Stacy Wolf has written a very interesting article regarding gender stereotypes in Les Miserables. Should Les Mis make feminists angry? A significant number of movies should make feminists angry. We often see stereotypical images of various groups whether they based on race, gender, or religion.
In Les Mis, the women are depicted as minor characters, only there to move the struggle forward for the main characters, the men. Fantine is the mother and the prostitute, who sacrifices her life for her daughter. Eponine is love sick for Maurius and eventually dies for his cause. In the Washington Post, Stacy Wolf argues that what is so unnerving about these stereotypes is that even after all of this progress, these images of women are still so relatable. The fact that we still relate to this gender roles is a part of acculturation, still to this day people believe in and have images of what gender roles are.
Even though we recognize gender stereotyping, we are still drawn to the story, Les Mis still draws tears. With Les Mis in particular, should we change the story of Fantine or Eponine, we no longer have the story written by Victor Hugo in 1862. The gender roles in Les Mis are birthed from the text and they may not be a perfect replica of the text but ultimately, the story is a product of its time. Wolf acknowledges that there the way in which women are portrayed on film has changed, and I agree, as these images of women are a product of this time.
There isn't a problem with portraying women in different roles, taking different paths, and making choices. This is the reality of women now. The problem lies in the portrayal of groups in a singular fashion, as one dimensional. What happens if we refuse to acknowledge the existence of people’s ideas of gender stereotypes? We run the risk of creating a new stereotype, a different one, but one that still boxes the feminine experience into one role. By discrediting stories like Les Mis, we run the risk of telling women who sacrifice everything for the children or women who have experience an unrequited love as strong as Eponine’s, that they are no longer part of the female experience, that they are outdated. This is why “traditional” female roles are easy to recreate, and why they should be recreated. People have these experiences, can relate to them, can be moved by them. The depiction of traditional roles must exist alongside more progressive ones as together they represent a wider range of the human experience.