A few years ago a guy told me that he wouldn’t watch Orange is the New Black because after watching one episode he found that there were too many women and not enough men in the cast. I didn’t understand, I just couldn’t process that way of thinking, especially since the show’s diversity is so often praised. There are plenty of good reasons not to like or watch something but that definitely shouldn’t be one of them. Why was it that nearly any blockbuster you watched would have a primarily male cast with one token female in the group and this was considered normal? If women had this way of thinking then they couldn’t watch about 75 percent of movies. This started me on a huge kick of thinking about how women are treated in Hollywood. I noticed that movies with primarily male casts were just movies but as soon as women outnumbered men, it was a “chick flick” and not something men were supposed to watch.
After just looking at that I also noticed that there was a huge lack of character development amongst many of the female characters that already existed. Why was this, when there is such a wealth of talented actresses? Many of the roles available to women are as the girlfriend, wife, or mother to a man and are secondary to their male counterparts. While many people will say that this isn’t true, probably because they simply haven’t taken the time to notice, there is factual evidence to prove it. The Center for Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University researched and found that only 12% of protagonists in 2014’s highest grossing films were female. They also found that secondary roles were comprised of about 30 percent women and speaking roles were only 29 percent women. Many of these roles also end up going to white women in a certain age group. These issues have been brought up greatly in the past few years by Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and many other actresses over the age of forty, who have been very vocal about their lack of selection in roles. Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is only 37 has said she was turned down for a role on the grounds that she was “too old” to play the love interest to a 55 year old man. There’s also the fact that when people watch movies or tv shows they often hope to see characters who they can relate to, and with women clearly making up far more than 12 percent of viewership, there could clearly be economical bonuses for adding more female roles. However, the industry can only be changed if the entire attitude surrounding female characters changes.
While it is much easier to notice in hollywood, what first made me notice it in books was the tendency of many male authors to refer to women by their bra size. Often when a woman was written to be sexier or in many cases the antagonist, one of the first ways they are described is as being either a D or DD cup and on the other side of the spectrum, women who are viewed as more of a “good girl” are usually smaller (yet somehow never flat) chested. There are multiple problems with this, one of them being that cup sizes are not all inclusive. For example, a 30D would be the equivalent cup size to that of a 34B, something that most authors are most likely not aware of. Additionally, many of these women who are just referred to as women with D’s or DD’s lack any sort of distinct personality, they’re just stereotypically sexy and that’s what’s deemed as being the most important aspect to them. Another thing is that almost no woman spends as much time obsessing over her bra size as a lot of men seem to believe. But, finally and most importantly, it also goes against something that we as women all know to be true, that breast size has absolutely nothing to do with a person’s character.
Many of these fictional women are surrounded by an otherwise primarily male cast and lack many characteristics that are typically thought of as being feminine. Not that there’s anything wrong with these characters singularly, it is more that as a whole too many female characters’ main personality traits are that they are “not like other girls” and don’t stray much from that stereotype. While I’m sure that we’re all for representation of strong women, this is definitely not the way to go about it. On one hand, I think “awesome, there is a female character being represented!” but it’s also kind of looking down upon femininity in a way. As someone who from a very young age has spent a lot of time reading and more time than I would like to admit watching movies and tv shows, I know how important it is to have characters you can relate to. I also distinctly remember my heart breaking at age ten when I read that JK Rowling (Joanne Kathleen), had published Harry Potter using her initials because she was told if boys knew it was written by a woman they would be less likely to read it. This was especially hard due to not only my love for the series and idealization of Hermione Granger, but that Rowling has always been someone I’ve been greatly inspired by, and still am today. While this obviously isn’t quite the same, it’s the same attitudes that cause the issues in written characters. I also know that people say that there are other issues going on in the world that are more important, but it’s truly more important than many realize.