Like it or not, gender stereotypes are rife in our world. Men are supposed to be the strong hunter-gatherers of society, or at least, the main breadwinners of the family. Women are supposed to be the domestic nurturers of family, or at least the main housekeeper at home. But before you flame me for my chauvinistic statements, remember that I’ve just listed stereotypes rather than truths. It’s these stereotypes that form the, well, basis of biopic On The Basis of Sex.

But these stereotypes are slowly deteriorating. Great cultural shifts in our perception of sex have given rise to greater gender equality, and we have several fantastic films to thank for that. Here are some of the greatest films that helped to shift our perception of ladies from “the weaker sex” to “a powerful sex”. Did they change your mind about how you perceive gender?

 

1. Alien (1979)

The recent Alien films have drifted into rather… weird territory, with Prometheus not even really being about the titular aliens, even though Alien: Covenant was pretty terrifying. However, we’re talking about the granddaddy of them all – the original Alien film that starred Sigourney Weaver (she went on to star in three more sequels) as Ripley. Her first name is actually Ellen, with Ripley being her surname.

But she’s one of the most groundbreaking female characters in films. She’s not in the Aliens series to serve as a love interest for some other dude – she’s there to drive the plot forward and murder aliens. Here’s what film critic John Sciazi had to say about her.

Ripley… is pushy, aggressive, rude, injured, suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, not wearing makeup, tired, smart, maternal, angry, empathetic, and determined to save others, even at great cost to herself. All without being a spinny killbot.

John Sciazi

Thanks to Ripley, we got more butt-kicking action heroines in film.

 

2. Legally Blonde (2001)

Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is probably the best lawyer in film – defying the stereotype of blondes everywhere. Although her outward demeanour may come across as ditzy and shallow, she’s actually pretty clever. Even before she studied for her LSAT (Law School Admission Test), she already had a 4.0 GPA, as the interview with her school admissions counsellor shows.

And when she did take her LSAT, she scored 179 (out of a possible 180). She went against the mould of the Californian Valley Girl and showed that despite her love for make-up and pretty pink things, there was an incredibly intelligent brain hiding under those perfectly blonde bangs. We learnt never to underestimate blondes again after we saw legal eagle Elle Woods in action.

 

3. Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures. Credit: Moves in Focus

Hidden Figures. Credit: Moves in Focus

For many of us who live in a relatively peaceful time of racial harmony, it’s hard to imagine an era where racism was overt and “coloured people” had to use different public facilities from the rest of the population. Even today, there are many in power who would prefer to sweep away the racial injustices of the past and keep them out of sight.

Enter Hidden Figures. Set in the 1960s, the film was based on the real-life journey of three black female mathematicians in NASA, a predominantly white male group. Despite contributing so much to the space programme, they were constantly berated, left out and ignored because of their race and gender. Nevertheless, they continued doing the good work they did so that lives would be saved on all those space missions.

Hidden Figures made us realise that if life as a woman was difficult back then, life as an intelligent coloured woman was infinitely tougher in those times.

 

4. The Hunger Games series

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Jennifer Lawrence refused to lose weight for her role as protagonist Katniss Everdeen, wanting to appear as a strong and healthy woman (rather than a stick-thin supermodel) on screen. This was so that she could prevent young girls from having an unhealthy self-image, especially those who weren’t stick-thin to begin with (which is pretty much everyone).

In fact, she infamously rationalised her decision by saying “Kate Moss running towards you with a bow and arrow wouldn’t be scary.” In addition to being a positive role model for tweenagers, she also started a toy trend – bows and arrows for girls. That’s part of the reason why NERF launched its Rebelle series of toy bows and arrows during the same time the Hunger Games movies came out.

And thanks to Katniss Everdeen, girls everywhere have a NERF Rebelle Heartbreaker bow at home.

 

5. On The Basis of Sex (2019)

And in the upcoming biographical drama On The Basis of Sex, we see Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) overturning years of laws of that discriminate against women – by appealing against a law that discriminates against men. Despite graduating at the top of her class, gender discrimination was so rampant in the 1960’s that Ginsburg couldn’t even find work as a lawyer. She eventually went to teach at a law school.

On The Basis of Sex is a timely reminder of just how ingrained patriarchy is in our system, and how gender discrimination can work both ways.

On The Basis of Sex. Credit: Moves in Focus

On The Basis of Sex. Credit: Moves in Focus

So what happened to the real-life Ginsburg? Well, she eventually became Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, being the second female justice to be confirmed in court. She also founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. However, On The Basis of Sex focuses on Ginsburg in her earlier years, as she battles the first groundbreaking case of her career.

Although she went on to achieve so much success in life, did Ginsburg eventually manage to win her first case? Or was it just a trial that propelled her in the limelight? We’re not spoiling that for you – catch On The Basis of Sex to find out!

 

Want to read more about some of the movies we’ve mentioned?

 

Credits: Movies in Focus, Golden Village Cinemas

 

 

 

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