Compare and Contrast Essay

Mike Mayer
Mike Mayer
September 12, 2020

The traditional gender roles that are still present in society today are often reflected in both the portrayal of men and women in modern television shows and films. Such genders roles for women include her being the companion of the man, and being loyal and unwavering in her support in most common situations, while being restricted to being passive and supportive rather than active. In contrast, the presented role of the man is that of being active, and achieving goals. Both of these traditional gender roles are broken, with each gender demonstrating the conventionally associated attributes of the other gender in earnest all over the world, in complete contrast to any set formalism. However, there still lies many traditional perceptions, such as women being a physical object of desire, which is something that still resounds heavily in modern media.

In many films, even right up to the present day, woman are often depicted on conventional female roles, such as being supportive, where their primary job is to support and uphold their man while he adventures and gallavants. Just because the role is not nearly as active, and mainly supportive, does not mean the role is unimportant and insignificant however, but men are usually the ones to make the decisions, while the woman is relegated to the court-side. In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor Kate Beckinsale's role lies at the heart of a struggle by two competing men for her affection. While they take on the active role in fighting the war, she stays in the permissive role, waiting for fate to act itself out in deciding her future. It is interesting to see that she stays with the one who survives. The fight over her presents the idea of male possession, and this can be seen as a primal instinct of man, to have control over the important resource. Although the main characters are all courageous, the typical role of man and woman is still easy to see.

There are obviously many examples of programs and films that take the idea of traditional gender roles and puts them under question, but putting characters in unexpected roles and positions. This acts to show that women and men are able to compete equally in situations that would have before been associated primarily with either the man or the woman. In such roles women can be seen to rival male aspects, and exceed the male ability to be independent, intelligent and dominant. Take the 2006 film Bandidas, in which two local Mexican girls stand up to the antagonists by doing something very active - stealing from banks. While they share traditionally female characteristics, they are still able to go from one successful bank robbery to the next. They get help further in the film by the policeman Quentin, while being male, comes across as very meek in comparison to the heroines. This film clearly shows that women can be as successful as they want to be, and can handle difficult and threatening situations just as readily. However, the presentation of this in the film appears a little forced, and comes across as an exploitation of the gender issue to gain more popularity and profit. Had this been a film with male heroes the film would have attracted far less attention, and the producers clearly understood this.

Finally is the issue of gender roles and sex. While our traditional views of gender roles are now known to never accurately reflect a given individual, male or female, women are still often portrayed as physical objects of desire. This is rife for the female gender, and is not nearly as common for the male gender. It does not have to be explicit either, because a woman's looks in securing a role for a film is still by far the highest priority, while the looks of a man, while increasing in importance in the movie industry, is still much less correlated to the chances of securing a role. For example, if we take Meril Streep, whose gifts as an actor, and recent Oscar win for her portrayal in The Iron Lady cannot be disputed, would she have had the same chances in her career had she been any less than attractive? In Bandidas, it comes as no surprise that the two females are extremely good looking. So their human qualities that define them as heroines are outweighed by desire to exploit the traditional view of man's weakness to sex, and not only that, but this makes some of the questionable acts they undertake in the movie much more acceptable because of their looks. In 1990's Pretty Woman, the character of Julia Roberts is first noticed because of her beauty, and it is only after this point that her personality is able to impress. This again raises questions of whether it is still simply about looks.

So, gender roles in society are still actively supported by media, while other examples show that breaking the norm shows that genders are in no way confined to these tradition roles that were once set. The problem is that in trying to present the falseness of traditional roles, it is ironic that many producers are still following presets established by traditional roles, for example using sex to sell in Bandidas - while hiding under the cover of breaking traditional female roles, they are clearly showing that they believe in traditional male roles. New female roles also use shock tactics to surprise, which is again exploiting traditional views. Double standards are wide-rife, and they must be eliminated for the emergence of true equality.


Pretty Woman. Dir. Garry Marshall. WGA, 1990.

Pearl Harbor. Dir. Michael Bay. WGA, 2001.

Bandidas. Dir. Joachim Roenning, Espen Sandberg. WGA, 2006.