Gender Roles – Women
Language and Sexual Content
Violence Against Women
Gender Roles – Women: 5 Stars
The Spartan Queen, Gorgo, is never actually referred to by name, and yet she is unforgettable. She may not have the same rights and status the men in ancient Greece, but she is not afraid of confronting Sparta’s enemies head on. It is her voice and her words that encourage King Leonidas to make a stand against the Persian Army, defying the edict of the gods. And when King Leonidas takes a handful of his most courageous warriors to defend Sparta, Queen Gorgo does not mourn his departure, but finds a way to make an appearance before the Spartan Council. She makes an eloquent case for war in an attempt to save her husband’s life, and all of Spartan society. By the end of the film, she proves herself to be as capable of defending her country from the influence of tyrants as the Spartan warriors at Thermopylae.
In a society as steeped in conventional male stereotypes as ancient Sparta, you might expect to find nothing but fragile and submissive women, raised and indoctrinated to serve at the pleasure of these mighty Spartan warriors. But to the contrary, the Spartans' excessive emphasis on strength and bravery applies to the women as well, who are conditioned to endure the deaths of their husbands and sons without shedding a tear. The end result is the depiction of an exquisitely beautiful society from which both men and women can find something to emulate and strive for.
Plot: 5 Stars (Spoilers)
The movie 300 is evidence that you don't need female writers or directors to create a script with powerful plotlines and engaging dialogue that give women an opportunity to be heroic, fearless and inspirational. Although there is only one major female character (by definition, this film wouldn’t even pass the Bechdel Test), Spartan society as a whole encourages and relies on strong women. 300 also boasts a fairly progressive king, who is openly supportive of his bold and mesmerizing wife. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a film depiction of an ancient society that does more for gender equity than the Spartans of the movie 300.
While most of 300 focuses on Leonidas’ battle against Xerxes and his formidable Persian army, Queen Gorgo also has her moments of glory. She delivers a powerful speech that might have convinced the Spartan Council to send reinforcements to Thermopylae and save Spartan’s 300 warriors, but a ruthless council member, Theron, betrays her before we have a chance to find out. He calls her out as an adulteress, which is still the simplest way to neutralize any woman who poses a significant threat. And for the first time, we can see fear ripple through her solid exterior. For a brief moment, she seems lost and almost powerless. She grows silent and we can envision an ending in which she is cast out of Sparta or locked away, waiting for her husband to return and avenge her honor. But Queen Gorgo shatters our Hollywoodized expectations when she unflinchingly grabs a sword off a nearby guard and runs Theron through. It is a rare film that allows a woman the pleasure of dispatching her own tormentor in such a bold and memorable fashion. Not only does she have the mettle to perfect her own revenge, but she isn’t the slightest bit squeamish about shedding his blood.
Character Development: 3.5 Stars
Queen Gorgo is a smart and formidable woman with a strong sense of purpose and commitment to her ideals. As a Spartan woman, she doesn’t cry or break down in the face of adversity. She maintains her composure at all times, but still displays enough emotion to be relatable and real. We know that she subscribes to the same Spartan code as her husband, and is even willing to put her son through a brutal training regimen in order to make him the sort of man that Sparta can be proud of.
It is a bit disappointing that Queen Gorgo never has a chance to speak about women’s place in Spartan Society. That her discussions with Leonidas about fighting for freedom and equality never allude to the fact that Spartan women are not truly free. Queen Gorgo has a unique opportunity to influence Spartan society, but only because she is the wife of the great King Leonidas, and because Leonidas strongly respects and encourages her participation in Spartan politics. She’s certainly clever enough to recognize the hypocrisy in the some of the Spartans’ lofty ideals, but she’s too focused on defending Sparta from the Persians to put much passion or energy into resolving her status as a second-class citizen.
Love: 4 Stars
King Leonidas and Queen Gorgo share a marriage of mutual respect and passion for one another. Although Leonidas is the King, he treats Gorgo as an equal partner in his rule over Sparta. We don’t know what originally brought them together, but it’s clear that they share similar philosophies on life, and that their connection is deep and true.
It’s a bit surprising to see a patriarchal society like Sparta produce such a remarkable love story, but to some extent, Sparta’s warrior culture makes this marital equality possible. Spartans clearly consider themselves to be an exceptional people. Leonidas doesn’t need to prove or defend his manhood against Gorgo, as it’s already well established throughout the region. He clearly isn’t in competition with her or the other Spartan soldiers, so much as the rest of Greece and even the world beyond. As king, he hopes to make his society and heroism the stuff of legends, and he recognizes that Spartan women must be deemed as powerful and cunning as the men if Sparta is to secure its place in history. In a way, his respect for Gorgo isn’t at odds with Spartan’s patriarchal society at all, but is simply a matter of nationalist pride and even foreign policy.
Language and Sexual Content: 3.5 Stars
300 doesn’t contain many harsh or demeaning terms for women, except at the hands of lechers and villains. The film does contain some female nudity and a brief sex scene between King Leonidas and Queen Gorgo, but none of these scenes come across as lewd or demeaning. It would be difficult to watch this film from beginning to end without taking note of the exceptional artistry involved in most of the sequences. The nudity in 300 is used sparingly and in service to the subtle blending of history and fantasy that encompasses the film, and should hardly be a deterrent for any woman looking to lose herself in a powerful story of love and glory.
The scene between King Leonidas and Queen Gorgo is a beautiful depiction of a husband and wife making love for the final time before he heads off into an unwinnable battle. There is nothing in the visuals that suggests this scene is simply about satisfying male dominance or lust. It is rare, poetic and emotionally engaging in a way that very few sex scenes are.
Violence Against Women: 5 Stars
300 contains one scene that is a bit difficult to digest, when Theron sexually assaults Queen Gorgo in exchange for granting her an audience with the Spartan Council. Although Queen Gorgo originally consents to the encounter, she clearly didn’t expect the violence that came along with it. The scene is raw and uncomfortable, and strikes at the very core of how we expect women to act and feel when sex is forced on them.
There are those who might argue that this scene is enough to reduce Queen Gorgo to just another victimized leading lady, coerced into degrading herself in exchange for only a sliver of true political power. But this is an incredibly narrow perspective on female strength. The idea that women who are subjected to some form of sexual exploitation or violence are automatically made weaker or tainted by the experience significantly underestimates women’s abilities to persevere. Queen Gorgo is neither broken down nor defeated by Theron’s proposition. To the contrary, she makes a conscious decision to offer up her body in service to her country, like the warriors holding off the Persian army, in exchange for an opportunity to use her voice to sway the council and save Sparta. It may very well be her emotionless acceptance of his proposition that prompts Theron to shove her against the wall and turn the encounter brutal. Because he was unable to weaken her resolve through objectification, he was forced to resort to physical violence.
It’s also worth noting, for those that have a steadfast aversion to rape scenes on principle, that in a film so saturated with violence, the directors are quick to cut away from the episode between Theron and Gorgo. The physical encounter lasts just long enough for us to get a taste of what is happening, before the screen fades out. This scene was not included as a means of glorifying the brutal domination of a woman. This scene was not intended to be enjoyed by anyone. It was included as a necessary plot device, and a reflection of the reality of women’s vulnerability at the hands of horrid men. The movie 300 does more for women by confronting it and dealing it a swift, steady blow than sweeping it under the rug or pretending that there are no monsters lurking in our closets or under our beds.
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles – Men: 3 Stars
Spartan society prides itself on producing exceptional soldiers, and as a result, celebrates traditional hallmarks of masculinity such as strength, bravery and resiliency. Leonidas and his fellow soldiers also find ways to express humility and compassion, but they are primarily remembered for their status as ruthless warriors. Perhaps it is because these men are considered to be the apex of masculinity that they are able to express their emotions without concern that it will be taken as a sign of weakness. It’s encouraging to see that such caring and strength can and do co-exist in Sparta, but as a whole, the film does more to re-inforce male gender stereotypes than it does to erode them.
The film does temper some of this rigid masculinity, however, through King Leonidas' endearing relationship with his wife. From their first scene together it is clear that King Leonidas not only deeply loves his queen, but also places great confidence and respect in her. On more than one occasion he looks to her for approval and guidance in making decisions that will impact all of Sparta. Leonidas also brags to Xerxes about the strength and confidence of Sparta’s women, suggesting that it is not just Queen Gorgo that exhibits such bravado and fearlessness. And that in fact, all Spartan women have been raised to be warriors in their own right.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3 Stars
Queen Gorgo is both beautiful and sexy, but she is far more triumphant than a traditional love interest who simply waits for her husband to return home from the war. She is a powerful presence in the political maneuverings that take place in Sparta, even if she is ultimately forced to offer up her body as a negotiating tool for political power. Unfortunately, Theron’s exploitation of Queen Gorgo is an ugly reminder of why sexism and objectification are generally more damaging and degrading to women than they are to men. The men of Sparta are also, to some degree, reduced to the value of their physical bodies. But 300 emphasizes the fact that there is inherent value in strength and bravery. Strength and bravery can be put to use in the service of lofty principles like freedom and equality. Whereas reducing a female to her physicality puts her squarely in the power of others. Because beauty, in and of itself, has no value aside from what others assign to it.
King Leonidas is the leader of the Spartans, a fierce warrior society that prides itself on its dedication to freedom and equality. When Sparta’s independence is threatened by Xerxes, the king of Persia, Leonidas defies the will of the gods by leading a group of his 300 greatest warriors into battle. Although they are mercilessly outnumbered, Leonidas and his small group of Spartans stand their ground against the advance of the massive Persian army.
Kelly is a labor law