500 Days of Summer is a film directed by Marc Webb, starring by Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt. This is a movie depicting an un-fairytale-like story of a boy meets girl. The movie uses a storytelling approach through the eyes of the male character, Tom. On the other hand, Summer, the female character, rarely reveals her thoughts in the movie. In the beginning, Tom and Summer starts a spontaneous partnership without the label of dating. Although they do not end up staying together, Tom takes the audiences on a tour of Summer’s world through his heartbreak. His problematic attitudes toward her has reflects the roles women are forced to play in this patriarchal society and the how stereotypes discriminate against both genders.
A problematic scene starts with Tom and Summer watching a movie in a cinema. Summer uncontrollably cries her way through the wedding scene. The filmmaker portrays her as a woman who fits the female stereotype of a woman desperately searching for love and comfort from a man. Even though Summer tells Tom she only wants a spontaneous partnership, Tom remains a firm believer of the idea that love from a man is the only savior for a woman. Most interestingly, Summer has been straightforward with him that the idea of marriage is not an option for her, but Tom once again fails to recognise her own will and assumes she is an indecisive female who, deep down, is dying to be married. Because, stereotypically, women are devalued without men’s’ presence in their life, they are belittled by name calling such as “lesbian” (Pharr). Society has suggests that women who choose to be single are committing social suicide. According to the reading, “Patriarchy”, “Male dominance also promotes the idea that men are superior to women” (Johnson), therefore, it lines up with how Tom thinks Summer needs him to save her because she was naturally born into being helpless.
The threats of stereotypes do not end in the scene above. Just like in reality, stereotypes are not an one-time occurrence, they continuously affect one’s’ judgements, attitudes and behaviors. They oftens comes with oppression such as name calling. In fact, when Summer explains to Tom and his friend that she doesn’t want a relationship, they ask her “are you a lesbian or not?” Similarly, through Tom’s eyes, Summer is a cold hearted girl who he calls “skank, whore, and you’re a ‘guy’” when she does not conform to social standards by wanting to be independent. The film normalizes Tom’s action by backing his accusations up with the stereotypical idea that if a girl enjoys physical pleasure she is a slut, whore or “easy”. Therefore, in the movie Summer does not once accuses Tom of being a “whore” even though he also agrees to and enjoys sexual relations with her. Taking a closer look at what Tom is implying when he calls Summer a “guy”, it is an attack on Summer not acting on her own gender. According to Judith Lorber, “Gender is so pervasive that in our society we assume it is bred into our genes”(33). This is just like how Tom fails to recognize that gender behaviors are not attitudes that naturally born into a person. Therefore, he gets frustrated when Summer doesn’t meet the criteria of an “ideal” woman.
More problematically, not only is each scene implying stereotypes, the whole movie was based on stereotypes of how women react to love. In the beginning of the movie, Summer is quite detached from her feelings. Most of the time she appears emotionally unstable and even quite vulnerable. She conforms to stereotypes of feminine traits such as “passive/ follower/ emotional/ weak/ physical” (Collins 74). Surprisingly, once she meets “the one” all her negative traits suddenly go away. She no longer behaves like a psychopath. Her interactions with Tom are suddenly healthier, like how her husband has granted her a new lifestyle she couldn’t possibly have had before she was engaged. The film all of a sudden changes her portrayal from a vulnerable woman to a competent woman. Once again, the movie subtlety suggests the stereotype of female craving for love and attention, as if those are the only remedies to woman’s naturally wounded soul.
The media is not only coated with stereotypes, but also embedded with the idea of ideal female beauty. The opening scene of 500 Days of Summer starts with a narrator saying “ Summer Finn was a woman. Height, average. Weight, average. Shoe size, slightly above average”, but what is average exactly? Zooey Dischanel who plays Summer is a 5 foot 6 inches tall actress who merely weighs around 128 pounds. In reference, I am 5 foot 2 and weigh 110 pounds, while having a petite size body frame. It is dangerous when the media starts portraying actresses that are skinny as normal. It is even more dangerous when the media is presenting goals that are unachieveable and lead women to question their self-image daily. The reading “Body Beautiful” suggests “the ideal is not exactly a young girl. Rather, it is an older woman who keeps an adolescent figure” (Coward 366). It is an unnatural and not achievable form of the human body. The media has given aging a bad name as if it is something all women need to combat or else women start losing their value: good looks.
Although we are all aware of the continuous damages the media has been doing, it’s impossible to escape from the brainwashing information from the media. Not even Tom, he says “It’s these cards and the movies and the pop songs, they’re to blame for all lies and the heartache, everything”. Sure the media teaches and misleads people about how one should behave, but most damagingly, it teaches young girls that there is a standard of beauty and if one does not fall into this category, there is something seriously wrong with her. As if having dark skin, a chubby body, or skanky hair is terribly wrong. A moving poem written by Ekua Omosupe states “… Face to face/ myself/ I am beautiful…”(1990). This is a realization all women deserve to come to, but it has been unreachable for people trying to attain the state when the media consistently lure people to click on links such as “5 beauty routines to look like Kate Moss” or “Get rid of your belly fat in less than a month”.
Due to the fast pace of media society and increased expansion of the western medias’ popularity, white actresses have been widely cast. In fact, in 500 Days Of Summer, all the actresses are white, and it not only becomes standard beauty for western culture but also influences East Asian beauty culture. The article “gender in the media” provides evidence by stating “The media in Asia, for instance, continue to focus on an idealized version of beauty. … More than 50 percent of models in Japanese magazines were white”(95). For once, I felt anger towards the media. I’ve felt like the media has stolen my right to decent self-esteem. I shouldn’t have grown up feeling inferiority because of my slightly tan, some would describe as yellow, skin color. I remember growing up avoiding the beach and applying extra amounts of sunscreen to keep my skin color as pale as possible even though it was genetically impossible to be white. Once I got a sore neck when sitting under the sun waiting for my principal to finish his speech because throughout the whole assembly I did not look up once, trying to avoid sunlight to have my face to stay as pale as possible. I grew up not loving the color of my own skin because all I see in the media were pale Asians and I’ve tried my best to fit in the category.
Therefore, rewatching the movie through my intersected identities I felt deep sympathies for female populations. Since the movie only casts skinny, white actresses, its subtle hints of beauty standards are unavoidable. Also, the whole movie was told through a male gaze point of view, where Tom views Summer as merely an object and is needing protection. In a scene sets in a bar, when a stranger approached Summer to offer to buy her a drink, which she politely rejects. Before a blink of an eye, Tom swings at the stranger. He bursts out “I did that for you!” to Summer. In this case, both genders are the victims of gender stereotypes. He has the need to “man up” for what he and the society believes he “owns”.
In conclusion, there is never only a group of victims in the media. Although having certain identities granted people some privileges, everyone will be victimize from time to time. Not only by the portrays of body images but also by the problematic suggestions of gender roles’ stereotypes. 500 Days of Summer is not only a movie about a boy meets girl but also a media coding to how a boy should meet a girl.