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Comedy and Gender


In different comedic films, men and women are portrayed differently when it comes to gender and sex. If a male character in a movie is portrayed as inexperienced when it comes to sex or even portrayed as a virgin, he is shown being made fun of and as portrayed less of a man. For example, in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Andy is portrayed as what some might call a “loser” just because he has never had sex before. “Key aspects of The 40-Year-Old Virgin which make it ripe for comedy are its focus on the male gender and a person who is well beyond the age when people typically shed their condition of virginity, providing a collision of circumstances to parody.” (Ericsson, 2010).  As the movie goes on, we see an increased pressure from Andy’s male friends to finally have sex. However, when females are represented in comedies as virgins there is not much comedy associated with them. They are portrayed as innocent and pure, rather than males who are portrayed as inadequate and are seen as lacking masculinity.

One comedic film, American Pie, is a great example of how men and women are portrayed differently when it comes to being a virgin. The whole movie is based off of a pack on how four high school boys intend on having sex before the end of high school. When it comes to Jason Biggs’ character, he is found practicing with a pie. However, Tara Reid’s character also loses her virginity but it is portrayed in a more sensible light and something that was to be cherished rather than to be laughed at.

Furthermore, in comedic films males are generally the ones with the comedic influence on the audience. Women are normally there for sex appeal or are only part of the reason why the movie was considered humorous. For example, in a movie like The Hangover, the only main characters throughout the film are males. There is Doug’s fiancé, but she is only in the movie to yell at the gentleman when they lose her future husband. Another woman in the film is played by Heather Graham. She plays the role of a stripper in Las Vegas who Stu, the responsible dentist, drunkenly marries. The only other woman that has a role is Stu’s girlfriend at the beginning of the movie who is portrayed as the psychotic, overbearing girlfriend. In this movie alone, women are seen as either non-existent, rude, or with loose morals.

Another example of this is in the movie Superbad.  While there are female actors in the film, they are there solely because they are a love interest to the men in the film. Michael Cera’s character is interested in Becca, one of the popular girls in school. She does bring some comedic elements to the film, but mainly as representing the stereotype of a drunken teenage girl. The other female in the film, played by Emma Stone, portrays the other role women play in films which is the innocent teenager. On the other hand, both of the male characters are the ones who are going through all sorts of crazy humorous situations to get approval of the females.

Some comedies have gone against the status quo of how women are normally portrayed in films. “This raised questions for us of how a film’s form reflects the kind of social change that is being pursued, the type of campaign undertaken, and the arena or context in which the change or the campaign takes place.” (Frank & Norman, 1986). One comedic film, Bridesmaids, is a comedy that allows the female actors to actually be the ones who are bringing the comedic elements to the film. There are men in the film, such as Jon Hamm, but he is the one who is portrayed as the rude and arrogant one, as opposed to most comedies that portray women like that. In order to change the social preconception that comedy only comes with masculinity and male actors, the film makers took a risk and created a film where the women are the comedians.

Another film that does this is Mean Girls. While many of the comedic elements of the film are expressed through the female actors, the film still stereotypes against girls. On one hand, the film allows female actors to show their comedic skills and many consumers, male and female, found this film to be quite humorous. On the other hand, the main reason why this movie is so funny is because of the way that they portray girls. For example, the plastics are portrayed as superficial, stuck up, and stupid. Some of the characters are athletes, which are portrayed to have masculine characteristics. The adult female in this film, played by Tina Faye, has comedic elements but is portrayed as the lonely divorcee and everything seems to be going wrong in her life.  So, in this film women are only funny if they are unintelligent, masculine, or lonely. In other comedies males tend to not have this stereotype held against them. How do we as a society change this?

In conclusion, comedies tend to portray women in a certain light completely different than men. When it comes to intercourse in movies, men tend to have the comedic advantage over women. This may be because of a social norm that if a woman is a virgin she is pure, but if a man is a virgin there is something wrong with him. In other films, women are portrayed as highly sexualized and are there only for the love interest of the male. However, this does give some sense of power to the female form, but that power only comes from their body and their looks. Sometimes women are portrayed as superficial and stupid, but are then given the accomplishment of being humorous for the audience. Will portrayal of men and women ever be equal in films? Only further research on sexuality and gender in the film industry will be able to determine if equality is possible.

Ericsson, S. (2010). Sexual Innocence and Film: A Look at Scholarship on Virginity. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media. Retrieved from http://www.ejumpcut.org/trialsite/EricssonTeen/index.html.

Frank, J. A. & Norman, A. (1986). Reproductive Rights Films as Organizing Tools. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, no. 31. Retrieved from http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC31folder/RepRightsDocs.html.


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