7 emotional benefits of watching strong women in film, according to experts
The day I saw Black Panther, I went home and had one of the best workouts I’ve had in years. After watching two hours of badass women who were tough, smart, and saving Wakanda, I ran faster, pushed harder, and couldn’t wait to be a little bit stronger. And this was just one movie. How would I — and every other woman — feel if we got to see the best versions of ourselves played out in the media, not just once but every day?
I’ll sum up my feelings with a tweet (not mine) that portrays what I think it must be like:
To learn exactly why watching movies with dominant women makes us feel this way, HelloGiggles spoke with several experts about the benefits of watching strong women in film — and it’s making us feel all the girl power.
The stereotypes we see in movies, books, and other media unconsciously shape our worldview. But seeing strong women in film resets the prevailing idea of a submissive woman. April Seifert, Ph.D, a social cognitive psychotherapist, told HelloGiggles,
“The more strong women we see in films and other places, the more our brains will start to automatically associate 'strength' as a feminine trait, and as a result, the more women will be treated as strong, equal members of society."
Showing that women are more than supporting characters.
Kelly Faust McCann is a family therapist who specializes in women-specific issues. She told us that “film is the mirror that not only reminds us where we have been as women, but where we still need to go.”
That mirror lets us see a vision of ourselves we might not have realized was a possibility. While protecting a fictional kingdom with superpowers isn’t a realistic goal (as cool as it sounds), seeing a woman in a position of power still makes something click in our minds.
“Every time a woman plays the president of the United States onscreen, that image implants in our brains and reminds us that, ‘Yes. This is possible,’” McCann explained.
McCann continued by emphasizing how movies expose people to experiences and situations they might not encounter on the daily.
“Film allows you to eavesdrop on conversations and voyeur through lives you wouldn’t normally have access to,” she said. It’s not just women who benefit from seeing fellow women onscreen — men get something out of it, too. They see their wives, daughters, friends, and mothers. “And that helps everyone, including our children,” McCann concluded.
This is why major box office movies need to feature lead actresses with big parts. And while we’re at it, let’s stop labeling movies as “for women” just because they feature a majority female cast (I’m looking at you, Ghostbusters and Ocean’s 8).
“You cannot be what you cannot see.”
Seeing women in roles of leadership, rather than as victims, lets women and girls see their own potential. Social worker Silvia M. Dutchevici, president and founder of Critical Therapy Center in N.Y.C., told HelloGiggles, “The way women are depicted in film and television influences consciously and subconsciously the way both girls and boys understand what it means to be a woman.”
In other words, the movies we show to children now are actually shaping the future, which is all the more reason to make sure men and women are depicted equally. Dutchevici stated,
"For young girls in particular, when they watch movies and see capable, loving, and smart women living successful lives and having successful careers, then they can identify with that and project their future selves on those images.
Exposure to strong women can be motivating, Dr. Ashley Hampton explained: “While we tell young girls that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, it’s hard to aspire to do something that you aren’t sure exists or [when] you’re not sure what it looks like.”
Imagine for a moment growing up and never knowing that a career as a doctor, or a scientist, or a world leader was possible, just because you had never seen anyone who looked like you in that position before. Film gives children the frames to see the possibilities that they might not have access to in their daily lives. And ultimately, movies have the power to break misogynistic cycles.
“We all know that Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Princess Leia (Star Wars), and Nakia (Black Panther) aren’t real, but damn, we want them to be and we want to be them,” Robin Hornstein, Ph.D., a psychologist, told us.
Hornstein expands on the importance of people seeing those they identify with having strong roles in movies: “Who we emulate and admire in film becomes so important to people who feel marginalized by class, race, gender identity, sexuality, or religion when one of ‘us’ shows up as the hero of the film.”
Reshaping our worldview.
“In order for our world to shift how women are viewed in real life, we need to be inspired by them,” Jessica Dubin, founder of Merakilous Healing, told HelloGiggles. What might happen if children (and adults) in traditionally patriarchal cultures were routinely exposed to media with powerful women?
The change won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy, but Dubin touches on how it can break down cultural and structural barriers all over the world. She stressed, “Seeing women in strong female leads is crucially beneficial to shift the world’s paradigm of women empowerment and equality.”
“If one hopes to bring out the best in women, then we need to show them what that looks like. Film has the power to circulate ideas, convey insightful stories, and inform audiences in a way that no other media can.
With that, go out and support films with strong women, and by strong women. The world’s got to see what we’re capable of.