Will Smith on how movies reinforce the idea that women must be rescued

I presented a taster lesson to a group of year 12 students two days after actor Will Smith attacked comedian Chris Rock in retaliation to a joke about his wife. When I asked if they agreed with Smith's behavior, 58 percent said he was correct in slapping Rock. To some, a guy defending a woman is kind.

Many people, including himself, were taken aback by his angry response to the circumstance. The culture of honour — a system of standards that certain men follow that determine how to respond to a subjectively perceived danger – may explain some of Smith's aggression. An insult to one's family or spouse may be enough of a stimulant to motivate otherwise foolish behavior.

While men preserving a woman's dignity may appear to be a romantic concept, it also believes that women have certain flaws. Protective paternalism leads to "benevolent" sexism when men perceive women as weaker and more defenseless. This is the male counterpart to aggressive sexism, and it refers to the behavior of males who perceive women as helpless and hence in need of protection.

The episode has sparked heated controversy, with some claiming he was wrong and others, such as my students, claiming he was correct. Many films, including Smith's, feature heroes rescuing damsels in peril. It's hardly surprising that people would feel the same way about real-life instances of benign sexism and the violence it generates if pistols are drawn at dawn in films to protect the honor of offended ladies and it's considered as a gallant and wonderful thing.

Gender roles that are no longer relevant

The film is littered with stereotyped heartthrobs, ranging from bad boys who punch a guy for ragging on his girl to gentlemen who compete for a lady's heart. TV and movies have perpetuated traditional gender roles by presenting a simplified and outmoded image of men as powerful protectors and women as weak and dependant. Stereotypes emerge as a result, and they serve as potent cues that influence our social behavior. According to research, some women are so drawn to the image of being treasured and protected that they don't see men behaving in such a sexist manner.


This process is explained in depth in one famous study, which claims that witnessing how other people behave contributes to the establishment of gender stereotypes. It develops assumptions about how men and women should behave, especially among young viewers.

Celebrities have been accused of influencing not only what people wear or eat, but also how they act. Will Smith may serve as a role model for many people, particularly the youth.

A new 007 has arrived

Male behavior has evolved, and the concept of masculinity in movies has evolved as well. The growth of James Bond is maybe one of the strongest litmus tests of masculine representation in film and popular culture.


When comparing Sean Connery's 007 to Daniel Craig's, there is a significant difference in how cinema portrays masculinity. The act of murdering was trivialized in the first installment, sometimes passing undetected and even mocked. In addition, female characters in Bond's stories were nearly always presented as less intelligent and in quest of male protectors, and they were almost always portrayed as less intelligent and in search of male protectors.

Craig's Casino Royal exemplifies a particular kind of manhood. The women in his Bond are more fleshed out and real, and his Bond is emotional and vulnerable. The women in his life aren't only romantic foils; they also appear in action scenes and drive the plot. The 007 code was allocated to a woman for the first time in history, albeit briefly, in No Time to Die. Not only do women no longer require protection, but they are now the protectors of others in one of cinema's most hyper-masculine and historically poisonous franchises.

Not violence, but words

The film industry appears to be growing more cognizant of numerous gender-related issues. Male characters are allowed to be more vulnerable, whereas female characters can be more authentic.


In film and other media, a new male behavior norm is being established. Take, for example, London mayor Sadiq Khan's #Haveaword campaign, which aims to end male violence against women. The program urges men to talk to their friends and other men about inappropriate behavior and to call it out when they see it. The emphasis here is on words rather than violence in order to resolve problems.

Will Smith has issued an unqualified apology to Chris Rock and resigned from the Academy five days after the event. He didn't hunt for excuses; instead, he tried to figure out what had triggered his rage. Being Will Smith has another significant benefit. As a role model and actor who makes purposeful character choices, he has the potential and resources to have a positive impact on the younger generation. He must also have the foresight to perceive his wife as capable of defending herself if she is offended and decides to retaliate.

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