In 1981, the Indiana Jones franchise was born. The witty and adventurous archeologist, Indiana Jones, is likable and the fast-paced storyline is well-written. While, I've personally adored this movie since I was shown bits and parts as a young kid, there's still faults to be found within Raiders of the Lost Ark. Most notably, the movie is steeped in sexism.
The first time women are shown in the movie is in the Dr. Jones's archeology class. The room is filled to the brim with pretty ladies who, as the scene goes on, are more intent on the doctor than the class itself. The idea that the entire class of ladies are only there for him is comedic, but disvalues the women who are there to be educated. It becomes a statement in the movie, however briefly it is shown for laughs, that women will take a handsome man over their own college education. If this seems far-fetched, remember that one camera prominently frames one girl's face who has written the message "Love" and "You" on her eyelids. This is just a simple, early example of the sexism that follows within the movie.
The only character who is a woman and has a name in the movie is Marion Ravenwood. Admittedly, she's the opposite of how most women are portrayed in action or adventure movies. She's tough, stubborn, and unafraid of speaking her mind. Nonetheless, her character is put in numerous damsel in distress situations that demonstrates her lacking ability to save herself or appear competent. Upon seeing Indiana Jones after their last meeting ended with their romantic relationship falling apart, Marion orders him to leave her bar only to require his help when she's confronted by the Germans. What could've been a scene that demonstrated her unforgiving nature was crumbled when the movie decided to make her helpless. Along with this portrayal of appearing incompetent, Marion is repeatedly demonstrated as a bit of an air-head, such as when she admires her reflection in a dingy mirror while her and Indiana Jones are leaving Egypt to return to London. She swings the mirror around in an attempt to use the less dirty side of the mirror and hits Indiana whose recovering from a brutal fight. He makes a loud scream and Marion, finally finished looking at her reflection, asks if he said anything. In another situation, Marion becomes hysterical when she's put in a pit of snakes with Indiana. While this is an expected, human reaction to being tossed into a pit of snakes, it's juxtaposed to Indiana's stoic and serious reaction to the snakes (and he's the character that's terribly afraid of snakes, not her). These small moments in the movie make it difficult to take Marion seriously and makes her seem almost childish in comparison to the capable Indiana Jones.
Along with this, Marion is constantly seen as a plot point for the movie. She's the daughter of Abner Ravenwood, a man that Indiana Jones had looked up to and required help from to gain understanding on the Ark. The only reason Marion is included in the movie is by her connection to the Ark and her stubbornness to not leave Indiana alone, but to in fact follow him to make sure her debts are repaid. Throughout the movie, Marion is put through trial after trial in which she's kidnapped, nearly tortured, almost blown up, and just about entombed. She's not put through these events on her own volition, but rather as an object that has no say in the matter unlike her partner, Indiana, who is shown as willing to jump into these kinds of situations. The movie constantly has Marion as the helpless character and, at no point, does she successfully demonstrate an active role to get out of a bad situation. Along with this, what happens to her is turned into emotional pain for Indiana Jones, such as when he believes she was killed in a truck explosion. This discredits Marion's own emotions and reactions to her situations and makes whatever happen to her become emotional baggage for Indiana Jones to push the movie forward.
Again, I love this movie. As a woman who loves archeology and would love to have her own adventure one day, it's always important to see similar representation in movies for ladies. On one hand, you could admire Marion's character. She has her good moments and a uniqueness compared to the cookie-cutter personalities most women get in this genre. Even so, the movie perceives both her and the entirety of young ladies as rather incompetent. I would love to see a woman who's on par with Indiana Jones and it's unfortunate to see a franchise play into the idea of damsels in distress. Hopefully, movies following in the footsteps of this franchise see the potential Marion Ravenwood and create a movie that doesn't have sexism holding back any characters.
I couldn't find a link to the entire movie, but I do have two scenes that go along with what I mentioned up above:
Archeology class scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmkJ0lrCpLQ
Mirror scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SofTwyYi6Uo