I chose the film Miss Congeniality, which is a fictional movie produced by Sandra Bullock herself and filmed in 2000. The film opens at a school where a boy is picking on another. We see Gracie Hart as a child who beats up the bully and tries to help the victim, who instead, criticizes her by saying he disliked her because he did not want a girl to help him, an example of the gender stereotype that men should always be tough. She promptly punches the boy in the nose, which also shows the opposite of the female stereotype of being passive. We go forward in time to where Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) works for the FBI with Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt) as a Special Agent. We see her on a mission where she doesn’t follow orders from her superior and tries to stop their target from choking. Because of her actions one of her squad gets shot. She is put on a desk job. The bureau receives a threat, which the intelligent Gracie Hart soon figures out is against the 75th annual Miss United States beauty pageant in San Antonio, Texas from notorious domestic terrorist ‘Citizen’. Eric is elected to lead the mission to stop a supposed attack, which displays the typical patriarchal man in charge instead of a women, even though Gracie Hart figured out the threat and has displayed stellar skills in the field. Hart is then realized to be the female FBI agent best qualified to go undercover as a contestant, although she pays little attention to her femininity.
Beauty pageant coach Victor Melling, depicted as the typical fashionable and feminine gay, teaches the tomboyish Hart how to dress, walk, and act like a contestant. She is unused to such behavior, and sees the pageant and its participants as ‘outdated and antifeminist’. Several suspects exist, including competition director and former pageant winner Kathy Morningside, and her unpleasant, objectifying, and misogynistic son/assistant Frank Tobin (Steve Monroe). Hart impresses the audience by playing the glass harp and by later demonstrating self-defense techniques during a talent demonstration. When “Citizen” is caught elsewhere, Hart gives up her badge and gun in order to continue the pageant investigation alone. Just as Matthews is going to board the plane back to the bureau, he works out that Hart’s suspicions were correct. Hart surprises everyone, including herself, by becoming runner-up to Frasier, who is depicted by a stereotypical airhead, emotional, and ditzy pageant girl. The agents discover that Morningside and Tobin have been secretly impersonating Citizen due to her old grudge against the contest and prevent them from murdering Frasier with a bomb in the title tiara
This film breaks a lot of gender norms and stereotypes that our society puts in place, especially for women. This film depicts clear examples of objectifying women, men being misogynistic, some LGBTQ+ identities, double standards for a woman in the work place, workplace inequality/patriarchy, use of the term feminism, gender stereotypes and norms being broken, and oppression. All of these examples shown in the film are a clear reason as to why I chose to analyze it for this class because it covers multiple concepts for not only women, but men too. To me, it is important to realize real life situations in which these concepts occur to both genders because many people have the viewpoint that only women experience these issues, or maybe even that these issues do not exist, but this film gives multiple scenarios in which they do happen in different types of people’s day to day lives.
I chose the theme of gender stereotypes and gender norms in society. This film depicts clear stereotypical gendered roles, but also some broken gender stereotypes and norms. Evidence for broken gender stereotypes is simply the character Gracie Hart. Gracie is a woman who has stood up for herself and others, even as a young girl as shown in the beginning of the film. She realized early on that most people do not like strong girls and think that any girl who is able to physically stand up for herself or someone else is weird and out of the ordinary. Because of this, Gracie decides to grow up in her own world where she lives alone, doesn’t prioritize having a boyfriend or friends, dresses comfortably over fashionably, lacks desire to look attractive for others, lacks most manners, competes in the “man’s world”, and lives for her job as the tough, head strong special agent. I also found other characters breaking gender norms like Vic, the male pageant consultant. This breaks the norm of pageants being only for women. Furthermore, the antagonist in this film was indeed a woman, which breaks the typical commonality of a man almost always playing the “bad guy” in any other given film.
Other evidence of gendered stereotypes and norms include many types of gender, masculinity, feminity, and sexuality issues that were illustrated in the film. Starting with the male characters at the FBI, they presented many stereotypical masculinity and gendered actions throughout the film. Gracie Hart had many male counterparts working with her throughout the Miss USA pageant, which includes these men seeing everything she was seeing through a microscopic camera she wore for purposes of the task at hand. This meant that these men could see the women when they were backstage prepping for their competitions, including the swimsuit portion. The men on the other side of the camera, to me, reflected men who open a women’s magazine in the locker room, oohing and ahhing at the different women as if they were objects there solely to please them. This is a clear display of objectifying and somewhat oppressing the women through their action of upholding the rightness of the female gender role that women’s purpose is to please men. The male agents, earlier in the film when the operation was just beginning, assigned the code name “Thong” to the operation. Through their overt use of masculinity, they are degrading women, especially those who are participating in the contest.
Narrowing the focus onto female stereotypes, there were many examples to point out. Due to the patriarchal ideology our society holds, it is very typical for men to be of the higher standards, statuses, and job titles according to the scholarly article Women on Business: Overcoming Common Gender Stereotypes in Business. This holds true in the film where men hold the positions of almost every FBI agent that is shown when it is scenes in the workplace. Other than Gracie Hart, the only other women shown were in the background doing office work, which serves to support the stereotype that women’s purpose is to assist and cater to men. Even then, with Gracie Hart being the only special agent, she is depicted as this masculine, unpleasant woman. This only goes to show that women cannot be successful and beautiful in the workplace. This also satisfies the idea of double standards in the workplace for women mentioned both in lecture and in the article mentioned above. Gracie Hart is displaying masculinity to show she is tough and able to do her job, but this makes her come off as unnatural. This emphasizes that women face no-win situations in the workplace. When beautiful women were depicted in the film, it was obviously when they were contestants in the beauty pageant. In these portions they are shown competing against one another for other’s validity which shows the idea of emphasized femininity. A lot of these women were shown as ditzy airheads who were following strict diets to satisfy the ideal look of women in our society. These restrictions for their eating and looks oppresses them in many ways. This sends the messages that only physical characteristics count for women rather than internal qualities being a defining factor of who we are.
A couple sexuality scenarios were brought up in this film as well. First and foremost being the character of Vic, the gay pageant consultant. Vic was depicted as this highly fashionable and feminine man who knew everything there was to know about beautifying Gracie Hart while also at the same time making other men uncomfortable early in the film. This is a classic gay stereotype because not all gay men are extremely feminine, or wear top brands, or are outwardly homosexual. Another case of LBTQ sexuality being present was toward the end of the film when one of the top ten contestants realized on stage that she was one of the five top ten that did not make it through. At this point she went to the center of the front stage and yelled that “…it doesn’t matter if your lesbian ladies, if I can make it to the top ten, then so can you!”. This lifts the feeling of oppression off the shoulders of any lesbian viewers because it breaks norms and shows that you do not need to be a typical heterosexual to be successful. Sexual identity does not define who you are. This film illustrated the marginalized culture of LGBTQ+ overall very positively. Other than the stereotypical characteristics of Vic, the gay consultant, the lesbian and gay characters both played powerful, effective, and crucial roles in the movie.
Overall, I feel that this film is a very well fit motion picture for this class because of the wide range of topics and terms it covers that we go over in lecture. I feel that oppressed women, gay and lesbian community members, and misogynistic men would benefit from watching this film. Everyone could learn something about themselves and about diverse others by analyzing this movie. It can give insight into a diverse population of individuals and the roles they have in society. For this reason, I feel that the overall message of the film was that no matter how you identify and regardless of your viewpoints and opinions on different things, your actions and words affect someone or some people, and you should not let others bring you down just because of what you believe in. Conclusively, I feel that watching this film helped me be able to apply the concepts we learn in lecture to the real world, giving me a better understanding of each one.