In the world today, people in society are consistently breaking stereotypes, especially gender specific stereotypes. Stereotypes are defined as, a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. People for years have grouped races, genders, fashion, hairstyles, ages, and many more qualities under certain terms based on what the majority thinks of those groups. This is stereotyping, and most mainstream filmmakers use this horrid way of categorizing people in their films. They have turned this classification process into a way of entertainment.
That said, many independent filmmakers, specifically the Coen Brothers, stray from including stereotypes, specifically gender stereotypes, in their films. They have proven that including non-stereotypical gender roles in the characters in their films allow their films to be more interesting and still watchable.
Independent movies that include non-stereotypical gender roles, are more relatable, better for society, and proves films can be interesting and entertaining without the useless stereotypes used in mainstream films.
Stereotypes swarm society. People fall under many stereotypes based on their looks, how they dress, and how old they are. Film portrays all of these stereotypes in different ways, but a prominent stereotype that plays a huge role in film is gender stereotypes. Whether it is a women in search of a man to make her life complete, or a man who has to have a six pack and no feelings to be attractive, these qualities are all based on what society thinks is “right”. One of the reason society thinks this is how all women and men act is because of the constant use of these qualities in male and female characters in mainstream films.
Many women characters in films play the victim, get taken advantage of, need a man to save them, talk about men like they are necessity, strive to find their soulmate, act shy, lack confidence, are insecure, get interrupted or out shadowed by men, and care after the children. Male characters on the other hand, are leaders, they worry about their work, take advantage of women, are controlling, are strong and powerful, play the hero and villain, and can be sleazy. In the 1980s, the Coen Brothers were one of the first independent filmmakers to introduce new qualities and characteristics to their characters. They decided to flip gender stereotypes and create unique and interesting characters with opposite qualities based on their genders. For example, one of their more popular films is a film called Fargo. In Fargo, the main characters play non-stereotypical gender roles. First, Jerry Lundegaard plays a weak, insecure, worried husband who find himself in some financially problems.
He tries to fix this problem himself, but nothing goes as plan. His character is scared and wimpy. He doesn’t know how to solve problems, and he is sad and likes to wallow in his own self pity. These characteristics mostly pertain to female stereotypes, but the Coen Brothers have given them to a male character. Another important dynamic in the film is the relationship between Marge and her husband Norm. Marge is a the head of the sheriff department and she is also very pregnant throughout the film. Her character has qualities such as confidence, leadership, problem solver, decision-maker, and persistence. She isn’t afraid to do anything she needs to do to get the job done and solve the problem. In the end of the film, she solves the murder mystery and catches the criminals. Her husband on the other hand has characteristics stereotypical to a women. He cares after the house, he cooks his wife food, he brings her lunch to her work, he is calm and caring, he worries about his wife and wants to make sure he is doing everything he can to keep her happy and comfortable. This role reversal doesn’t hinder the film, it makes it more realistic and interesting. It is more relatable and made this film just as popular as other mainstream films during that time.
The Coen Brothers are known for these role reversals and non-stereotypical gender role characters in their films. Another example is from the film, Big Lebowski. In this film, the main male character, Jeffrey Lebowski or “The Dude”, gets “roughed up” by two thugs in the beginning of the film. He is scared and worried and taken advantage of, because they steal his belongings and vandalize his house. While all of this is happening he lets them do it, he tries to reason with them, but ultimately gives up because he is scared and doesn’t want to cause trouble. Maude plays a billionaire’s daughter who has taken over the family business. She is incredible powerful, she is confident, she is demanding, and she is strong. There is one scene where she is talking to “The Dude” and while he stirs his white russian cocktail, she is constantly interrupting him to try and explain who she is and what she does. This stood out to me because there are multiple movies where the CEO is male, and in charge of a multimillion-dollar company is taking over for his father and constantly interrupts whoever is talking to him.
The interrupting is not so much as a stereotype as it is a constant obstacle women struggle with on a daily basis when talking to men. The Coen Brothers have incorporated this as a male quality into a female character to symbolize the irony. I am a feminist and believe gender stereotyping goes against everything a feminist stands for. I also believe women are stereotyped more and with worse stereotypes than men, but these stereotypes are not moving toward equality of the genders. It separates the genders by using the entertaining and spectacle of a film to convince an audience that this is how real life works. Then that leads to people pushing themselves to act like the stereotypes in the movies. That said, if we have more movies with characters breaking those stereotypes, society would then take that as encouragement to personally break those stereotypes. For me personally, films swayed my opinions and actions, especially when I was younger. Watching a film is supposed to be inspiring and uplifting for the audience. Films have power over a society. If films use this power to push positive and encouraging qualities in society, gender stereotypes would eventually be eliminated.