Ethical Issues in “What Women Want”

Cartsonis, S., Davey, B., Matthews, G., Meyers, N., & Williams, M. (Producers) & Meyes, N. (Director). (2000, Dec 15). What Women Want [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

In the romantic comFeatured imageedy film, What Women Want, sexist, chauvinistic ladies’ man Nick Marshall acquires the ability to hear what women are thinking. The focus will not be on how he acquired this ability, but how he uses it and how it breaches privacy. Marshall, an advertising executive for a large agency, uses this new “gift” to eavesdrop on women’s thoughts and use their ideas as his own. Particularly, he listens in on the thoughts of his new boss, Darcy McGuire, who is on the hunt to acquire Nike as a new client. As the two brainstorm campaign ideas, Nick vocalizes all of Darcy’s thoughts on how to acquire Nike before Darcy can say them herself. In the end, Nick ultimately gets to pitch the advertising campaign to Nike and gets Darcy fired.  Hence, in this film there is more than one ethical issue to be looked at.

According to Plaisance (2014), “we develop our own sense of self through privacy” (p. 181). Privacy is essential to express one’s freedom, and it is a right that appears to triumph in society. However, when Nick is reading these women’s thoughts, he is breaching their own private thoughts, if they wanted to share them then they would simply say their thoughts out loud. He not only uses these thoughts to gain an advantage within his company, he also uses the thoughts to acquire women and excel in the bedroom. A few characters in the film even state their confusion, expressing to Nick that he almost knows what they want more than they do themselves. The freedom of these women is being compromised and without their knowledge they are losing control of their own information while also being manipulated.

Besides the issue of privacy being breached, Nick is guilty of plagiarism, stealing Darcy’s thoughts and using them as his own ideas. Although Nick’s intentions are to impress his boss, he impresses her with ideas that are not his.  As previously stated he uses these ideas in a campaign pitch to Nike, winning them over and making it appear that he was the “brains” of the entire pitch. Though Nick did not ask for this ability, he overall breaches countless women’s privacy, manipulates them and steals their own thoughts claiming them as his own. The film, although a romantic comedy, does a good job of raising ethical issues.


Plaisance, P. L. (2014). Media ethics: Key principles for responsible practice (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.

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