Half of human beings are women, but far fewer than half of protagonists in top-grossing films are female. However! A thought that has occurred to some Hollywood geniuses is, Women: Maybe we should put them in our films? And sometimes those films do well at the box office, if not better!
However, one funny *effect* is that, often, filmmakers and screenwriters will feature a woman in their movie but then have everything in her life almost exclusively revolve around men. In 2016, we’ve seen women who were driven to a bizarre degree by weird relationships with their boyfriends, their dads, a male deity, or — for one sad mom — her superhero son and his awful friends. It sometimes seems as if the imagination is only big enough to accommodate one central female character, and anything more (say, a relationship with her mom or a friendly female teapot) would be distracting, even unbelievable.
Without further ado, here are eight female characters from major motion pictures and the male characters who had an outsize impact on their behaviors and fates! (Major spoilers for movies and the logic of patriarchy.)
2. 1. Aurora, Passengers
Release date: Dec. 21, 2016
Men who shape her fate: Her dad, her kidnapper-boyfriend
How they mess with her: Aurora’s dad, who died when she was a teenager, was a writer, a war correspondent, a bold and sometimes reckless man of the world. Aurora, played by Jennifer Lawrence, spends her whole life trying to live up to his legacy, which is why she ends up on a spaceship headed to a space colony. It’s on the spaceship that another man, Jim (Chris Pratt), sees her in hibernation and decides he wants to wake her up so they can have sex. Jim ruins everything Aurora had planned for her life, but she is ultimately okay with it.
3. 2. Jyn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Release date: Dec. 16, 2016
Men who shape her fate: Her dad, her adoptive dad
How they mess with her: Jyn (Felicity Jones) has a dad who has been building an incredibly dangerous weapon for the Galactic Empire, which — as we all know — is basically pure evil. Because of his work, he was abducted, Jyn’s mom Lyra was murdered, and little Jyn was raised by a bonus father figure, with whom she also has issues! Jyn spends much of her energy and time confronting her complex relationship with each dad: First she gets into a big argument with her stand-in father, who raised her but then abandoned her when she was still a youth; then she tries to reunite with her biological father all the while trying to convince a bunch of people that he’s not pure evil. Eventually, she dies — because she’s developed principles, but also to finish what her father started.
4. 3. Carol, Office Christmas Party
Release date: Dec. 9, 2016
Men who shape her fate: Her dad, her brother
How they mess with her: Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is a hardworking, competent executive who works at her late father’s firm, but he always gave more attention to her brother, even though she’s extremely smart and accomplished. As a result, Carol is a textbook resentful bitch. For some reason, her incompetent brother and his enabling co-worker are the heroes of this movie, and she’s the antagonist for most of it. So the thing that makes her the antagonist is that she’s good at her job? What will filmmakers think of next!
5. 4. Moana, Moana
Release date: Nov. 23, 2016
Men who shape her fate: Her dad, a demigod
How they mess with her: Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) wants to sail the open sea, but her dad won’t let her! He thinks it’s too dangerous because he himself once tried it and failed. Then, after her mom and grandmother help her get out on the sea, she spends the rest of the movie trying to fix the mistakes of Maui (Dwayne Johnson), an arrogant demigod who decided to steal the heart of a female deity, setting in motion a chain of events that almost caused famine for Moana and her people. The secret moral of this movie is never let men make choices.
6. 5. Rachel, The Girl on the Train
Release date: Oct. 7, 2016
Man who shapes her fate: Her despicable ex-husband
How he messes with her: Rachel’s (Emily Blunt) life collapses because of her ex-husband. While they were together, he drugged her and abused her and then convinced her she was going insane and everything was her fault. After they broke up, she became obsessed with watching him in his new life with his new baby. During the events of the film, he continues to behave cruelly toward her, even though they’ve divorced. He is, in short, a demon-man (and a murderer!). The movie explores the crazy internalized misogyny of Rachel and several other female characters — and the seemingly endless capacity of men to break the women around them.
7. 6. Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad
Release date: Aug. 5, 2016
Man who shapes her fate: Her abusive boyfriend
How he messes with her: In a flashback, we learn that Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) was a successful psychiatrist until she was sucked into the orbit of a patient, the Joker (Jared Leto). Obsessed with this abusive boyfriend, Harley goes from a buttoned-down professional to a cartoonishly sexualized woman who wears a shirt that says “Daddy’s Lil Monster.” She gave up her entire life to follow this psychotic man. Also, she lands in prison because of him.
8. 7. Louisa, Me Before You
Release date: June 3, 2016
Man who shapes her fate: Her mean client turned sweet boyfriend
How he messes with her: Louisa (Emilia Clarke) has zero ambition, and then she becomes a personal care assistant to Will (Sam Claflin), who has quadriplegia. Louisa is not well-educated, whereas Will has lived a life of upper-class luxury and sophistication. Because of Will’s persistent condescension and monetary resources, Louisa goes from working-class bumpkin to well-read world traveler. They fall in love. But in the end, Will decides to go through with assisted suicide, because he decides that they will both be better off if he’s dead. She insists she loves him and wants him to live, but he insists she doesn’t know her own mind. He leaves her some money (but not too much money) so that she can pursue the kind of life he thinks she should want. Will knows best!
9. 8. Superman’s mom, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Release date: March 25, 2016
Men who shape her fate: Her goddamn idiot son, her goddamn idiot son’s nemesis, her goddamn idiot son’s other nemesis who turns out to be a friend when he realizes they both have moms
How they mess with her: Martha (Diane Lane) is the long-suffering mother of Superman (Henry Cavill). She is in this movie for only two reasons: first, to get kidnapped and brutalized by Superman’s enemy who uses her as a bargaining chip; and then to have her first name become the catalyst for Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman to team up, because they both love their moms. Batman and Superman spend a lot of time debating how superheroes should be regulated, but IF THEY LOVE MOMS SO MUCH, MAYBE THEY SHOULDN’T LOBBY FOR SUPERHERO RIGHTS AND SHOULD LOBBY, INSTEAD, FOR GENEROUS MATERNITY LEAVE AND FREE DAYCARE IN GOTHAM AND METROPOLIS. They’re real hypocritical dummies.