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Headless Women of Hollywood: how film posters dehumanize female stars

Le Divorce poster.jpg

That sexism is still a 'thing' in Hollywood needs little demonstrating; Patricia Arquette revealing that she’s lost out on work as a result of her empowering equal pay Oscars speech, is one such example. The casting calls which ask for plenty of cleavage, are another.

But have you noticed the headless woman trend? If not, a new Tumblr account is here to fix that for you.

Headless Women of Hollywood is a project launched by Marcia Belsky, a stand-up comedian from Oklahoma, which aims to highlight the way in which women are objectified and dehumanised in film posters.

Describing the her project and the widespread headlessness, Belsky writes: “The Headless Women project seeks to bring attention to the still standard practice of fragmenting, fetishising and dehumanising the images of women we see in film, TV, book covers, and advertisment.

“By decapitating the woman, she becomes an unquestionably passive object to the male gaze. The question of her consent is removed completely alongside her head, and her purpose becomes solely that of being looked at by men obediently.

“Her value is that only of her sexual appeal to men, and not of her personhood.”

Belsky continues: “The head is first and foremost the thinking part of the human body, where our motivations and feelings are located. So, these images we are bombarded with on a daily basis tell us persistently that women’s thoughts, feelings and personal agency either don’t exist or are of no interest.

“Further, facial features are the way we recognise other people. It’s the face that makes us individuals. That too is taken away, and we are taught that all women, especially ones that match the ideal, are the same and interchangeable.”

The trend can be seen on posters for classic films including The Graduate and Death Becomes Her, along with newer releases including Terminator Genisys starring Emilia Clarke, and the Minions movie.

It’s the kind of thing that, once you’ve seen it, you can’t 'unsee' it. But the fact that so many of us miss it is exactly the point Belsky is trying to make. The headless woman has become so commonplace, many of us accept her as nothing out of the ordinary.

So what of the headless man? Belsky addresses that too of course, making the disheartening point that headless men are firstly, very rarely depicted in a sexual context, and secondly, almost never passive.

Take Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool poster for example. Yes, it’s a close up of an intimate area, and arguably a sexual image, but as Belsky points out, that’s a powerful death weapon he has there in place of penis.

“When the men are headless, it’s not mindless, it’s not ordinary, and usually – it is not sexual,” she writes in a Tumblr post.

“His appeal to the opposite gender is not the focus. They are an engaged, unique and clear part of the joke. (You can argue that certain men are made to feel their bodies are only a joke which can sometimes be harmful - I don’t disagree).

“When it is sexual, like the Deadpool poster, even though he is headless, he is not passive. He is an active sexual being, not an object.”




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