Imposter Syndrome

Over the past year I’ve read Bossypants by Tina Fey, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso and Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg. And if memory serves, I remember every single one of them describing struggling with something called Imposter Syndrome.

A quick wiki describes Imposter Syndrome as

a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved… [it] is particularly common among high-achieving women.”

Before I even start, I just cannot with this. That we have people like Adam Sandler walking around without a care in the world, who hasn’t made a good film since I was still in nappies, and these extremely hard working and evidently successful women feel this way. It makes me kinda mad. The feeling manifests in very different ways- women saying that their achievements aren’t good enough, or aren’t as good as their peers, as well as expressing shock and dismissiveness when praised with good work claiming that the success was merely luck or they had a lot of help.

Emma Watson is another extremely successful celebrity who has admitted to being plagued with this. As well as being a world famous actress, she is now an ambassador for UN Women and an incredible role model. However, she still seems to be coming to grips with her incredible success and achievements; all of which she is very deserving of. In British Vogue’s September issue she explains that, “when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an imposter.” She also describes in an interview with Rookie Mag that you can read here about how she felt that “any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.”

Emma Watson at UN Women conference #HeForShe

The Imposter Syndrome originates from a study conducted by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes back in 1978 called ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention’, you can read the study here. They explain that the Imposter Syndrome itself could manifest in “societal sex-role stereotyping” which would explain why the syndrome appears a lot more in women than in men. Girls grow up in societies which encourage them to be pretty and not play in the dirt, to not be bossy, to be ambitious but not too ambitious as to make men feel emasculated. As Clance and Imes go on to say, “a woman’s femininity is called into question by her success”- no wonder women are so quick to dismiss their successes. Being a ‘go-getter’ and ambitious are attractive qualities in men, it is a shame the same cannot be said for women. This article describes how the word ambition is a ‘dirty word’ and is practically an insult and when “applied to women, it’s almost a slur – the subtext somehow being that ambitious women are out to trample colleagues on the ladder to success, with family and friends littered somewhere down the bottom of the life priorities list.”

Similarly, the media have continuously portrayed successful women as being extremely unnattractive. Think Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’, or Sandra Bullock in ‘The Proposal’. It would be nice if women were encouraged to be successful and own it. Not to be described as ‘full of herself’ or ‘bitchy’ for knowing she’s a badass business woman and a successful woman period, whether she has two kids and a dog waiting for her at home or Netflix and popcorn.

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The Bechdel Test

It’s hard to believe that during the 18 months of blogging, I have barely mentioned the Bechdel test. It is what I like to think of as being something which is ‘traditional’ in the world of feminist critiquing, and which is seen as a standard by which feminist films are discussed. However, 30 years later, I believe it needs some serious looking at to give it a bit of an update in relation to how we understand feminism, films and representations in 2015.

For those of you who may not know, the inception of the Bechdel test was in a 1985 comicstrip ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ created by Alison Bechdel. The test itself originated in the form of two female characters in a comic strip joking about the lack of female representation in films and discussing one of the women’s rules concerning attending the cinema. Her rules are;

  • films must include 2 women
  •  who have at least 1 conversation
  •  about something other than a man
Bechdel Test comic strip, found via Google Images.

Bechdel Test comic strip, found via Google Images.

Sounds simple, right? Think again. Although the test is taken out of the context of the comic, the test works well and simply in order to highlight the under-representation of female characters. The massive success of the Bechdel test comes from how simple the test actually is, and how many films spectacularly fail the test. Take the whole of the ‘Star Wars’ original trilogy for example- there are only 3 named female characters in the entire series and none of them speak to each other, at all. I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that most media think that women aren’t worth portraying unless it’s in relation to men.

However, media texts can pass the Bechdel test and yet be an extremely misogynistic text on the whole. As well as films failing the test which can be considered feminist; with strong female characters, with their own narrative arc, separate from men etc. And so the test itself becomes problematic.

Recently there was a proposed reformed response to the Bechdel test, in the form of the Mako Mori test. Named after the female, asian, character from ‘Pacific Rim’, who fans practically worship, the test is a response to female characters who are for all intents and purposes ‘feminist’, but who don’t pass the Bechdel test, just like Mako herself. The Mako Mori test is;

  • at least 1 female character
  • who gets her own character arc
  • that is not about supporting a mans story

For example, this test supports Black Widow’s character in ‘The Avengers’. Although the film fails the Bechdel test, Black Widow has her own character arc which contributes to the plot and not to the aid of a male character. However, films passing the Mako Mori test are even rarer than those passing Bechdel. Female characters being treated like human characters with lives external to men is practically unheard of. The Bechdel test mostly fails because there is only ever the ‘token woman’; the mother figure, the love interest or the side-kick, and so there are simply no other women to talk to. So even with the Mako Mori test lowering the accepted amount of women to one, mostly, the female characters just aren’t treated as human beings with their own narrative arc.

It is worth noting here just one more principle which is widely used to critique films; the Smurfette Principle. I first heard of this here– an amazing video by Feminist Frequency who highlights a lot of other problems within pop-culture regarding female representation, well worth a watch of her channel. The Smurfette Principle is essentially the ‘token women’, the ensemble cast or group of characters where there is only one woman. This can also be applied to race- a group of white people with one token minority. ‘Inception’, ‘Transformers’, and even female panelists on well known panel shows such as ‘Mock The Week’ come to mind, are just some examples of this. As well as the ‘Smurfs’, who gives their token woman long luscious blonde hair and heels, obviously.

There are a few different takes on these sorts of principles and tests, and the underlying theme is that women are just not getting represented enough. Not in the way that men are. We need to see a film where the characters are women talking about the plot together and driving and contributing to the narrative. Rather than the traditional ‘does this film pass the Bechdel test?’ critique, I think we as a society need to move onto a more general test which encompasses different principles in order to read the text sufficiently. However, the endgame is to ideally have Hollywood employ these simple rules and tests upon their films to make sure that they are representing women as widely across the spectrum as they represent men. And if they are not, then back to the drawing board, boys!

Feminism and Witchcraft.

Witches pop up in most peoples lives and cultures; from religion to media. The paradigm of the witch is incredibly interesting. Witches, primarily, seem to attempt to own their narrative and maintain agency over it and their sexuality; something which the patriarchy highly dislikes. Hence the ‘witch’ falling into categories such as; ugly, spinster and lesbians.

One classical component of the witch within the media is appearance. From way back in Shakespeare’s three witches in ‘Macbeth’, they are described as ‘wild in their attire’ and ‘should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so’. This conveys the idea that if women do not conform to regular patriarchal standards of beauty then they become an ‘other’ in society; in this case the ‘other’ becomes the witch. Similarly, in ‘Sleeping Beauty’, the main protagonist is the witch ‘Maleficent’. Interestingly, the three women with powers who help Aurora- Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, are called fairies. However, because of Maleficent’s appearance, (green and with horns) she is referred to as a witch. Interestingly, horns are seen as icons of the ‘devil’ and demons; a very male trait. This could be seen as confrontational to males and the patriarchy.

Also commonly found in the repertoire of witches in the media, is a constant state of ‘spinsterhood’; if the woman is single and seen as uncontrolled by a man, the patriarchy punish her and therefore label her as a witch. Take ‘Hansel and Gretel’ for instance, a story which outlines the fear of the single, childless woman. The witch that they meet in the woods is a single woman without children. It is speculated that the witch represents Hansel and Gretel’s new step mother; a former single woman who cannot live up to the idolised real mother. The ‘‘evil’ stepmother’ archetype is treated similar to the witch in the media, but that discussion is for another time. Upon Hansel & Gretel’s return, the step mother has died- seemingly the witch has the choice between spinsterhood or death. More recent, we can see examples of this in ‘Hocus Pocus’ and an extremely recent example is seen in Disney’s ‘Frozen’. Elsa (although approved patriarchally attractive) is shunned by society and at the end of the film is still single, whilst her ‘non-witch’ sister has found her one-true-love.

The Crucible is a major contributing factor to the modern day representation and understanding of witches. Written in 1953, the play is based on true events meaning that the analysis of fictional works surrounding witches to do with resulting representations and discussions are all the more potent. The play shows that the term witch is mostly just assigned to ‘the vulnerable’- women in general including women of colour, older women and the poor. I see witch hunting as synonymous with modern day ‘women hunting’; misogyny and resulting attacks surrounding a woman’s right to equal pay, abortion rights, and a continuing and never ending list of battles for something as simple as equal rights. A recurring theme in ‘The Crucible’ is that of hysteria- how an idea or a comment can be taken out of context and misunderstood. Much like today’s current misunderstanding of feminism, with a frightening amount of people believing that it is a women only man-hating club.

the craft

Sexual liberation is a major theme in modern day witches in particular. When considering Willow in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and the women in ‘The Craft’, they all are placed in modern day (well, the 90s) clothes and situations; including third-wave feminism and sex-positivity. The outfits often include short skirts and low cut tops as well as gothic makeup and jewellery in contrast to the outfits of ‘Maleficent’ or ‘Hocus Pocus’. In these recent cases, the women can be considered as being conventionally attractive, however, because of this, the patriarchy needs to place them in different categories- in the cases of Willow and the girls of The Craft, that category is lesbianism. Because the male viewer cannot understand why the women is attractive and yet a witch- these are two opposing ideals and the ‘witch’ part is not for him or his male gaze. Famously, Willow is a lesbian, and the girls in the Craft all experiment with lesbianism and so this is the patriarchy’s ‘reason’ that these women are single and witches; not because they are unattractive but because they don’t like men period. The average male needs to categorise an attractive woman into either ‘available for me’ or ‘not available for any man’.  

When you consider the witch’s male counterpart, the wizard, most people would think of Merlin, Harry Potter and Gandalf- all are considered the helpful, intelligent hero. The witch gets a much worse rep. Over time, I believe that the idea of the witch has evolved into the modern day idea of the feminist. The words witch and feminist are almost interchangeable; both words are not deemed attractive by most men, and nor is the woman who believes she is one. The modern day feminist can be considered as someone who disrupts the patriarchy, is sexually liberated, is quite happy being single and doesn’t care if ‘most men’ don’t find her attractive because she identifies as a feminist. The modern day ‘witch hunting’ has turned into online ‘trolling’ hate on YouTube comments and on 4chan boards and attacking women just for being women.

Why am I here?

Last night I returned from my local cinema filled with excitement after seeing Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’; so much excitement in fact that I began trawling the internet for blogs, videos and critics opinions and views as I became so encompassed in the hype. At the peak of excitement at around midnight, Total Film’s twitter account posted a video of their team discussing and reviewing the film; perfect timing! After hitting play however I became somewhat down heartened at seeing four men sitting around a table. As a woman I wanted to hear what this big blockbuster superhero film meant to females; whether it was considered approachable, how it handled Lois Lane as a character from a female critics point of view. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these four men know what they’re talking about, it’s why they do what they do, I was just a little miffed that a woman was not included in the discussion. The four guys discussions and banter was still funny and insightful, I would have just liked the input and opinions of a woman.

So today I woke up and found that this video was still playing on my mind and so I began a search for some female internet critics that I could add to my bookmarks… and I searched… and I kept searching…

Instead I found this article explaining how film criticism is even more male-dominated than it was six years ago. More specifically, the study found that of the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes, female critics make up just 18% of the film reviews. At this point I was in disbelief and a little exasperated.

Furiously opening new tabs left, right and centre, I eventually found myself on the Guardian film blog website; now desperate to find myself a well-established female critic preferably employed by a reputable magazine or newspaper site. This effort was mostly just to assure myself that there were some out there. On the first page of the Guardian’s film blog, there was just one article written by a female and another fourteen articles written by male critics.

Now, I know that I haven’t spent weeks and months slowly searching the internet for female film critics and I am 100% sure that there are some amazing ones out there. However, in my couple of hours of searching, shouldn’t there be a fair few more that I should have stumbled upon?!

Hence my creation of this little blog.

I am a former media student and I am an avid film and television watcher however I am not going to pretend that I know anything more than any other film critic. I am however going to have my own opinions and unique take on films. I enjoy discussing films, tv shows and pop culture, and I know that I bore my family and friends when attempting to do this with them as they aren’t really interested in how I felt when that specific camera angle did that thing over that guy’s shoulder.

So here’s my first post. A bit of why this came to be created I suppose. A mixture of always wanting to begin a blog and the last push that discovering that article about female critics gave me to finally create one. I understand that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of film blogs out there and so I don’t expect avid readers; I am doing this because I love it and if someone else does too then that’s just great.