An Analysis of Gender Stereotypes in Boys Dont Cry, a Film by Kimberly Peirce

In Kimberly Peirce’s tragic film “Boys Don’t Cry”, Pierce mainly conforms to traditional male and female stereotypes by showcasing man’s power in society in order to express one’s need and struggle to defy gender roles.

It is clear from the beginning that conforming to stereotypes was important when creating this film’s characters in order to show the way Brandon would go to certain lengths, such as changing his outer appearance, to be accepted as a male instead of a female. To show this, Peirce emphasizes the differences between men and women in a bar, by showcasing women as an obviously weaker sex. Kramer talks about what it would be like to wake up one day as the opposite sex, and he mentions in Chapter 1 of his reading, “Becoming male may lead you to volunteering for the campus escort service, accompanying students who are concerned about walking on campus alone after dark; if you’ve become female, you may call for an escort” (Kramer, 1).

Peirce emphasizes through clothing and attitude how the friends Brandon meets along the way are very stereotypically males and females, in order to show the difference between the two. The first of the lot being a few girls he talks to at a roller rink and at a bar, Nicole and Candace. Nicole is seen as withdrawn and innocent, as she is standing in the corner among a group of girls, and doesn’t speak until Brandon, or a male figure, spoke to her to pursue her. Candace’s encounter takes place in a bar, where she is the only female sitting at the counter. Right away you can see the difference between her and the men of the bar; they are all wearing dark baggy clothes, some even sporting cowboy hats, and Candace is wearing a summery pastel colored outfit with typical “girl” colors. When Brandon leaves to get them drinks momentarily, his seat is taken by a much bigger man, who tries to hit

on Candace, despite her obvious discomfort. When she rejects him, his first instinct is to keep pursuing her even when she says no, which is another way men are expected to act; it’s the notion of getting what they want and not taking no for an answer. When Brandon intervenes and asks him to leave, the man shoves him, starting a large fight throughout the bar. This scene is interesting because it shows the contrast between men and women in situations of violence; once the second man pushes Brandon and Brandon punches back, Candace’s first instinct is to climb in top of the bar with her bag to not get in the way of the fight, but when the camera cuts to the other men in the bar, they are all standing up or leaning in to see how they can get involved, which eventually most of them do. This is a stereotypical “male” trait, and a part of the male gender role that they are somehow required to prove their masculinity by getting involved in a fight that doesn’t even have to be about them to show that they won’t back down from one. Kramer touches upon this in Chapter 2 of his reading, “The ideas, norms, and even the things created and used as part of a people’s way of life carry implicit significance for females and males in a society. For example, the acceptable language, posture, dress and tasks for one sex are often different from those for the other” (24).

The power of men along with an “expected” respect from women is a constant recurring theme throughout the film, which often results in men lashing out in different ways ranging from verbal aggression, to even rape. There’s a scene that takes place in a liquor store with Lana and Brandon involving and man coming on to Lana, asking if she wants to join him for the night. When she turns him down, he responds, “Don’t you talk to me like that you skanky little snake” (Boys Don’t Cry, 1993). This shows the way most men in the film see themselves as above women, demanding they talk to them with

respect even if they are going to be shot down. Towards the end of the film when the group finds out about Brandon’s real gender, Brandon’s supposed friends John and Tom, take Brandon far away from the house they were at and proceed to brutally rape him. While it is very obvious it is because they are uncomfortable with the fact that he’s not the gender he says he is, they also bring up the fact that he lied to them throughout the scene, stating, “All you are is a goddamn liar; everything you’ve told us is lies.” This comes back to the idea of men expecting respect from women, and since they now see Brandon as a woman, they choose to treat him like they would a woman in the same situation. When they are accused of rape after Brandon and Lana go to the police, John’s initial reaction is to lie, and he states, “That is a bunch of bull; if I wanted to rape someone I got [my ex-girlfriend].” This I find very scary, as Peirce is proving just how much John thinks of himself with this one sentence; he thinks he’s so above women that he could easily rape someone if it crossed his mind to do so.

This film consistently conforms to gender roles in order to show the contrast between men and women in society. However, while it shows the way men can stereotypically act, Brandon mainly chooses to portray a man through his dress and not through his attitude. While he wants to prove to everyone that he is in fact a man and not a woman, he refuses to act the way most of the other men in the film do, by always treating the women he encounters with respect, and not wanting to bring harm to anyone. Peirce conforms to gender roles by showing the way men and women stereotypically act, and having Brandon conform through looks, but defy them and maintaining his ability to be a good person.

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