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The Ridiculous Messages 1980s Movies Give To Women

Updated on August 31, 2016
Fun movies of the 1980s.
Fun movies of the 1980s.

Romantic comedies from the 1980s were funny, but these films also give women some very ridiculous messages about how to act and behave. Although women's liberation had taken place two decades earlier, many women in eighties movies were given limited or stereotypical roles. Not all movies follow these stereotypes, but there were several movies I really liked as a child that had very weird messages for women. Recently I was watching Desperately Seeking Susan and Pretty in Pink, but this time around I saw some very ridiculous messages I did not pick up on when I was younger. In some movies from the eighties we see a pretty teenage girl who is very intelligent, but often her happiness is contingent on the handsome/popular boy asking her out to the dance. In movies with adults, we see the leading female placing much of her happiness on whether she ends up with "the guy," or she may use men in order to get by. There are many movies from the eighties that do not fall into this category, but movies such as Desperately Seeking Susan and Pretty in Pink are funny comedies that end up having some ridiculous messages for women. Both of these movies are humorous, but these are just a few of the observations I discovered when watching these films.

Desperately Seeking Susan

Mostly this is an outrageous comedy about a woman named Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) who is a housewife that leads are very stifling existence. Her husband Gary is a hot tub salesman and very successful because he tells Robert she only has to mention his name to get a discount on a car radio. Also, he is full of himself because of his television commercial and his female exploits.

Rather than have Roberta's character go to the library to find a good book or take up a hobby, her entertainment consists of tracking down personal advertisements for a woman referred to as Desperately Seeking Susan (played by Madonna). If a new adaption of this movie were made today, perhaps Roberta would be going to Tinder or Facebook, but the personal section of the newspaper was how most people met up back in 1985.

Once again we find a double standard for men because Garry is able to be a womanizer and he says this is "perfectly respectable," but on several occasions, Susan's character is referred to as a whore. The year is 1985 and not much progress has been made here, but the worse part is Roberta considers Susan to be a liberated role model. However, how liberated is a woman that sleeps with men in order to have a place to stay and get some extra money for food? Men are intrigued by her, but mostly that is because she never will commit to one. Why is this the role model Roberta wants to live up to? Desperately Seeking Susan may be a comedy, but the subliminal message given here is just ridiculous. Women can either be doormat wives like Roberta or so-called independent women like Susan. Honestly, there was not one truly independent woman in this movie except for the magician's assistant who is fired because of her connections with Susan.

Another zany aspect of this film is the short amount of time that is devoted to solving the puzzle about the earrings that turn out to belong to the Nefertiti exhibit. We know the mobsters mistook Roberta for Susan and chase her because they think she had the earrings, but we see very little about the discovery of the earrings that are national treasures. At the end we see Susan and Roberta being congratulated as heroes for turning over the property, but the movie would have been much stronger if more focus had been placed on the pair making this discovery. Why did Roberta have to lose her memory and be mistaken for Susan? These characters could have been much stronger if they had been allowed to do more detective work and not just obsess about men.

Pretty In Pink

Molly Ringwald plays an intelligent and attractive teenager named Andie that is from a lower socio-economic background. Even though Andie is a bright student that has earned a college scholarship, very little time in the movie focuses on her academic career. I enjoyed the part where Andie's friend stands up when she is being picked on, which was something I could identify with since I had to deal with a few bullies in school. Another memorable scene in the movie is where Andie tells Duckie (Jon Cryer) that he should focus on his studies so he can graduate from high school. However, most of the story revolves around Andie working at the record shop and her blossoming romance with the wealthy Blane (Andrew McCarthy). Andie's luck seems to be on the upturn when she has a date with Blane and he even decides to ask her out to prom.

Sadly Andie's world comes crashing down when Blane's stuck up and jealous friend pressures him to break the date. The only way Andie can redeem herself is by making a stylish dress (by 1980s standards) and going to the prom to show the wealthy kids that she has not lost face. Once again Duckie is there to rescue her and she is able to walk into the prom with an escort. Blane comes up to Andie and tells her that he loves her, but she lets him go because she is still mad. At Duckie's urging she runs out the door and they share a romantic kiss. The one thing that is very irritating is that we could not see Andie winning an academic decathlon and her happiness seems contingent upon winning the affections of the handsome leading guy.


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    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA


      Well with the worldwide web I am sure you can watch clips of movies on Youtube for sure.

    • Kmadhav profile image


      9 years ago from New delhi

      this hub creates curiosity to see more films of 1980's

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 

      9 years ago from In the clouds

      I have always wondered about that in pretty in pink, but love it so much that it is still one of my top 10 favorites. There are some great movies where in the romantic couple are basically equals, but tend not to be as memorable as pretty in pink. Great hub.

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Yes, it is fun to watch movies and notice all these things. I also thought the same things about Leave It To Beaver watching June Cleaver do house work in a dressy dress and heels :). Thanks for commenting Karen.

    • Karen N profile image

      Karen N 

      10 years ago from United States

      Great hub, I was just watching an old episode of Leave It To Beaver the other day.And was thinking the same thing about it :)

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      This hub was mostly about the eighties because I had recently watched both of those movies. However, I do agree with you all generations have stereotyped women and these stereotypes still continue in movies today.

    • desert blondie profile image

      desert blondie 

      10 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen

      Intriguing, and valid, look at these two movies. But would say that it's not just the '80s movies that send this message...try centuries of women getting these often inane storylines about their lives!

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Constant Walker, we will just have to agree to disagree then.

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 

      10 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      I agree that stereotypes still exist, but I don't agree that it's more so for women than anyone else. You think that because you're a woman. Men will tell you differently, as will anyone who is not white. There's even negative stereotypes about whites!

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Stereotypes are wrong in all shows, but these exist for everyone of course.  However, women still suffer from the largest amount of stereotypes in shows.  It is okay for a guy to act wild, but a woman is called another name for this.  Mostly this analysis is for fun but I focused on stereotypes of women because that is what I could relate to in these films. 

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 

      10 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Nicole, I'm also a HUGE "Princess Bride" fan.

      You'll find none who is more than.

      "No more rhyming now.  I mean it!!

      Women, ladies, females, sheilas, babes, chicks, women-folk (that one's the funniest):  This is a two-way street. Thank back to all the sitcoms you've watched in your lifetime.  How many of them (as far back as The Honeymooners and right up to Everybody Loves Raymond) feature an inept, clueless, down-right stupid, but loving, husband who relies on his wife (who is often a control-freak) to do literally everything for him - including think?  This stereotype is still going strong in today's society.

      Now, be honest; How many of you do, or have, felt this way. 

      Media perpetuates negative stereotypes of women, men, blacks, muslims, latinos, asians, Indians (Gandhi AND Geronimo), etc, etc, etc.

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Thanks for your comments Cailin

    • Cailin Gallagher profile image

      Cailin Gallagher 

      10 years ago from New England

      Your take on 1980s movies and women's roles in them is fascinating! i love your analysis. Thanks for the great hub! :)_

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I look forward to this future hub Dario. Take care and thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      Tropical Life 

      10 years ago from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

      Sorry, Sweetiepie. I wrote an incredible wall-of-text comment on your hub but then I realized it was unpublishable because of its size. I think I will make a hub out of it, after all. Maybe tomorrow. Very stimulating subject anyway. Ciao!


    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Thanks Jacob for you nice comments.

    • jacobworld profile image

      Jakub Wawrzyniak 

      10 years ago from Ireland

      nice one mate

      You did it again

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 

      10 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      Great hub and well analysed. Although, back then women were less forward than they are now. Teenagers were not as promiscious then as they are now. Times have certainly changed a lot. Having said that, some girls played up even as far back as the 1800's. But it was kept under wraps. And back then a lot of those girls did not even understand because they weren't informed as to where babies even came from. No I am not quite that old, And yes I knew all about that, but was tooooooo shy to step out of line at all.

      Great hub.

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA


      I agree with your observations about the Princess Bride. We can find movies entertaining, but I think it good we analyze the subliminal messages movies are sending messages. I think your observations about the Princess Bride would make a good hub actually.

      The How To Hub,

      I agree with your thoughts about how we may have made many improvements, but we have far to go in many areas. I also think your observations would make an interesting hub. The one thing that always irritates me I suppose is how women are portrayed as "loose," but men are considered handsome and suave for doing the same things in movies. Double-standards aboundeth.

    • The How To Hub profile image

      The How To Hub 

      10 years ago from Australia

      This is interesting & well written. I'm glad to know I'm not the only that analyses these sorts of things while watching movies. Often I sit there and think well in a way it's a look back on history (be it recent history!) and the things we learn and how we change from generation to generation......these day's anyways :) and I wonder what it will be like for my 1 yo daughter when SHE grows up! I wonder?....Thanks sweetiepie.

    • Nicole Winter profile image

      Nicole A. Winter 

      10 years ago from Chicago, IL

      1980's - one of my favorite romantic comedies of the era has to be the Princess Bride... (I'll send you an e-mail about this one, I'm sure,) Here lies another seemingly strong women's character who when confronted by the prospect of marrying outside of the incredibly handsome leading male role decides to do what? She plans to kill herself, of course. I realize the movie is stereotypical, well, everything. But, yeesh! Killing yourself? You, who can eventually, (albeit with some prodding,) take on ROULS?!? Inconceivable.


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