International Women’s Day: equality on the screen

Last weekend I saturated myself with 1980s futuristic dystopian films hoping to find a film I could show in my English class to pair with the play “Frankenstein” by Alden Nowlan. I watched (for the first time) 1987’s Robocop, directed by Paul Verhoeven; 1984’s Terminator, directed by James Cameron; and 1982’s Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott. For me the clear winner was Robocop (although I didn’t show it to my class because of the unnecessary amount of F-Bombs and a crack-snorting scene)! Why was it the winner? Because according to the writers, actors, directors and movie goers of 1987, it is completely plausible that in an action film females can actually be equals with male co-actors.

(Robocop and his partner Lewis)

As a new fan of Robocop I was upset to learn that the new Robocop (2014) has changed Lewis from a woman to a man. Why? BUT WHY?

(Anne vs. Jack)

After a week of simmering and wondering, especially thinking about International Women’s Day and what that means to me, I couldn’t help but ask BUY WHY? Is the only role for women in action films to be either the Femme Fatale or the Damsel in Distress? BUT WHY can’t we have intelligent, tough, and relatable women in action films? To be fair, Blade Runner and Terminator didn’t do any better (so not all movies from the 1980s are perfect [what??]). I suppose that is why I loved Robocop and the positive role model in Anne Lewis. But will we really have to wait until 2043 until we can start to see women portrayed on the screen as equals to their male action film co-stars?

In her blog “Action Movies and Gender Roles,” Julie Clawson asks this same question. As she notes about most action movies, female characters “add some emotional content to the plot, stretch the story a bit, but mostly serve as eye-candy.” Again, I come back to Robocop because Anne Lewis was none of these things. She was a police office, a partner, an equal, and she was not there to add emotional content to the story. She was there to be Anne Lewis: kick-butt cop who didn’t need to put on her makeup or skin-tight leather suit before putting on her bullet-proof vest.

I think that phrase YOU CAN’T BE WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE is true. This plain fact is why I have been thinking of Robocop all week. In Anne Lewis and the world of Robocop we have an image of a world where genders are equal. We need more women on screen and in books who take on the role of hero, regardless of the outfit, the makeup, the hair style, the body shape, and the sexual orientation. Really, that is the goal of Feminism: equality for all.

So I will continue to spread the good word about Robocop and Anne Lewis, although not as a film study in the classroom.


“I believe that it is as much a right and duty for women to do something with their lives as for men and we are not going to be satisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us.” (Louisa May Alcott)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)


One thought on “International Women’s Day: equality on the screen

  1. Jacqueline Way / Founder

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments on International Women’s Day. I agree we need more female role models in so many areas of the public eye. There are plenty and as the world evolves and changes we can only hope the strength, courage and wisdom of women every where only shine that much more. Happy Women’s Day!


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