Movie production companies have long been dominated by white men, so it's no surprise that the products they put out reflect their very limited human experience — one that can be racist and sexist, even if not overtly presented as such.
One example of how the industry caters to the male gaze is how many movie posters don't portray women in their entirety. A quick scroll through the Tumblr account Headless Women of Hollywood is enough to show how disturbingly the film industry has always presented women: zeroing in on their body parts, specifically their legs, breasts, and lips.
The woman behind the Tumblr, Marcia Belsky, told A Plus that she first encountered this practice when a professor pulled up ads that had chopped up women's bodies into "sexualized and consumable parts."
"In each of the images, there is an assumed male gaze and the woman (or her parts) is there solely for his sexual appeal and purpose. Seeing all of these images together in one place was jarring," Belsky said. "The way that female sexuality is manipulated, decontextualized and then redefined by male standards is disturbing. Especially when it is then resold and internalized by women ourselves and how we define our own value."
Then Belsky started seeing this phenomenon everywhere, and decided to compile examples of it. The result is Headless Women in Hollywood, an unsettling website that shows image after image of women's body parts being used in movie posters to sell stories.
"I decided to focus specifically on film and television because I think it speaks to larger issues of Hollywood and its role in perpetuating how women are marketed to us as one-dimensional objects often there primarily to serve as background to male-centered action or humor," she said. But Belsky, who has a comedic background, wanted to confront people using humor, because she said it makes the trope easier to digest.
Belsky created this Tumblr to prove a point about women's bodies, but in the process of going through Hollywood movie posters, she noticed, too, how poorly the industry represents people of color.
"And when [POC] were present, the film or show was almost always specifically about how they were black, hispanic, Asian, etc.," Belsky said. "The intersectionality of oppression is very real in my opinion. Hollywood is both symptomatic and a perpetuator of the ways in which women, people of color, LGBTQ and other marginalized groups are made to feel invisible unless they fit a certain standard. That standard continues to be defined and redefined by the marketing and pop culture machine in a way that I see as harmful."
As with anything on the internet that touches on the issue of gender inequality, Belsky has received pushback on her project. One of the criticisms centers around the question: What about Hollywood's headless men? To which she has responded:
"Men's bodies are treated as active sexual beings whereas women's bodies are often represented as passive sexual objects," Belsky argued. "This makes a woman equivalent in the consumer's mind to other commodifiable objects such as cars, food, gadgets etc. Unless the purpose of the poster is specifically to be gender-reversing (usually as a joke) such as The Bachelorette."
And to critics who send her movie posters that include women's faces, Belsky said:
I like to make it clear that I am not claiming this practice hasn't gotten better, or that zero female heads have ever made it onto a movie poster. Merely that this practice is still used and hides in plain sight. And that, in my opinion, it still informs women (and men) about how we should feel about ourselves and our bodies.