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Sexism and Gender Roles in 'Pretty Woman' and 'She’s All That'

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Table of contents

  1. Results
  2. Pretty Woman
  3. She’s All That
  4. Personal Reflection
  5. Conclusion

One of America’s favorite pass times is watching movies. Whether that takes the form of going to the movies or simply staying in and watching it from the comfort of your own home. It is an activity that many utilize to bond with one another. Conversely, it could be one of the many things that set us against our peers. Does it ever occur to you, when you watch a movie, how the film depicts the women vs the men? Do you ever notice the roles they have women vs men portraying? Something that drew me in to this topic, is the fact that this is something that goes highly unnoticed. For this paper, I decided to create a space that opened the floor to shed light on prejudice on screen. Through analyzing two popular big-time films and studying an article that was crafted through extensive research, I will give unambiguous examples of how the media uses sexism and gender norms to reach the audience. The choices that the individuals in the media business make are not coincidental by any means. They are well-calculated and the article lays out how the audience can be internally affected by the way women, men, sexual activity, and body expectations are presented.


Upon figuring out what topic I wanted to pursue studying, I came across “The Media’s Sexual Objectification of Women, Rape Myth Acceptance, and Interpersonal Violence”. In this article, the authors make note of how “people who view women as objects or as less than human are likely to excuse treating them as less than human through emotional abuse, physical violence, and rape. This piece draws attention to how the use of controversial and provocative images generates not only warped images of women in the eyes of men, but also how this can result in domestic violence. Their study was conducted on participants who underwent many different trials and questionnaires to receive the feedback on rape, dehumanization, and objectification that they were in search of. The authors note that women are many times used to create capital to sell goods at the dispense of their body. Since our world has become so technologically inclined, these tactics are effective making us vulnerable to the development of a distorted lens. The aspect of this article that I believe is key to this subject, is the fact that it uses college-aged individuals and real-life situations. It establishes credibility through direct contact with those questioned and a relatability factor for most everyone who has engaged in watching movies.

Pretty Woman

To further support these claims of sexism and objectification, I took to the big screen to do some exploration. Two films that explicitly show examples of this are Pretty Woman and She’s All That. When I was considering movies that fit into this project description I ran across Pretty Woman. I chose to observe and analyze this movie because it is a movie that I have seen a million times, yet every time I see it I spot new and undiscovered details. I chose this one specifically because it revolves around a sex-worker who comes across a wealthy businessman who needed a date to a big event; when he walked into the picture, he essentially “turned her life around”. Depicting her as a damsel in distress who needs saving. It is worthy of mentioning the fact that he gave her money and basically “made her over”. Not only that, but before she was made up into this “pretty woman” no one wanted to respect her as not only a woman; but as a woman who makes money doing something that she willingly put herself into. Even if it is simply her idea of making ends meet as means of financial survival. This film shows how society has unrealistic beauty standards that are almost impossible to meet; as well as unspoken guidelines, as to what acceptable careers for females look like. This film takes a rather well-known plot line where there is an affluent male that is critical to the success and happiness of a poor, troubled woman. As a result of him being kind enough to lower his standards and be open-minded, they find love and she finally gets her “Prince Charming”.

She’s All That

The writers and producers of She’s All That flip the script and throw the audience for a loop. In this film, the male protagonist plays the forlorn jock who has everything in life, except the girl. This leaves the woman to play the villainous heartbreaker who is cold and selfish while the male is showered in praise and swooning females. Not only does he essentially play an apparent nice guy, he also wins the girl of his dreams. All while Laney not only has to change her appearance, but also her values and view of self.

She’s All That is based on the story of high school seniors and young adolescents just trying to make it through the end of year festivities. These young, athletic high school seniors make a bet amongst their friend group that the recently dumped, heartthrob Zack Siler can not only get any girl, but turn her into the prom queen. They refer to this as their “project” and “shopping”. Their sights set on the quiet, art-obsessed Laney Boggs who doesn’t at all fit their popular friend group standards. Laney, different from other female leading roles, is strong-willed and hard headed. At the beginning of the movie, she doesn’t want anything to do with the senior class president but, as expected, she soon gives in and is grows fond of Zack. As if she is expected to fall right into the hands of man. However, she isn’t the only female protagonist that has been the focus of reverse gender norms and sexist portrayal. Taylor, Zack’s ex-girlfriend, is painted as a self-absorbed young woman who is abnormally harsh and ditzy. Much like Julia Robert’s character in Pretty Woman, Taylor is easily swayed by money, power, and attention from men. Taylor meets a young television star while on spring break and is quick to cling to him in hopes of climbing the latter. Only to come running back to her Prince Charming when the big plans she has for herself don’t work out as expected. Something that ties Laney and Taylor together is the fact that they are seen as objects by the men in the movie. Zack, the so-called nice guy, even refers to Taylor as being nothing of importance to him. Going as far as to say that she is basically nothing without her attitude and appearance aka her beauty products. All throughout this film we see the men compete to make Laney this prom queen. However, what we don’t see is them being considerate of her feelings. Laney is seen as an object through this movie – much like many women are treated in the real-world. She’s All That is a perfect representation of how men view women as “things” that are there for their disposal instead of human beings.

This directly relates to the article based on the fact that these women’s’ feelings are completely overlooked when the men set out to achieve their goal. Whether their goal be status, winning a bet, having a date to an event, or even self-esteem; the women in their lives are mere accessories that can be put on and taken off at their liking. We see in Pretty Woman when Edward Lewis chooses a sex-worker to be his date because he believes she is easily dispensable and needs the cash. Though it is true that Vivian Ward inevitably needs the money, did he ever consider that she is a woman who has feelings and that the actions they take to make her more appealing for alleged prosperous beings, may hurt her and damage her self-image? The creators of Pretty Woman had a clear understanding that sex appeal draws viewers in and can be extremely profitable. By having the main female character hold the profession of a sex-worker, they use the provocative nature to sell the movie.

We also see examples from this article in She’s All That when the guys are in the school courtyard on the prowl for women. The young woman that they are in search for must meet certain stipulations and then undergo a transformation just to achieve a title. Laney was viewed as a source of downfall for Zack’s friends and as a source of accomplishment for Zack. Laney was sought after and ultimately fell victim to false flirting at the hands of Siler. At the end of the film, supposed friend of Zack goes behind his back to try and toy with Laney in hopes of fulfilling his “sexual conquest’; without taking into account that he is not only a friend of Zack’s, but Laney is also a human being who is more than just her reproductive organs. Dean, played by Paul Walker, tries to force himself on her despite her giving off many signs and warnings that she is not interested in sexual activities. Drawing back to the point made in the article that because Laney Boggs is viewed as an object, he “excuses” his actions of attempted rape. Though many would deem these two films as great works, it is undeniable that they both show various illustrations of sexism.

Personal Reflection

Prior to this class I would have never thought anything of these plots and of the characters that help tell these stories. However, with a little knowledge under my belt, I couldn’t help but question every bit and piece of these two sexist films. Why did they choose a woman to portray the prostitute? Why not a male? Why was Laney’s original appearance not good enough for her to be seen with this Zack? I have so many questions that I would ask the creators of these movies. Being someone who was once ignorant to the fact that sexism and prejudice towards women is so prevalent, I have a whole new understanding and view of the media. What resonated with me the most was the fact that these producers, writers, and directors feed off our oblivion. Our society has become so obsessed with this idea of a perfect world. The only way for this to change is to normalize the concept of imperfection and respect. If we respect one another we will be more open to accepting our peers’ flaws.


Partaking in watching movies itself can be harmless. Though, if we do so without understanding and picking through what we are shown; we will always be defenseless to the sly tactics the media uses to get a message across to the audience. Both Pretty Woman and She’s All That use gender normative roles and sexist language to create a narrative that appeals to a civilization with a skewed view of the world. As “The Media’s Sexual Objectification of Women, Rape Myth Acceptance, and Interpersonal Violence” says, individuals who do not value others will treat them as if they are not worthy of even animal treatment. Impractical expectations will result in false hope, damaged self-esteem, and objectification. Just because in these two films the main characters end up with the “love of their life” and both sides seem to be benefitting, doesn’t mean that it is without fault. Seeing where there are various shades of grey instead of just black and white will be what pushes us the film industry and the media to take pride in going against the status quo. We must all hold them accountable for the content they put into the world; for it is what shapes the minds of the children who will be our future.

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Sexism and Gender Roles in ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘She’s All That’. (2022, July 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
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