What Women Want explores every conceivable stereotype about women not necessarily in a way that is gender sensitized but more of a way to create a good marketing strategy for the film’s box office rating. The movie progresses in a clichéd fashion – the chauvinist man who because of a freak accident receives the power to become privy to women’s inner thoughts and uses that power for his own ends. In the end he [obviously] realizes his folly and becomes reformed.
In the ruse of Mel Gibson the portrayal of women becomes of secondary importance. He becomes a hero in the end and the point that would have been raised in favor the woman’s awareness is lost.“One is not born a woman but becomes one” says the feminist Simone de Beauvoir and this quote becomes crucial especially in a media rich culture as ours. The type of representation that an audience is exposed to defines the stereotype and with the element of patriarchy that is our culture’s heritage it is of course not surprising that depiction of women has a distinct chauvinist blend. The major stereotypes here are the protagonist’s mother [the Vegas showgirl], the waitress hoping to become an actress, the smart newly appointed creative director, the teenage daughter and the minor stereotypes of the cleaning lady and the new mother figure, his ex-wife, the secretaries and the messenger girl.Nick’s ex-wife GG on the verge of her second marriage narrates his past – the reason for his “cock-eyed way” of viewing the world. The mother was a Vegas showgirl.
And then we see her in all skimpy costumes made for the viewing pleasure of the males. Here we see a classic case of the virgin/whore theory. The mother is shown as not ideal, raising her kid in an atmosphere that shows him not the way to respect women but to view them as a commodity.
The mother panders to her male audience and as we see in the scene where GG says that her mother wanted him to be around ‘strong men’ and then cut to the shot where he gives her a pat in the back and then puts a dollar note between her breasts. Growing up in such an environment Nick becomes a chronic bachelor about town looking for ‘game’- the more the better. The mother here is shown as an object of contempt – selfish and responsible for the way her son has turned out. In that narration we also notice the absence of his father, another point against her. The Vegas Showgirl becomes an apathetic figure, a corrupting influence.Juxtaposed to this image is Nick’s cleaning lady whose name is not mentioned throughout the movie. She wakes him up every morning cleaning after him and fixing him breakfast. And she scolds him of course but he ignores her.
What is more he refers to him as ‘babe’. This woman is the second mother figure to Nick – one completely opposite to his mother but in the same category as woman and hence his attitude. This word ‘babe’ explains a lot of things.
The women he dates, the way he treats them is a throwback to his mother emphasizing the virgin/whore theory again. The way harkens back to his mother. Freud would probably label it as the Oedipus complex. The women he dates and forgets resembles his mother and hence treated accordingly as she was.The waitress hoping to become an actress, Lola becomes the next stereotype of the woman trying to make it big, become someone and very insecure when it comes to the male species and as result considered as a mark. Nick sees her as an easy prey ready to be lured rather than an individual to be respected.
When he receives his power he uses her as a test run to score and evaluate the validity of his powers. But the score doesn’t become a home run. When in bed with Lola he is forced to re-evaluate his sexual prowess. Having the privilege to read her thoughts he discovers his strategy in bed isn’t as effective as he had been led to believe. The fact that Lola was thinking of watching Britney Spears on the Leno show while he was all over her stands as a testament to his not so great sexual prowess. He of course recovers admirably, ascending to the title of the sex god. Lola also becomes one of the key factors that set up his fall. Six days after the act she confronts him and to vindicate her he admits to being gay.
For a “man’s man” that is probably the biggest humiliation. But he does it showing his first step towards real change without any use of his power.In the same line as Lola are Nick’s secretary and the women that he meets while going to his office. Each one of them is seen as seen pandering to the boss and he expects it, ignoring them completely or using them for his own amusement.
Although Annie his secretary is from an Ivy League university she is an errand girl to him as are the others. The women here become the stereotype of the working woman who despite their qualification becomes second fiddle to the man in the workforce because as Annie says they have got a vagina.At the other end of the spectrum is Darcy McGuire who becomes the company’s new creative director. Helen Hunt plays the lead role opposite to Mel Gibson.
The disparaging terms used by Nick to describe her to his boss is an indication of another stereotype. She is the ‘bitch’, the ‘man-eater’ simply because she excels in the job that she does and has now taken the position that he coveted. The sex factor at a workplace determines the power relation between the employees. In this workplace the lines are conventionally drawn. Hence Darcy becomes an intrusion to his professional space where he dominated. She also becomes the reason for his reformation.
We see discrimination very clearly when we see that she has all the ideas and due to his undue advantage he sabotages her by playing it up as his own. His remark after hearing her thought that “she is not gonna last one month” with that wicked grin show his deviousness in order to gain the upper hand. The power relation had shifted to the female when Darcy joined Sloane Curtis Company putting him at a disadvantage and he with his new gained power snatched it back from her. When she fires him from the job after hearing his plan of attack, she proves herself a strong woman who can stand up on her own, not someone who is there to massage the ego of the male.
When he accepts her as she is that’s when there is a balance of power and the stereotypes are finally rested in the background.The final stereotype to discuss is GG and Alexandra who is Nick’s daughter. Both mother and daughter have some things in common. Both of them fall for the same type of cad and repent for their blindness. But the mother has moved on with her second marriage and the daughter has to live and move on from her own mistakes.
The mother becomes the narrator of Nick’s past showing his background while the daughter shows the stereotypical teenager who is duped by an older guy who is just looking for sex.Susan Gubar wrote that a “woman is a social construct” and it is ironic that the setting of the movie is an advertising firm which literally creates stereotypes and splashes them all over the media. The woman has always been labeled as someone else other than herself and the film exposes those stereotypes that are taken for granted by the male and the female. In the beginning Nick only refers to his co-workers in very disparaging terms as we have discussed earlier.
It is only later in the film that he recognizes them for the individuals that they are and hence starts to use their name in order to refer to them. The “jouissance” of the male space becomes a long drawn out suffering for the female who has to struggle to get her voice heard to the male entailing a move out of the slot that she has been put in. What Women Want doesn’t show the woman moving out, rather it shows the male recognizing his error of classification and attempts to redeem himself by giving the female her due.