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 6 2013: To answer this you have to differentiate between what is meant as fact and what is meant as fiction. Films for the most part are a reflection of the artist, and are not meant as an unequal judgement on society. Such is the argument that "The Hangover" is sexist, as it does not pass the bechdel test, however it was never meant to. You can apply the same logic to games, series, and even music. While the art, ideas, and concepts performed in these reflections can be seen as offensive to some; it can be argued that you shouldn't even be indulging yourself in media that offends you. As for the common argument that media containing 'inequality' is highly influential, it can be said that it is your responsibility as a human being to control what you are influenced by, and what your children are influenced by too. For example you wouldn't expose your child to explicit content, if you view media containing 'inequality' as that poisonous, you would simply prevent your child from being exposed to that too. In the rebuttal that "you shouldn't have to", remember that your child does not see a knight saving a princess as sexist, it is your perception that you are imprinting onto others. To take away the right of an artist to express themselves, is taking away their human right to freedom.
    • Dec 6 2013: Cultural messages that favor the masculine are pervasive. Although we can certainly choose not to take part in specific events, we cannot avoid the predominant cultural messages. We are not, actually, in control of that influence, and cannot be.
      No one is arguing that any specific artist should be denied the right of free expression. The argument is whether we, as a society and a culture, are harmed by the unequal and prejudicial treatment of the female and the feminine in popular media; and whether there is, therefor, a need to more consciously and actively change that through the encouragement of greater access and inclusion of women, and feminine perspectives, in those media.
  • Dec 5 2013: I don't think that quantifying the data, setting targets and quotas will make a impact on the situation. It highlights the problem, but doesn't offer a solution. Akin to the 'glass ceiling' that was identified, quantified and still continues to permeate in white collar or blue collar workplaces.

    I also don't believe that an instantaneous solution is available. Starting the discussion, as you have, will open the minds of future generations to new and different possibilities and ways of expressing their art and understanding of the world. As long as we give these people the opportunity to think and create in a different way, (to what past generations are accustomed to). eg. Instead of teaching, this is how you write a good action script: male protagonist, exploding things, revenge acts etc.

    I can think of some action films that I really enjoyed just because the main character was a woman and that in itself made the story flow differently. I choose to see this void as a great opportunity, all the stories yet to be told or conveyed, just imagine! We just have to keep the conversation going and be honest and vocal about our perception of these representations. :)
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      Dec 5 2013: I apologize if English isn't your native language- some of this is a little hard to understand. What do you mean by "con job" ? And "propped up by numerous object that become fetish,and institutional" ? Also, it would be easier to read if you used proper punctuation. You only need one period to end a sentence. Multiple periods or commas imply a continuation, so it feels like your text is one long sentence.
  • 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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    Dec 11 2013: I personally do not see the inequality you're talking about but if someone took the time to statistically analyze movies and came to this conclusion I would say that this is an area where the free market and freedom of expression rules as it should. The problem , as I see it , is more that more superficial brainless shocking action movies made to make money at the box office are produced due to popular demand expressed by the movie goers as opposed to subtle, interesting culturally stimulating movies.
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    Dec 11 2013: I'm not sure I buy this argument that gender inequality in film and television is driven by audiences.

    First of all, roughly half of film and television audiences are female. Secondly there are plenty of stories that are successful with complex female leads, even though their target audience isn't specifically women.

    Also, just because a story has a male lead, it's not unreasonable to expect its female characters to be as well-written as male characters of comparable prominence.

    I'm generally of the opinion that film and television studios consistently underestimate the intelligence of their audiences.
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    Dec 10 2013: This is an old conversation. I am old. So, what is it about gender equality so important? Is it really?
    According to the UN world population count, there are more girls then boys. Should men stand up for abortion of female fetuses until equality is achieved? Hmmmm, no.

    So, should there be more there be more female lead roles in media? Why not?

    Wait a minute? What makes media money? They came to the conclusion that single men 18 to older spend money on media that crashes cars, has big explosions, guys doing guy things, if there is a pretty girl cheering on our virile heros, more the better.

    It's about the money.

    Media moguls have no real interest in sociological debate on men or women, they are out for the bottom line. They made money on a scifi film about a girl who uses a bow and arrow, so I understand.

    So, are we suggesting that moguls are to put media out just to have balance for genders?

    Small independent film makers out out there that make a number of small films that do that. These media just don't make money and for that reason are not widely seen.

    It's not about fairness or justice or art or any societal issues... it's about the money
  • Dec 9 2013: Making a generalization about what sex is more, "messed up," than another is harsh. I believe what this conversation was attempting to state are some solutions to make the sexes less stereotyped in movies and media. I believe the solution is beginning to come to fruition with a stronger and less sexualized female lead in films. This is starting to include even Disney films, such as, "Brave." As younger generations breaks the molds of their previously precluded gender biases, taught in schools and by parental figures, more and more young people will start to recreate themselves beyond stereotype. This in turn will be reflected in the revamping of our arts and entertainment fields.
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      Dec 9 2013: I like your optimism! However, it's hard to know if this system can really evolve quickly all on it's own. It seems like it would have to be influenced by a 50/50 gender ratio in everything, and that's unlikely to happen quickly.
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    Dec 5 2013: I wrote out a much longer response to this but I realized I was trying to say too much and it was became a mess. So to make the best of your time I'm just going to link to an amazing discussion I was part of a while ago:

    Another great read is "The Mako Mori Test":

    The Bechdel Test is nothing new. It had good intentions but really doesn't help change anything. Just because your film passes a series of really basic points doesn't make it any better or more female friendly. People should be inspired to write better female characters because they are part story they are telling - not because they want to pass some test. As the Daily Dot article above points out, Pacific Rim fails in all three points of the Bechdel Test. Despite this, Mako Mori is a strong woman, the movie is culturally aware, and the woman isn't sexualized at all.

    So, should there be more women in cinema? Absolutely. Could they be less sexualized? Absolutely. But is the Bechdel Test going to change the world? Absolutely not. It's flawed, it's shallow and great films are going to be great films with or without the test.
  • Dec 5 2013: Hi.
    I don't know if there is gender inequality in film, arts or other artistic media.
    I do know that in the past there most definitely was and some might still prevail today.
    That being said there is one part of your introduction I do disagree with and this is it:
    " films are in fact an art,.......there is no reason why art should have to be constrained, and not allowed to reflect how the director sees the world."
    In respect to film as I understand it, it does not reflect "how the director sees the world" but how the director sees the story.
    A director doesn't write the story, although today more and more are doing so, so that comment might be old by the time I add my period. Yes, I think it is.
    Anyway, the story comes first. So who writes the story? A man? A woman? And for what? To sell, make moola, to say something, to teach, expose, etc? I write screenplays and I don't write like a woman or necessarily with a women's perspective. Perhaps I could as I learn more and then I don't necessarily have control over the ideas that come to me to write about. They just come.
    Again, that being said, my first screenplay has both: a female protagonist and female antagonist with a male supporting role. I am trying to find an agent now and not having much luck at present.
    My next story has a male lead but the real story is the story and not the character, if that makes any sense.
    A comedy I'm working on involves a father and daughter role, both fairly equal and both naughty people.
    Film depends so much on what studios think will sell, will entertain and that last is a sort of motto for the business.
    If it isn't entertaining, regardless of the genre, people won't watch it and writers want their stuff bought and on screen.
    If more women write and write well, and nothing much happens, then yes, there might be an inequality such as you present here. If theater-goers don't go, then that also might represent a collective mind-set that works against women. We certainly have that.
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      Dec 5 2013: I agree, you have a point that directors and writers are different people. But regardless, there are movies out there who have more women than men, and general society doesn't deem these movies as something men should be watching. Women are expected to enjoy movies with little women in them, like most action movies, but men are not expected to come anywhere close to something that might be deemed a little bit "girly." Yes the movie needs to sell, but the society likes what it is expected to like. But that could be a debate all on it's own.
      • Dec 5 2013: Hi Krisi.
        After sleeping on my comment I have to agree with you.
        There is inequality and there is still too much of it and in too many ways, in too many places.
        As someone who writes, I find it somewhat frustrating that what the "business" is selling us tries
        to dictate to me what to write about and I don't like that.
        I want and try, to write about people, situations and experiences that can make a difference in the lives of humans, to live better, peacefully, and to grow in ways that will benefit all of us.
        That still leaves genre's wide-open for exploration.
        For me, too much of what we get to purchase is about false reality, nationalism and dangerous ways to think and act. They also promote splitting from reality and truth.
        Ah, maybe I will never sell one of my stories. So far, none of them sexualize women, create unnecessary violence or resort to believing and accepting the lies of the media.
        I just prefer real stuff and many of those kinds of movies, while very well done, directed, written and produced, didn't fare well box office wise. Again, the dictates of money, instead of what is right.
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          Dec 6 2013: Best of luck on your movies! I guess the solution is society changing in the first place.
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    Dec 5 2013: For movies and stories, do we, as a society think what women do is important? I think we do. To what extent? To a great extent. For women are not 'aliens', and that idea that women are some independent kingdom that needs 'representation' or 'quota' in films, is against good storytelling.

    The question is, how many good stories has been written with women protagonists? How about the music videos with the almost naked women? That's a story too. I refer you to the TED talk "The Danger Of A Single Story" by Chimamanda Adichie.
    Do we, as a society, think there's more to a woman than pretty faces and a good shape?

    I dont want to believe that only a few women show courage, wit, foresight, and persistence in the face of danger, as we admire in the movie heros.
    We want good stories, and when we stop focussing on only money and box office success, we'll make so much progress.

    When will that be? Possible soon, probably never.
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    Dec 17 2013: State involvement in an art form—and regardless of one's opinion, film is a form of art—seems to me to be highly problematic, no matter the commercial implications. This is a slippery slope, and one wonders where the state draws its lines in the future. That said, this would seem to be yet the latest installment of the age-old question, “Does art reflect life, or does life reflect art?” Does one view art as a “documentary illustrator” of how life seems to be, or art as a “visualized image” of how life could be? Or is it neither? Is it merely "art for art's sake?"

    In an open society, we see a variety of orientations for the telling of a story—in a closed system, the telling of any story is imposingly monolithic. If the society is open to diverse forms of artistic interpretation, there is no need for concern. But when a society demands one, and only one, narrative, art becomes "monochromatic" and "two-dimensional." Whether it be the chains of government or the shackles of the majority opinion, art must remain free from either if it is to remain relevant.
  • Dec 14 2013: have you recent watched the wonderful movie catching fire which is shooting
    the first place of box office in this year. What surprised me is main actor is female ,Nicle.
    I admit that inequality gender has existed for long time and this one is rare phenomenon.
    But if we look this in positive , it’s grand progress. Thanks to those prominent feminist ,
    former secretary of state Hillary. Marissa Mayer, female will play a more important role
    on changing the world.
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    Dec 12 2013: The movie makers make what the audience will pay to see. In every first world country I can find data for women go to the movies more often than men so women decide how many female roles there are in movies.
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      Dec 13 2013: Maybe directly. But indirectly it's part of a larger social problem where women are expected to enjoy movies with no representation in them, while men are certainly not. Now of course you can argue if that's really a problem. It's essentially stemming from the fear that men can be too feminine if they get near "girly" things.
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    Dec 11 2013: I suspect that quite soft solutions could have a sizeable impact here. For example if influential critics contact prominent writers/directors/publishers with a polite "Listen mate, I'm afraid you're just a bit rubbish at presenting realistic, three-dimensional female characters. Here's a few pointers on why this matters and how you can fix it."
  • Dec 11 2013: Media and films are about views. Views equal money. Since they are businesses, they will continue to supply what it is being demanded. If movie-goers want to see men in leading roles, that is what these businesses should do. If you really want movies to showcase more female leading roles, then you should go to a movie with a female lead. It is a positive feedback loop.
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    Dec 10 2013: Here is another Ted Talk I found that summarizes some of the conflict nicely. This time bringing men and boys well into the picture.
  • Dec 10 2013: Film inequality IS just a reflection of the ideology and the HISTORY of the society we LIVED in.
    More precisely, most of the current film and drama often reflect the historical events which happened in the past. Since our past history often were mostly dominated by the male in leadership or knowledge, and the women's role is to grow up and getting married (that's the historical fact). This was due to the ancient education custom that the education or training for leadership are customarily for young males. Even a film or drama script is written by modern authors, the inherited style is usually emphasizing the leading role by males by the force of habit or by historical models.
    Furthermore, do you want to limit historical films involving male emperors to be exactly equal to that with Queens, in order to achieve the equality of gender role difference.
    For example through the entire history of the United States, there hasn't been a single woman been elected as the president. Of course, as the time goes on, we may have a female president in the future. But why should we bother to artificially twist the arms of script writers to do that just for the sake of "inequalty" which is only a concept, really won't cause any harm to our cultural development. There are, of course, many films or dramas involves women leadership, so it is just an small differential quantification at stake. Do you think we must legally limit or twist the arms of all authors to the equality of female vs male roles in all the art works, or rather leave it to natural evolution.
    Furthermore, there have been rules and regulations trying to quash the inequality of athletic programs in colleges or the professional sports. At least in the pro basketball programs, the women''s pro teams simply haven't attracted enough spectators to expand the existing programs. Since all the pro-sports are for profit, should we leave the inequality problem alone instead of push it at all cost
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      Dec 10 2013: Yes, historical accuracy should not be compromised, and we can certainly let such movies off the hook. But there are plenty of modern day or future day movies to criticize on their inequality.
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    Dec 9 2013: Cote de Pablo (AKA: Ziva from NCIS) had the right idea, she quit because of gender inequality and personally the show is boring without her. So I look forward to reading about its plummeting ratings. If all women in the media did the same, the media would have to change.
  • Dec 9 2013: Really we should have another group, one that explores the gender inequality on magazine covers. Why are there so many women. Why are men are being locked out of the market?

    Someone looks like they got lots of lovely grant money to do this - and are having a good time with it. Use that above idea and get some too.
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      Dec 9 2013: What type of magazines exactly?
      • Dec 12 2013: Go to the your local shop, the ones that sells magazines, count the number of females on the covers of ALL magazines. I mean everything from TV listing magazines, to teen-girls magazines, to practical woodworker. Count them, then you'll get it.

        And it does not only apply to magazines. Look at ice cream commercials print and tv, have you ever seen a man as the main actor?

        Then look at chocolate adverts, again print and tv, you wont see a man.

        Are you seeing a pattern???
  • Dec 8 2013: did you see the film where they had midgets play giants? neither did I..
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      Dec 9 2013: But women aren't PHYSICALLY restrained from being leaders or important, whereas that is all your comparison is saying.
  • Dec 6 2013: You have money? Don't spend money on such things. Don't patronize companies that use such things to advertise. Get together with like-minded crabby people and complain as a group. Let them know you're not spending your money on them.
  • Dec 4 2013: To be honnest, I had not yet noticed this inequality. And I would like to say that it's probably not the main problem in society. But you awoke my curiosity that's why I thought about it.

    In cinema there are many feminine roles but I agree with you, they are mostly as decorative objects. Women give a glamorous effect on the red carpet, but they have not often a major role to play. I read that about 27% of women actors get partially naked while only 9% of men do...
    Figures spoke for themselves : Only a third of the speaking characters are women. It's not right !
    However some make films called 'auteur films' which make thought provoking.

    As you said, cinema is an art and I don't really know if we can draw any consequences of it on society.
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    Dec 4 2013: One thought that occurs to me, Krisi, is that maybe real women's lives are too good for the movies, in other words, women may have very satisfying, peaceful lives, and maybe these lives transcend, or are better than, the lives of the characters at the center of most movies. If you look at the stories that most movies tell, many of the main characters have a lot of problems. If you see that most protagonists are male, that may say that the male sex is the more messed-up sex.
    • Dec 4 2013: I don't totally agree with you. First we can't say that women have more peaceful lives !
      And it's not because the main part of the characters (who are males) is disturbed that we can conclude that male sex is troubled. Even if it's right that there are a lot of war or action films, where protagonists are almost brutal men...
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        Dec 4 2013: are you sure women don't have more peaceful lives, E? For example, there are many more men in prison, for much worse crimes, than women.

        If you see more women in movies, I hope it doesn't mean their lives are getting as messed up as men's. Maybe women will do a better job than we men have?
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      Dec 4 2013: Yes, but most male protagonists don't suffer from personal problems, they suffer from their environment our other people, whereas women usually create their own problems in movies and solve them. That in itself portrays them as less put together. As a result, and as a cause, the stereotype that women are all drama is perpetuated.
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        Dec 5 2013: well, you see many movies with horrible male villains, men who want to destroy the world. You don't see too many women like that in movies, and it's probably a credit to the female sex.
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          Dec 5 2013: I could disagree. There are a disproportionate amount of female villains for the amount of women in movies. You could see them in a number of movies, from Around the World in 80 Days, to Salt. I remember a Die Hard movie having a villain with a female assistant who was just as bad as any other possible villain. Oh and not to forget the James Bond movies, that confirm multiple stereotypes.
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        Dec 5 2013: I'm not sure, but I really doubt it, Krisi. Is there a way to research it, how many significant female villains are there in movies, and is it a disproportionate number? I did see Salt, as best I can recall Angelina's character was not a villain, or maybe the character was ambiguous?
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          Dec 6 2013: it would be an interesting topic to research. I haven't watched Salt in years, so I probably don't remember enough to support my claim. You're probably right about this example, a protagonist could never be completely evil, though I think she killed her boyfriend or something like that.
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        Dec 6 2013: well, I did put in "disproportionate number of women movie villains" in Google search box. I started getting lots of interesting info on TV and movie "tropes," "tropes" being similar to "cliches," or "standard character depictions." But not too much on the specific question of women villains. But it's hard for me to believe that women would be most often depicted as villains, I mean, we call women "the fairer sex," "the gentler sex." We say "God couldn't be everywhere at once and so he created mothers." And so on.

        In real-life prisons there are many more men than women, for more serious crimes. I think not so many women are villains in real life, going to prison. You don't think movies would echo real life and also not have woman criminals?