In Hollywood, glistening pairs of disembodied legs have been promoting films for decades. These headless women are front and center on some of the most beloved classics posters. From dad comedies like “Hot Tub Time Machine,” to newer releases like “Staten Island Summer,” the women, who play prominent roles in the film, remain just a body part.
People consume more media now than ever, and what people see matters. If women are reduced to nothing more than legs in little skirts, what message does that send to the viewers?
The poster promoting the classic movie “The Graduate” shows Anne Bancroft’s–who played Mrs. Robinson–leg dressed in a sheer stocking framing Dustin Hoffman’s–who played Benjamin Braddock–body. However, Mrs. Robinson plays a much larger role in the film than a leg. Anne Bancroft was even nominated for Best Actress for her role.
Despite this, when it came to the poster design that people saw when the movie was advertised, the image of the single sexy leg won rather than both lead actors getting to keep their heads in the photo.
The scene depicted in the poster still remains one of the most iconic scenes of the movie. Not only does this demean Bancroft’s contribution to the movie, but it also demeans the value of her character. Mrs. Robinson is remembered as an aging seductress because the image of that bodiless leg is attached to her person.
After “The Graduate,” this advertising strategy became a staple for comedies and action movies alike.
Who is this target for this type of marketing?
If it were not for an attempt to get young, middle class men into movie theaters, it is less likely that women’s legs would be used to sell tickets.
But, it isn’t just legs that are sexualized in popular media. Sometimes these women are granted torsos, and huge breasts. So, who knows? Maybe one day a chin will work its way into the picture.
If it’s only movie posters, many might ask why this topic even matters.
It matters because this is not just happening in movie posters. This treatment of women permeates every aspect of Hollywood. Women in Hollywood are paid less, given less control over their roles respected less, as we see from these “headless women” advertisements. When they are reduced to legs, their work is reduced to being nothing but a sexual object. Anne Bancroft, and all female actresses, deserve better.
If you asked an average man on the street if he thought women should be treated as objects, he would, most likely, say no. However, these posters are often considered funny or harmless. These posters are not seen as a reflection of today’s sexist culture.
These women, when their heads are removed from their bodies, are robbed of their consent. The sexualized body parts are the women and the women are their body parts.
Faces are what make people individual and recognizable. When that is taken away, women become interchangeable, and their personal opinions and choices are meaningless. People who look at these posters do not have to morally reconcile with the objectification of these women. Without a head, an identity, a woman exists solely for the passive pleasure of the male gaze.