The Headless Women in Film

Jessica McMann, News Editor

Every year, hundreds of fictional women are sent to the guillotine. The heads fall into the hands of women, rather than roll the floor, as people look on in ignorance. These deaths are neither bloody, nor loud.

The Headless Women of Hollywood project was made to show the popularity of featuring women in movie posters, and cutting them off at the neck. The women are frequently shown faceless by turning them away from the camera, or just not including the top half of the woman in general.

We, as a society, seem unable to look any woman, even a fictional one, in the eyes. Mr. Shields, our school’s Humanities instructor says, “There’s this quote, ‘eyes are the windows to the soul,’ and it’s true. When you take that away you’re dehumanizing these women.” If we look women in the eyes we are obligated to view them as more than objects. When women are humanized, it’s difficult to see male advances as kind rather than predatory. Men feel victimized by women just by simply looking at them.

Such a small issue is just one hint towards the rampant objectification of women in our society. A very long list of posters that feature this form of objectification was created by Marcia Belsky, the founder of the Headless Woman Project. Many of the posters on this list had women as the lead characters, but favor the use of men’s faces instead. Belsky said on the topic, “By decapitating the woman, or fragmenting her body into decontextualized sexual parts, she becomes an unquestionably passive object to the male gaze.”

This creates almost a rift in the female population and their movie counterparts. It’s hard to see yourself in someone that you can’t see. The movie world is already so distant from humanity in general, with beautiful people and perfect lines, this just furthers the gap. A form of innocent escapism is stolen from an entire gender of people.

It’s shocking that one of the most prevalent genres to do this is targeted specifically at women, the rom com. “In the poster for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, it’s showing a woman’s butt and portraying it as, ‘oh well it’s a movie about pants,’ but it’s just sexualization. Or showing a woman’s neck for a vampire movie,” Shields says. These movies target women while removing the woman. It’s a case of men in the industry assuming what women want from film. That women are as afraid of their own power as the men who take it away are.

There’s a view in the film industry that men are more valuable than women. Ellen Pompeo, actress for Meredith Gray in Grey’s Anatomy, was paid less than her male love interest, despite being the namesake character of the show. Robin Wright, star of House of Cards, faced similar issues, stating on the matter, “There are very few films or TV shows where the male, the patriarch, and the matriarch are equal. And they are in House of Cards. I was looking at the statistics and Claire Underwood’s character was more popular than [Kevin Spacey’s] for a period of time. So I capitalized on it. I was like, ‘You better pay me or I’m going to go public.’ And they did.”

Men run the industry, and so the thought is that the same people must be the consumers. The studios play to appease men, sneaking it even subtly into the first image you ever see of the movie. Men will see movies starring men, so they show men. Men will only see movies starring women if they’re sexualized, so they sexualize them. Either way, the women fall victim to the idea of making money primarily, and pleasing men secondarily. Women have yet to fit into the equation, but with the “Me Too” movement, the call to equal pay, and much more, that will soon change.