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The Misogynistic Undertones of Classic Films

Catherine Otero - Teen Aspect - May 23rd, 2022
Actors Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta on the movie set of "Grease" (Paramount Pictures, 1978)

For decades, films have been made to bring groups of people together. From displaying the beauty of teenage romance through song in Grease to informing the public about the rise of drug use in Florida in the 70s through Scarface. These two films have entirely different plotlines but are both extremely similar:

They glorify the mistreatment and insignificance of women.

The two cherished, classic films listed above are not the only ones that have done this, as other beloved films such as The Godfather, Jaws, Psycho, and American Psycho, to name a few, have harmed the image of women in the eyes of the public in different ways.

Yet, society is advancing and there are new films emerging that emphasize the notion of women’s power! Why does it matter if films released in the late 1900s made women look bad?

The reason why this is so important is because of the nostalgia that comes with rewatching these old films. It is nearly guaranteed that every child born into Generation Z has had their parents, born in the previous generation, show them films of their time. It’s a common tactic used by many mothers and fathers to bond with their children when there seems to be nothing else they can bond over. In fact, it has been proven that engaging in digital media activities together such as watching films, playing video games and keeping in touch via calls and messaging apps brings families together (London School of Economics and Political Science, 2018). Additionally, Emily Kelly from Bustle speaks about how some of the movies her dad introduced her to ultimately became some of her all-time favorites. And now every time she watches them, she can think of all the fond memories she has of watching them with her dad. The sentiment is undeniably heartwarming but is also instilling the idea of traditionalist values into the new generation. There is nothing wrong with watching old films with family members but glorifying and accepting the mistreatment that minorities faced when watching these films is what makes it wrong. The nostalgia factor is enticing when it comes to watching these old films, as it creates chemical activity in your brain and makes you feel great (Hellerman), but there’s a darkness that comes with introducing the misogynistic ideals that old movies were based on to an emerging generation when those ideals should simply stay in the past.

Now, how exactly do these movies inject these sexist ideas into the public? Well, there are various examples.

Grease is the most popular example of glorifying these ideas. From Rizzo's reputation for being the town slut to the T-Birds' constant ribbing on sexual relations only taking "15 minutes" (Keogh). This film exploited Rizzo’s “town slut” reputation to the point that they made a song about it, also the fact that Sandy had to change virtually everything about herself (including her views on premarital sex) in order to snare Danny feels incredibly backward (Keogh). Teenagers of that time were then taught to believe that the more they sexualize themselves, the more likely they are to catch a boy’s attention. This harmful ideology is then passed onto their children and so forth because films like these normalize it. Another popular example that approaches misogynistic ideas differently from the film listed previously is Scarface. This film, undoubtedly, displays the harm the rise of drugs caused Florida and the world in the 70s, which is beneficial in showing its audience that drugs are, inevitably, dangerous. Yet, when it comes to the treatment of the women in that film, a different lesson is taught:

Women are meant to be trophy wives and do whatever is told of their husbands.

Tony Montana’s (played by Al Pacino) behavior towards his wife, Elvira, would not pass off as okay in modern-day society. Elvira’s character would spend a majority of the film drugged with very few to no lines and is only included in scenes when she is of her husband’s service. Montana would ridicule his wife consistently throughout the movie with one of his most damaging lines being: “Look at that, a junkie... I got a junkie for a wife. Her womb is so polluted, I can't even have a little baby with her!” With the amount of popularity this film received, one cannot help but think how many audience members resonated with Tony Montana’s character and were influenced by his treatment of women. Michelle Pfeiffer herself, the actress who plays Elvira, has spoken out about her fear of filming the movie as she described it as a “boys’ club” and her alarm regarding the nature of the relationship, for Tony Montana to be very dismissive of her character. This caused her so much distress she mentioned she would go to sleep some nights crying (nydailynews). This trophy-wife mindset is incredibly damaging to women beyond a television screen as the idea their looks matter more than their intelligence and personality became popularized.

These movies are more than welcome to be acknowledged for their masterful cinematic choices, but it is of utmost importance to also recognize the flaws traditionalists once thought would make for a great plotline or scene.

Cutting to the present day, Hollywood has made great strides in giving women the representation that they have been longing for decades, with films that, reversibly, now show the power of women reclaiming their sexuality. Easy A is a prime example of this. Anying Guo of The Washington Post discusses the positive effects that the main character of the film, Olive Penderghast (played by Emma Stone), had on her view towards her sexuality. She described Olive as cool, confident, funny and worthy of admiration. Outwardly embracing a manufactured “slutty” persona, she was inwardly confident enough to not be pressured into sex, or let it define her worth. She then moved on to say that her character soothed a persistent worry that she would have to move faster with her sexuality than she felt comfortable with, to fit in with her peers. Films being released such as the one listed above are a step in the right direction towards the way women are viewed behind and in front of the camera.

Granted, the effects of these classic movies are irreversible and are most likely to be passed from generation to generation simply because of their renowned reputation but there is optimism placed in the idea that the rise of these modernistic films can impact the public the same way these old films did.


Livingstone, S., Blum-Ross, A., Pavlick, J., & Ólafsson, K. (2018, February 6). Digital Media helps with parenting and brings Families Together. London School of Economics and Political Science. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from

Kelley, E. (2015, June 11). 10 movies my dad introduced me to growing up that I'm still completely obsessed with to this day. Bustle. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from

Hellerman, J. (2020, April 2). Why movies and TV are drunk on Nostalgia. No Film School. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from

Keogh, J. (2021, December 14). Misogynistic moments from movie classics that'll make you cringe today. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from

Bitette, N. (2018, April 8). Michelle Pfeiffer recalls being 'terrified' filming 'scarface': 'I would go to sleep some nights crying' . New York Daily News. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from

Guo, A. (2020, September 17). Perspective | I saw the teen comedies of my generation, but they didn't see me. then came 'easy A.'. The Washington Post. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from

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