Everywhere But Here

When I read this article on the lack of female characters in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I realized many things.

First, that I am not so off with my manyobservationsontheportrayalof women in movies. Other people notice it too and once you notice it, it’s hard to not see it anymore (as it is with any truths you start to see beneath the fabric our culture puts on our eyes). Women are mis- and underrepresented in our culture, despite the fact that in the real world they are everywhere! That doesn’t seem very fair. The article is especially interesting in the way it makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves admit this problem without him ever being aware of it. We are so used to having male leads and female love interests because we rarely see anything else from the moment we consume culture. This makes it very hard to actually change it because it seems natural.

Second, this is very much a cultural phenomenon. At least the underrepresentation because in the real world women are simply not underrepresented. The kids I teach, the teachers I work with (or who work beside me), my friends and family consist mostly of at least 50% females. So why are our cultural products so insistent in showing us worlds in which women are in the minority? Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions and surely things get better, but on the average and in general, this is still very true. Despite some progress, movies, comics, video games, TV shows, toys and books mostly still treat women the same way and feature male heroes (who are also white most of the time, but that a similar but different story). And culture influences how we think and how we think influences the cultural output we produce. So, if you want it to change, you need to change it.

Third, in politics and “society” this debate has been going on for decades and progress seems to exist but is slow. In culture this discussion is relatively new but very much alive right now and it seems to lead to faster changes. Again, not enough by a long shot but enough that an article can protest against a Hollywood blockbuster not featuring enough women. Just a couple of years ago, no one would have mentioned or even noticed that. The debates in the comic industry are happening almost every day and the changes are visible. Again, it’s not perfect but if you look at the comic series that feature lead female characters, it’s quite amazing. And most of them are actually good, too. Now all that needs to happen is that women actually get to write most of these female characters. Apart from Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone and G. Willow Wilson, not much is happening there. Same with female directors. Anyway, things are moving along and it is an interesting time.

I have two daughters and even in the children’s books it’s rare to find female characters in leading roles, not the least strong female characters. I want my girls to be strong and not for them to fall into gender stereotypes our culture enforces upon them. Because, again, this is why this is so important. If my daughters only see movies and read books in which women play a secondary and/or passive role, they will believe that this is how women are. As long as you are not a father who thinks girls should be cute and submissive, you have to do everything you can to work against it.