Saturday, October 2, 2010

Women in entertainment

In the past year, I’ve read 85 books (give or take academic books and rereads). Ten were to do with Christianity; six were secular non-fiction; the rest were novels. Twenty-four of the books were written by women.

This is actually an improvement on the previous year, where the count was nine out of 60. The improvement is partly to do with a conscious effort on my part to read some classic female and feminist authors like Virginia Woolf, Jeanette Winterson, and Ursula Le Guin, though the fact that it wasn’t a very noteworthy effort is clear. For the most part, I just read books I’m interested in, and often that means sci-fi or fantasy (at least 37 of the 69 novels, though genre categorization is frequently debatable). Twenty-five of the 69 had a female protagonist or (if there was no clear protagonist) a female character among the major ensemble players. Seventeen had major queer characters or queer themes, as did five of the non-fiction books.

These statistics may not be terribly meaningful on their own, but I think they’re interesting. Compare the 41 films I’ve seen at the cinema over the same time period. Exactly four were directed by women. Those four and two others had female protagonists, with a further four featuring a female as one of two or three main characters. Half of these 10 were from outside the US, and only one – Alice in Wonderland, whose popularity probably stemmed from its special effects, ensemble, and director – made it to every multiplex. That’s poor, even for Hollywood.

It’s absolutely astonishing that women – who constitute more than 50% of the population – should be so absurdly underrepresented in entertainment. The absence of queer people and non-white people is frustrating, but the lack of women is really astounding because women are literally more than half your potential audience.

On an individual basis, I love good books and films regardless of the main characters’ genders. I don’t read books thinking, “This is great, but it sure would be better if the protagonist was female instead.” It’s the trend that’s so maddening. I want action and thrillers and sci-fi and everything to exist with a female protagonist as often as a male. The way things are at the moment, I’d settle for half as often.

But that’s how the kyriarchy operates: in systems so huge that fighting it seems like a lost cause.

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