The movies are notorious for giving us views of the world that don’t actually reflect reality. Granted, movies are make-believe, there are those “realistic” ones that still skew the truth. Early operatic Valkyries colored people’s views of Vikings and it is still popular to see hulking Norse berserkers with giant horns (or wings) on their helmets, when in fact, archeological evidence indicates this was never the case. There was one helm with straight conical horns and deemed ceremonial due to the decorations, rather than functional.
Now, if we look at Hollywood’s view of intelligence, it almost always involves glasses, especially for women. If a woman isn’t portrayed as a vixen or a housewife, then inevitably she wears glasses so that we know she couldn’t possibly be sexy and therefore must be intelligent (because no way can Hollywood fathom sexy and intelligent–sexy and devious yes, but not straight-on I’m-going-to-solve-this-crisis smart).
Sometimes synonymous with eyeglass intelligence is that of nerdiness. Your nerd, more often guys than not, in any movie is often connected to a computer and wears glasses; big glasses, nerdy glasses. Once in a while you may have an exception, the guy that works a computer all the time but doesn’t wear glasses but it’s rare. Tom Cruise or some other star might, in the role of his Mission Impossible character, need to use a computer but he doesn’t have to wear glasses. Even Tosh in Torchwood, when she’s at the computer puts glasses on.
And that’s what happens to most “intelligent” women, no matter their age in a movie or TV show. As soon as they’re at a computer they wear glasses. Because Hollywood thinks we won’t believe a person’s intelligence without that very noticeable symbol. Although most people don’t need reading glasses until they’re in their 40s or 50s you would think, by Hollywood standards, that everyone is going farsighted early. When I worked on Level 9 for its brief life, the show (about cybercops) was full of computer users but one young woman had to toss glasses on each time at the computer, because that’s just what computer users do. I’m sitting here right now typing without glasses and I do need reading glasses in low light.
Hollywood’s second name is stereotype. All those old westerns had the good guys in white (or light colors for B&W) and the bad guys in black. Then The Avengers came along and sexy, competent Emma Peel wore black. Gotta give that show credit for mixing it up a bit at an early age.
Next time you’re watching a show that has an intelligent woman in it, check to see if she’s ever sexy in her glasses (also a rarity) or if she is only ever dressed to kill minus the eyewear. And look for that sign of her intelligence when she puts her glasses on, no matter how young she is. And check those nerdy scientist guys. Even if they’re good looking hunks, chances are, if they’re scientists or tied to computers, they’re going to have the eyeglasses (and maybe even the ubiquitous white lab coat).
Hollywood is certainly not into leading in the forefront and often into perpetuating stereotypes. I’m betting some of the HBO shows break those stereotypical taboos more than other stations. Maybe PBS too. It would be interesting to do a survey and see who the worst offenders are, or if it’s the formulaic movies. Signing off, without glasses, and with intelligence.