Women’s roles in the early movies reflected their roles in society at the time. Women, according to men of the period, came in three distinct varieties: “nice” women who were plain and virtuous, “prostitutes” who wore heavy makeup and revealing clothing, and the poor “woman without a man” who had to earn her own living.
In the early movies, women were depicted as airheads who needed to be saved — sometimes from themselves. The first movie that Mary Pickford made was “Her First Biscuits.” The silent film was about a bride making her first pan of biscuits. (The husband pretends to like them. She takes them to the workers in his office. Everybody who eats a bite of her biscuits gets sick — you get the idea.)
A few movies were made over the years that did depict women in a better light, of course, but the roles for women in film for several decades were very limited. There were films that were made before men so “generously” gave women the right to vote. Most of them reflected women who were suffragettes as rather plain and unattractive malcontents.
As the movie industry (and the country) grew up, more films were made that depicted strong, independent and capable women.
Today, women’s roles in movies and on television are much more diverse. Women are more often portrayed as strong and capable. There are movie roles for women as wives and mothers, of course, but there are also roles for women as politicians, policewomen, soldiers, and spies.
The movies have at least reached adolescence. More women’s movie roles show women as intelligent and able, but there are still way too many films that depict women as sex objects, airheads, or both.