Women in Post Apocalyptic movies

(47 Posts)
davina25 Sun 13-Oct-13 16:34:58


I am writing a paper on the role and negative view of women in Post Apocalyptic movies.

I will mainly be focusing on how often the fall of modern society leads to a strictly patriarchal world in which a woman's only role is often reduced to being traded for sex, or cleaning blood off the husbands rags after a day of hunting in the deserted wastelands (I exaggerate but not by much).
I will be looking at many films including 'The Book of Eli', '28 days later', 'Children of Men', 'The Road' and several others (some of which support and some that contradict reduced female roles in in A-P world)

I was hoping to hear some opinions and listen to what people think on the subject. Do A-P films take a step backwards on the progress made by women in a world of patriarchal cinema?
Any links or references would be a great help.

Many thanks smile

eurochick Sun 13-Oct-13 16:42:14

I've often noticed this.

I suspect it has something to do with going back to a society where physical strength counts for more than it does in our world with motorised transport, supermarket food and so on.

But then cinema generally isn't great for showing women in a positive role, post-apocalyptic or not!

deepfriedsage Sun 13-Oct-13 16:45:00

Men are generally physically stronger. I would prefer not to fight zombies personally.

davina25 Sun 13-Oct-13 16:57:42

Completely agree about showing women in a positive light no matter the genre (obvious exceptions excluded).

So would you say that superior strength be the defining factor in surviving in a post apocalyptic world? I think this is the case in most films made, wherein strength is essential to fight back the zombies or break through a wall to get inside a locked building for food, but these situations are thought and filmed by a very male driven hollywood. Cinemas representation of the A-P is not necessarily what could occur and strength might not be the winning factor. One might see A-P films as a barbaric fantasy where basic male attributes are superior and can overcome and control females in a society.
Any thoughts on this?

eurochick Sun 13-Oct-13 17:28:49

I think it's a lack of creativity in some ways. Post-apocalyptic societies go backwards in terms of some bits of our civilisation no longer being there. If you go back in time to before we developed those bits, society was pretty misogynistic.

DadWasHere Sun 13-Oct-13 23:51:26

But the apocalypse can be almost anything and thus so can the context of women in it. Tina Turner as the ass-kicking leader of Barter Town in Beyond Thunderdome or settings like The Road where humanity confronts its impending extinction and women, being physically weaker, are mostly prey to be raped, killed and eaten even though a few still project great strength of mind.

I read a sci-fi years ago where the ratio of males to females drastically altered, there were fewer and fewer male births over time. Society had transformed to be run and dominated by women and men were on the outer. In context it made perfect sense. In fact a declining male birth rate is what’s actually happening in the real world right now due to factors science is still trying to figure out.

I think you have chosen a very difficult thing to write a balanced paper on, because P-A mixes speculative fantasy with speculative reality, which adds a superposition of having to judge whether the movie is intended as one or the other or a blend of both and whether it makes reasonable sense in context. If you had chosen, say, the roles of women in monster movies, it would be placed square within a speculative-fantasy boundary separate from future imagined reality.

DanglingChillis Sun 13-Oct-13 23:58:05

What about The Hunger Games? Just watched Warm Bodies and the main women were fighting the zombies in that (admittedly most of the soldiers were men but the minor female characters we just missing rather than in a supportive role).

TBH the problem isn't with the genre, it's with film generally. My first question would be what is the evidence that PA films are worse than, e.g. medical dramas.

furfuraceousfuslug Mon 14-Oct-13 00:50:09

I haven't seen it yet, but How I Live Now may be better. The book, by Meg Rosoff, was a great read.

In terms of books, take a look at Sarah Hall's "The Carhullan Army", which certainly bucks the trend. I have heard Sarah interviewed and she is great - she has just won Radio 4's Short Story competition. If I were you, I would be contacting her and picking her brains. Maybe she could do an MN webchat. That would be fab. There are many of us MNers who love post apocalyptic fiction.

furfuraceousfuslug Mon 14-Oct-13 00:51:42

The power of fertility is of course often recognised, eg in Children of Men.

furfuraceousfuslug Mon 14-Oct-13 00:58:23

Carhullan Army

I'm not the author, honest! grin Big fan, though.

The only woman that came to mind from your title was Sarah Connor

And in 1984, she rocked

As did Sigourneys character in Alien

Those films are really important compared to the modern dumbed down films your talking about

GoshAnneGorilla Mon 14-Oct-13 12:03:06

Aside from the power dynamics, I Ind it annoying that women in these films look suspiciously well groomed. No straggly eyebrows ever!

evilgiraffe Mon 14-Oct-13 12:08:59

I was just about to suggest How I Live Now, furfur! It's a beautifully crafted film, although not strictly post-apocalyptic, I suppose. It's even more refreshing because children/teenagers are portrayed as real people with personalities and preferences which is so often not the case.

I also agree with Laurie regarding Sarah Connor in Terminator and Terminator 2^; and Ellen Ripley in ^Alien and Aliens (also Newt and Vasquez in Aliens).

Those are all good films, with some excellent female characters who are not automatically shoved into the "helpless" box. Sadly, they're all notable at least in part because they're so unusual. There is a disappointingly large number of "men are heroes, women are extras" type films, though, even some very good ones. I've not seen the film, but The Day of the Triffids is a good example of a male-centric post-apocalyptic story. It would probably be easier to find examples of misogynistic action films though, as limiting yourself to post-apocalyptic only is quite restrictive.

MrsGeologist Mon 14-Oct-13 12:13:07

Men, Women and Chainsaws: gender in modern horror film by Carol Clover might be a worth a read. Obviously it's about horror, but it think there is some crossover.

BuffytheAppleBobber Mon 14-Oct-13 15:08:40

It's a chicken-egg question, I think. I'm not sure I agree with those who've said that it's because PA films take us back to a time when physical strength was most important for survival, ergo men must take leading roles.

These film ideas tend to come from the minds of, well, men. Many of whom do seem to feel instinctively that the Evo-Psych assumption that male dominance flowed naturally from their greater physical strength is true. So, they construct stories that fit these ideas.

You didn't say what level of study your essay is for, but I'd be inclined to suggest looking at the writers, producers and directors of the films you're interested in to look for clues about their views on men, women, feminism and society. If you're degree / masters level you will probably get into social constructions of reality with this line of thinking.

Hope that's useful.

BuffytheAppleBobber Mon 14-Oct-13 15:09:45

Oh, reading your OP you've said you're writing a paper, not an essay as my brain had registered on first reading. I hope I haven't stated the bleeding obvious with my last post blush

coldwinter Mon 14-Oct-13 16:07:04

These films start from the idea that physical strength is the most important thing with survival. And that actually isn't true. Humans survived and spread not because of our physical strength, there are lots of animals stronger than us, but because of our brains.

And of course, many men are not that strong. They are fat, or old, or unfit. And some women are strong and fit.

And in post apocalyptic films, it is rarely lack of stregth that leads to people being killed. It is often stupid mistakes.

I think women would be more vulnerable post apocalypse. But this is because I suspect they would be the ones trying to look after their children. And children who cry, are slow, etc, are always going to be more vulnerable. Films rarely show this.

PiratesLifeForMe Mon 14-Oct-13 16:15:01

The women in The Walking Dead seem to do as much zombie killing as the men..

coldwinter Mon 14-Oct-13 16:17:51

Yes they do. But the young boy is still portrayed as more capable than most of the adult women. And the young girl who was eaten by zombies - the same age as the boy - was shown as pathetic. She could have easily outran the zombie.

PiratesLifeForMe Mon 14-Oct-13 16:42:30

Hmm I don't think the boy is shown as more capable than some of the adult women, I think it's more that they are showing that he has to be as capable despite being young. I'm watching season 3 at the moment and can't really think of anyone who is being shown as weak.

I dont remember the girl being shown as pathetic but if she was, was it because she was a girl or because she was a child? Not all kids would be stepping up as hard and kickass in the face of zombies..

coldwinter Mon 14-Oct-13 16:45:57

When they go out on raids, the boy has gone out, Laurie has been the only woman, and other woman have stayed with the old man somewhere safe.

Both the girl and boy were about the same age. She was killed when any child should have been able to easily run away.

OptimisticPessimist Mon 14-Oct-13 16:54:13

I was going to bring up Walking Dead too, although the OP specifically says movies so I don't know if TWD can be used.

As regards to Carl/Sophia - I don't think it anything to do with one being a girl and one being a boy, it was to with their parents. They wanted to kill one of the children, they didn't want to kill off the child of the main protagonist (the relationship between Rick and Carl is an important ongoing plot point), the death of Sophia was a major drive forward for Carol's (and Daryl's) character. I think that if the character of Sophia had been male they would have followed the same storyline.

I do have some issues with how TWD portrays women (Lori/Andrea in particular - the characters themselves were fine but I think they were portrayed wrongly, iyswim. Plus there was some pretty unfair fan backlash on both of them) and (trying not to spoil S3/S4) there was a particular incident in S3 that happened to a woman but all the aftermath was seen from the POV of her male partner which I found frustrating. They do have some great female characters though - Michonne, Maggie, Sasha and Carol are all really positive. The only one that's a bit more difficult is Beth because of her lack of screen time - but I do think that not all characters, male or female, should necessarily be "strong" because not all people are. So even if Beth is classed as a weak character (which is debatable) that's not necessarily a bad thing.

OptimisticPessimist Mon 14-Oct-13 16:57:19

It's a fairly even split going out on raids I'd say - Maggie goes on them all the time. And plenty of people die on TWD when they "should" have been able to get away - male and female. It only takes one misstep and you can get bitten, it's basically the premise of the show. We never see exactly what happens to Sophia - she may well have run into another walker while running from the first.

coldwinter Mon 14-Oct-13 16:58:28

Perhaps it is better in Series 3. I haven't seen that. It isn't the case in Series one and two.

PiratesLifeForMe Mon 14-Oct-13 17:04:43

Ok well I guess we're coming from different places on this one but to be fair, Andrea, Maggie and Michonne are all getting out there on raids which only really leaves Carol & the younger girl back at base, often along with the boy.

I think there are plenty of films & series where women come off as weak & helpless, I was pleased to see that (in my opinion) walking dead had a good balance - appreciate that that's only my perception of course! smile

PiratesLifeForMe Mon 14-Oct-13 17:05:12

Ok well I guess we're coming from different places on this one but to be fair, Andrea, Maggie and Michonne are all getting out there on raids which only really leaves Carol & the younger girl back at base, often along with the boy.

I think there are plenty of films & series where women come off as weak & helpless, I was pleased to see that (in my opinion) walking dead had a good balance - appreciate that that's only my perception of course! smile

PiratesLifeForMe Mon 14-Oct-13 17:05:57

Oop, cross post!

OptimisticPessimist Mon 14-Oct-13 17:28:19

I agree Pirates - while there are some issues with perhaps too much of a focus on the male characters, I think the portrayal of women is mostly positive. Carol (who is my total favourite) has had great character development, and the other female characters are diverse and interesting which is the most important thing for me.

I can't remember Carl ever going on a run tbh - in S2 he goes with Rick and Shane when they continue looking for Sophia (but that one's a pretty obvious plot device to land them at the farm - again if you gender-swapped the character I don't think it would change) and at the start of S3 he helps with the house clearing, but a lot of the time that Carl goes off doing stuff it's specifically against the instructions of his parents.

specialsubject Mon 14-Oct-13 19:26:00

try some movies made earlier than the last 20 years, post-apocalypse fiction is not new. The older ones without sex will widen your outlook on science fiction.

When Worlds Collide
On the Beach (immensely powerful as a book BTW)
Soylent Green (much better as 'Make Room! Make Room!')
or even Waterworld!

PumpkinGuts Mon 14-Oct-13 19:38:35

I have been over thinking this since reading the Op yesterday..and I actually think in a post apocalypse world the militaries would be the ones to generally have best chances of survival. Sexual abuse in the military (at least in the states) is rife..and there are by far more men in the military than women.. So women would be few and far between and would be seen for procreation and fuckability just like they are now but we have a few laws to try and stop it

SoWhatSoWhatSoWhat Tue 15-Oct-13 11:15:32

Would your remit cover television series? If so, step forward Series One of the original Survivors tv programme (1975), whose leading character was Abby Grant (played by Carolyn Seymour). Abby got to be leader of her group by having a brain, being a good leader and organiser - and perhaps because she was an upper middle class person at a time when such people were naturally deferred to.

Having a woman in a leading role was very unusual in the 1970s - one of the reasons it must have a appealed to me when I watched it as a child! Sadly Carolyn only appeared in the first series of the three. Apparently the director had difficulties dealing with a strong woman, and Carolyn herself realised she had a nascent drink problem. So she went off to sort that out, then moved to Hollywood where she enjoyed a fruitful career playing female psychopaths and the like.

Survivors Mark 1 had its problems - it's very middle class (the writers seemed to view the post-Death world as one where middle class people would sit about philosophising about the future), the villains all had working class accents and looked a bit shifty, the remaining population was overwhelmingly white, everyone's clothes were always terribly clean (easier for continuity when filming apparently) and the womens' hair/makeup was rarely out of place. But in the end I preferred it to Survivors Mark 2 (2008). Mark 2 had its points. It was written as an adventure story rather than emphasising the self sufficiency angle that was fashionable in the 70s, but sometimes it seemed that the main characters did little else than drink and shag, and the Mark 2 Abby Grant was a bit wet sometimes.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry. There's loads on the internet about the Cult of Survivors if you're interested, and the series is available on DVD/Youtube/etc.


Shame it is movies you are focusing on, and not books.

There are some brilliant post apocalyptic books with females as the lead characters, portrayed as strong survivors.

Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing. Best book ever written.

The Hunger Games.

The Angels are the Reapers.

I'm sure there are more...

Preciousbane Tue 15-Oct-13 11:38:22

All post apocalyptic films have people making difficult choices and kicking plenty of ass. I think society still doesn't cope very well with strong women such as Sigourney in Aliens. In the Walking Dead women spend a lot of time chopping veg as well as killing zombies.

In 28 Days later the women are seen as goods, they do have a few fights and are feisty they have to be saved by the lead male.

When it comes to moral choices in a PA world I think women as usual are portrayed as the keepers of family and the guardians of the hearth even if they are quite tough and will kill.

An underrated character is Vasquez in Aliens anyone that can blow themselves up to save others is pretty darn hard.

I understand why the Mother in The Road killed herself though I actually would have thought she would have killed her DS as well.

In Jericho all the strong characters are male, worth a look, on lovefilm at the moment. Post nuclear and again women at the trading post are viewed purely to be used for sex.

Preciousbane Tue 15-Oct-13 11:39:57

About Jericho, the woman that has gone to the trading post is after a piece of equipment as she has engineering skills that surpass the men but she is offered money for sex. That really annoyed me, I can see that happening though.

SoWhatSoWhatSoWhat Tue 15-Oct-13 11:50:45

..Meanwhile Series 2 of Survivors Mark 1 (yes, I could talk about Survivors all day) looks at the practicalities of day-to-day community life, which includes fertility and contraception issues.

Charles, who makes a brief appearance in Series 1 as a slightly odd bod who's attempting to increase the post-Death population all by himself, calms down a bit and re-appears in Series 2 as the visionary leader of the new community. A young woman accidentally becomes pregnant while using the rhythm method and purposely induces a miscarriage. Doctor Ruth supports the woman's choice, and informs a disappointed Charles that on her travels round the various communities, the most common thing she's asked for by women is help with contraception, and Charles has to realise that women won't be used as brood mares to re-populate the planet, however urgent that need may appear to him.

VerySmallSqueak Wed 16-Oct-13 00:14:34

I think that the two good female roles that stick out in my mind from movies are the female soldier in 28 weeks later,and the midwife in Children of Men.
They showed immense courage in sacrificing their lives in the protection of the children/unborn babies. (Although,granted,in 28 weeks there was also the issue of a possible cure).
It's interesting that in both cases there was the aspect of the nurturing role for women - the sacrifice for the protection of the children.

I think there are lot of post apocalyptic films where women are portrayed as very capable and able survivors. But,as strong as they are,they are so often still overshadowed by the men.

I think in The Road it was very much to do with the father - son bond,so the loss of the mother is quite secondary in my mind.It could as easily been about the mother - daughter bond.

davina25 Thu 17-Oct-13 12:09:37

Thanks for all of your responses; there is a lot here to chew through. I appreciate all of your opinions on the subject and glad so many of you found it of interest.

Thanks also for the suggested films, books and TV shows (They might not be the focus of what i'm writing but I can certainly reference them in wider context of the issues raised).

YoniMatopoeia Thu 17-Oct-13 21:21:48

DH offers the following:-

Good - Resident evil series
Bad - Cyborg

NotDead Thu 17-Oct-13 21:26:42

I do think it is time that a post apocalyptic film is created where a team of collaborative female mediators invite a representative cross-section of the zombie hoard to discuss ways of moving forward in a way that is mutually beneficial and takes account of the differing f physical social and emotional needs of the majority of participants.

NotDead Thu 17-Oct-13 21:27:38

has anyone mentioned Sarah Connor?

noddingoff Thu 17-Oct-13 22:07:08

Please put Liz out of Shaun of the Dead in your paper!

middleagedwoman Thu 17-Oct-13 23:03:36

Yes she is eminently sensible. A great character

WMittens Mon 21-Oct-13 19:49:54

If not already on your list, have a look at Resident Evil, Aeon Flux, The Matrix, Dredd and District 13.

sashh Tue 22-Oct-13 11:27:32

But the young boy is still portrayed as more capable than most of the adult women.

I think he is being shown as a minime of his father (I still can't get my head round Egg being a .................).

Only seen the 1st episode of season four but he echos his dad in dad ttells him not to name the animals, he tells the other kids not to name the zombies. In season three when he leads Tyreese's group into the prison but locks them up he is a minime.

Carol's character goes from a 1950s housewife beaten up by her husband to a strong capable woman and a potential love interest.

Back to you OP not sure if there is scope in your paper, and we have not faced a true apocalypse, but could you also at look how women have fared in real life semi apocalyptic situations such as Syria, Libya, the former Yugoslavia, women are raped at an alarming rate.

Bunnylion Tue 22-Oct-13 12:01:16

Post apocalyptic films are sci-fi/fantasy, sci-fi/fantasy films core audience are young men and so film scripts for this genre are generally written for young men. Hollywood does not take risks. TV sci-fi on the other hand is more often targeted at a female audience as tv shows are financed by advertising and women are more often at home.

Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley were characters written just after the period of heavy exploitation cinema, making them refreshing and engaging new characters to the genre but they are anomalies. As a side note, Ripley was originally scripted as a man but the creative decision was made by Fox to make her a woman.

What would actually happen in a post apocalyptic scenario is irrelevant to how films are scripted and green lit. It's all about the audience when it comes to commercial film making and the studio system. Unfortunately the audience are generally not feminists who place much value in women, but they do enjoy seeing them sexualised and watching things blow up.

Sausageeggbacon Tue 22-Oct-13 18:41:34

If you look at the resident evil films Alice is completely kick ass.

Coffeenowplease Wed 23-Oct-13 19:37:23

Theres the TV series Revolution if you are stretching into TV...

Some good and bad in that. Second season is better female character wise but they have also killed off a very strong female lead which I dont like.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now