Films have become an important reference point to learn social norms and the portrayal of women in movies has evolved over the years, reflecting major changes in society. In the 21st century, cinema portrays men and women as equals although this hasn't always been the case.
Media influences are important in contemporary society, with people typically being bombarded by images and messages from the movies, television, magazines, websites, billboards and other forms of advertising. Researchers argue that it is inevitable we will be affected by these experiences.
Films can act as a guide to socialization processes about human lives and interactions, from other people's point of view. We have an innate fascination of drama, as we can see the complexities of other people's lives. This influences the way people conduct themselves, and their expectations of other people's behaviors. For example, domestic and romantic screenplays create role models to show us how our neighbors, lovers and friends should interact.
Films are significant to the socialization process for young girls for several reasons as they present images of women acting like girls. This often presents them as being too irresponsible to become organizational and societal leaders. Movies are also seen to be powerful ideological messengers. Currie (1995) suggests that the identification with women in film shows characters facing personal and organizational challenges they must overcome. The film then suggests solutions for resolve, which may be interpreted by viewers as meaning that real people should be able to overcome their problems too.
Movie heroes, male or female, are almost uniformly assertive and single-minded. This ‘toughness' is constantly apparent, therefore impacting on individual style and preferences. Images of attractive people may influence how people rate their personal appearance and that of others. Within modern society, this shows how popular media affects people's lives.
Powerful, autonomous women often frequent Hollywood movies. Even in the stereotypical female characters, the sex kittens and the servants have always had their counterparts. It appears that women in films are presented with various life problems. The conflict between work and love or femininity and ambition, are central themes in traditional and modern films.
Although women have always appeared alongside men in star and supporting roles in movies, their interests and activities were quite distinct from those of men. In the 1920's and 1930's, women appeared in strong roles. These women escaped the world of domesticity, being worldly characters, often fallen women who were punished in the end. These female characters did not compete with male characters, but occupied a different genre. This genre consisted of fantasy, song and dance that appealed to many women in the time of the Depression. Hollywood met the need for American women and others worldwide to escape vicariously through film.
Women's roles reflect Western culture, as well as the changes that have happened due to the feminist movement. Typically, films of the 1950's and 1960's portrayed women in sexually and socially conservative roles, such as ‘stand by your man' stereotypes. The 1970's appear to have brought about the re-emergence of the strong heroine, or ‘new woman' - who was presented differently. This reflects the influence of the newly visible women's movement, the changes in family life brought about by feminism, changes in the economy and a woman's place in it.
The progressive change in sex roles within society meant film production had a focus on the problems faced by the modern woman, the breakdown of the traditional family and general upheaval. Such films may present broken relationships, portraying female liberation, growth and fulfillment. In contrast to this, the early 1980's focused on the issues faced by men, where family breakdowns transform the father and husband into a hero, becoming a responsible provider and parent.
In terms of attitudes to gender, a study undertaken by the UK's National Centre for Social Research (2000), found that the people surveyed were increasingly rejecting dated ideas regarding the role of men and women. The traditional view of women as dedicated ‘housewives' seems to have disappeared. On a micro level, figures show that one in six women compared with one in five men think that women should remain at home while men go out to work. Although there is a change of attitudes, statistics also reveal that women still do more housework than men, while men do more paid work outside the home. On a macro level, inequalities are more pronounced, where we see more men than women running governments and businesses than women.