as a man, I have absolutely no idea what women want. I could posture and flaunt an ersatz knowledge based on the many women I’ve known in my life from my mother to my girlfriend, but at the end of the day, being honest with myself means that I just don’t understand.

If admitting ignorance is the first step, I’m onto the second step of working my way toward a true understanding. However, that road doesn’t seem so easy. At first, I wanted to explore and ask the question of What Can Studios Do To Market to Women, but that seemed cruel and calculated.

Instead, I’d like to know what the intelligent, female movie-goer wants.

It’s a question I’ve been curious about for a while – made more serious by a year lacking in strong female characters (and therefore, a lack of strong female performances) and augmented by a weekend release that sucked the humanity out of the theater. A craven, studio ploy to release a stereotype-as-film and rake in a ton of cash from a particular demographic. That movie was Valentine’s Day, and it succeeded. Women flocked to it and dragged their boyfriends along for the insipid ride.

Cinematical’s Monica Bartyzel used her column Girls On Film to take on both the film and the reaction to the film. It’s a great entry into a great column which challenges audiences to stop spending dollars on movies that give the bare minimum – creating a call for audiences everywhere to stop forgiving the pile of lazy cliches and hurtful visions of women as man-obsessed, money-obsessed bitches just for a “fun time at the movies.”

The problem there, as my tiny male brain can conceive, is that there are very few options for women to connect with main characters in film, so when they see the Sex and the City crew, or up-and-coming female stars, or a movie about ideal romance coming to the big screen, it seems like the one shot during a year that a film will be aimed at them. The problem, among many, is that the film being aimed at them is heartless instead of compassionate. Studios are thinking of female audiences as a target instead of a customer to serve.

And too many women simply accept what they are being served.

But aren’t we all complacent about what Hollywood is serving us?

After reading the piece, I was left with an ever harder question to answer. It’s one thing to call out for better filmmaking, to call out for audiences to demand more of what they want, to call out for female movie fans to force studios to create more vivid female characters, but it’s quite another to define what that means.

What’s a movie that women love that features a strong female lead or strong female characters? What does a movie aimed at serving women’s needs look like? Is it all that different from something an intelligent, male moviegoer would enjoy?

I suppose my confusion comes from not seeing a lot examples thrown out for films that an intelligent woman would want to see. I’m willing to learn, to be shown the light, but right now I’m stuck in my own ignorance. I’m unable to answer the question, and I wonder if most women could or would agree on what makes a good film. Or if they need to. I read a ton of professional critics, many of them women, and there tends to be the same disagreements, fights, loves, and hates that don’t seem to fall on gender lines.

Basically, I see that there’s a problem – a dearth of smart films with strong female characters – but not only do I not know the solution, I don’t even know what that solution looks like.

And I wonder if anyone does.

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