Pop Culture Intervention

The Male Gaze Is Strong With These Movie Posters With Headless Women, And That's A Problem

Have you noticed this trope before?

At A Plus, we're addicted to pop culture, and Pop Culture Intervention brings that obsession to the soapbox. Through this series, we'll recommend what you should be watching, reading or listening to; explore how arts and entertainment affect us; and interpret the important messages contained within various works.

If your social feed this week was flooded with posters for movies and TV shows featuring female bodies without heads, there's a reason for that. Headless Women of Hollywood, a project started by comic Marcia Belsky that first went viral back in 2016, is reminding us once again about the rampant sexism in entertainment.


"My goal was to make these images stand out because part of what is dehumanizing about this trope is how we are completely numb to it," Belsky told A Plus via an email interview. "We don't see it at all. It is completely accepted for sexualized female bodies to be landscapes for male action in pop culture and media."

According to the project's website, Belsky wrote that she hoped her work seeks "to bring attention to the still standard practice of fragmenting, objectifying, and dehumanizing the images of women we see in film, television, and advertisement." Belsky wrote that this keeps the female experience as something ruled by the male gaze — something that is "an unquestionably passive object to the male gaze" and that is rampant as men are the ones usually making the decisions. A decapitated woman is no longer a person and usually is just there to sexually appeal to men.

Belsky isn't yet quite sure what her work has done to affect the way things are done just yet, but she has seen firsthand that some minds can change. Belsky recalled how one friend, who does graphic design, actually changed a poster he was working on when he realized the woman was headless, the man was shown fully and centered, and he knew there was another way to go about it after remembering the Tumblr.

"Any awareness brought to people in mainstream entertainment or advertising about the male gaze gives me hope that, in some areas at least, we can improve this unexamined and subtle disservice to women," Belsky said.

Not all posters fall into this lazy trend of featuring headless women, just look at recent ones like the posters for 2017's Girls Trip. Then there's evidence that men can be headless, too, with Belsky noting that the one for 2016's Deadpool is a personal favorite.

If there's one thing that's going to push Belsky's cause forward, it's the ramifications of Harvey Weinstein's industry-shaking downfall, as well as the subsequent #MeToo and Time's Up movements.

"I think it definitely opens some people's minds to seeing what they may have been fighting to not see, or what privilege may have blinded them from fully seeing," Belsky noted. "A lot of my friends used to think of me as a very angry feminist, and then #MeToo happened and all of the sudden my Facebook is full of private messages from people in my past like, 'Oh, you were … right.' "

All that said, Belsky admits to still getting pushback from the idea she is trying to educate people about — which further shows why this project going viral once more is not old news coming back but a chance for her to continue educating people who may be seeing this realization for the first time.

Belsky explained that people still tell her that not all posters are like this, they ask if she knows about all the headless men on posters, others ask why she is so offended, some ask why she is triggered, others accuse her of being anti-sex, and pretty much all of them treat her with the same sexism she is fighting against — something she joked about as proving her point in the end.

"The ones who don't want to change, don't want to change," Belsky said. "Men in these industries, and others invested in maintaining the status quo, are going to fight tooth and nail to hang onto each and every remaining privilege," Belsky said. "However, there are always people who genuinely do want to do the right thing. And, increasingly, people stepping into those roles have a social consciousness from these conversations and critiques becoming more mainstream. So, my hope is that we can actively correct how female sexuality is marketed and who it is marketed for."

(H/T: Twitter)


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