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Krisi Tran

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What (if anything) should be done about gender inequality in media or films?

If you've been keeping up with this topic lately, you might have heard that some Swedish cinemas are instituting the Bechdel Test to measure how many women there are in talking roles, not about men, in their films. This is one example of a step taken towards equality in the movie industry, and towards recognizing the gender roles created through media, that are usually unfavorable to women. Only 18% of top movies in 2012 had a female protagonist. Women in movies rarely do anything important by themselves, and there is still the general notion that the greatest thing for a woman is marriage, and when it comes to action, the best she can be is a hardly active, supporting role. Of course, this could all go the other way, when we notice that violent masculinity is also a gender role greatly promoted for men, in addition to little films allowing males to truly express their feelings. Negative gender roles are promoted for both genders, although the lack of women is a grand statement.

On the other hand of this inequality is that films are in fact an art, and there is no reason why art should have to be constrained, and not allowed to reflect how the director sees the world. Maybe film inequality is just a reflection of the ideology of the society we live in.

What do you think? Should anything be done about the gender inequality demonstrated by film or other media? How?

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  • Dec 5 2013: Film, like all the arts is better at reflecting the world than at changing it. Things tend to change through art when the reflection shows us things that disturb us enough to need to change them. This is why political art is often marginalized in its time.

    For that reason, I would like to see a stronger reflection of the feminine in film because it would signal that the very problems you point out are being recognized and change is happening. These things are not, however, only related to the status of women, but to the status of the feminine. In addition to the need for a linear narrative (which is, by the way a masculine trait), the arts require a strong conflict and direct action to resolve the conflict. This tends to lead toward masculine story lines reflecting masculine attitudes and masculine strategies. Even when the heroes are women, there is a bias in favor of women who are capable of acting like men in dealing with the conflicts. The more feminine traits of dealing with conflict through empathy, nurturing, and mutually-beneficial relationships are not seen as having the dramatic impact of car chases, gunfights and explosions. And when the story lines feature women's stories, they tend to focus on competition for men or for status in a masculine world.

    There is, of course, a significant amount of independent film making that is able to deal with important real-world conflict from a feminine perspective; but these films are still seen as niche-films, not suited to general audience distribution. Mainstream film goes where the blockbuster money is; and as long as that reflects our masculinized cultural norm, then it will be based in a masculine perspective most of the time.

    What's to be done? Work for gender equality everywhere; work to value the feminine everywhere; keep the change happening.
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      Dec 6 2013: If you associate popularised media from the past and today with masculinity, and then propose that masculine portrayal is the issue, then you exclude the possibility that the components of that media are correct and should be used ("masculine story lines, masculine attitudes, masculine strategies"). This is a problem as it promotes an opposition and exclusion as opposed to negotiation and intertwinement. When discussing sensitive topics it would be logical not to make assumptions such as linearity being a "masculine trait". You make the case that feminine characteristics are not capable in dealing with conflict or inducing intrigue, when that is simply not the case. There are many films in which the "masculine trait" results in a negative outcome, and the "feminine" results in a positive resolution. It can be equally damaging to portray men and women in this way but there is a reason why only a minor percentage of the population notice it. Sensitivity, people’s perceptions and opinion differ around the world, no matter what you do, someone will be offended by it; there is a line that needs to be drawn to protect freedom of expression.

      By all means i support equal rights but it seems that i am in opposition to a common view, hence my view will not be favoured by many, however let me leave you with one of my favourite quotes; an excellent representation of the texas sharpshooter logical fallacy.

      "All the different angles that when occupied make all the other angles seem outrageously wrong, that every facet glitter clear and bright, brandishing its sword like a figure in a stained glass scene." - Dona Nobis Pacem
      • Dec 6 2013: It was not my intention to pass judgment as to the correctness of anything. “Masculine” and “feminine” traits are determined culturally, reinforced through a myriad of constant cultural messages, are part of our determination of cultural norms, and are highly influential in the development of gender identity within the culture. While many of gender-assigned traits probably originated with observations of biological differences between men and women, the place where biology and acculturation intersect isn’t clear. Some things are pretty clear, however. All humans express all the traits of masculinity and femininity in differing proportions. Masculine/feminine does not equal male/female or men/women. Our culture identifies traits such as linear thinking; focus on informational content of messages; the use of physical force for the resolution of conflict, and conversely, the use of logic in problem solving; sexual freedom; and stoicism as masculine traits. Nurturing; a focus on the emotional content of messages; the use of negotiation, compromise and accommodation in dealing with conflicts and the use of emotional reasoning and intuition in problem solving; either sexual restraint or promiscuity; sensitivity to one relationships with others; and emotional vulnerability are seen as feminine traits.
        Filmmakers know these things and, like much of our culture generally, have a bias toward the masculine. Much is made about lead females such as Katniss in “The Hunger Games,” but the film, it can be argued, emphasizes the well-developed masculine traits of the central character, whose most dangerous adversaries are also masculine. Strongly feminine films, such as “The Hours,” are often critically acclaimed, but they are in the minority of American films, even of films with strong female leads.
        Both masculine and feminine traits offer ways of dealing with conflict successfully, even dramatically. Our cultural bias is toward the masculine.

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