I’ve described more than once my own experiences with a film industry that could look right at me and swear I didn’t exist. In the mid-90’s when I was actively working in film, the dominant theories were:
- Women don’t go to movies much on their own
- Women certainly don’t go to sci-fi, juvenile comedy or action movies unless it’s with their male lover
- Women only like movies featuring romance and someone dying of cancer
I was the exception. There wasn’t anyone else like me in the world, they assured me. All those women watching Xena and a strange new series called Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn’t count because, um, women will watch anything on TV… riiiiight.
By 2000, the number of women attending Star Wars: Episode 1 and The Matrix forced them to make up a new justification for their bigotry revise their conclusions. Briefly, they tried “Um, women will apparently see the same action flick 40 times if it’s for a boyfriend. Yeaaah, who knew?” I even got into an argument with some young men at my third showing of Phantom Menace (I know, I know – but Ewan MacGregor dueling! on a very large screen!) who simply could not process that I was there with two other women instead of with men. And when they did, their next theory was, “But your boyfriend got you into it, right?”
“I was seven when I became a fan,” I explained. “Remember when we were in between Empire and Jedi and some people were thinking Luke and Leia were going to end up together, or that Vader wasn’t really Luke’s father? Man, those were fun times to be a fan!” I went on with various other remembrances, and finally they left me alone. They looked completely disturbed, like I’d just proven the world was actually square.
That explanation didn’t fly in the industry, either. Tentatively, when Star Wars: Episode 2 and The Matrix: Reloaded came out, they attached to those movies a wide variety of trailers featuring all sorts of genres and, in particular, some female characters. Lo and behold it worked! Apparently, women will go watch action, sci-fi and comedy!
But this didn’t change their tendency to look at women as a niche audience rather than as a demographic. Just last year, they blamed Jodie Foster for the less than stellar success of a movie that actually way outshined similar movies starring men.
Since a lot of this is anecdotal, I’m always relieved to find an article proving I’m not the only one who sees the industry behaving like the most fundamental religious zealots and actually telling you to your face you don’t exist. Io9 has a great article about this very phenomenon and how it’s played out behind the scenes at the Sci-Fi channel under the presidency of a woman who just assumes women don’t like sci-fi:
Women who do love science fiction see all this going down, and they are ashamed to admit that they like science fiction. I’m not saying this happens to all of us, but many women wind up assuming that there’s something wrong with them for liking SF. After all, everybody keeps telling them that SF is for boys, and the only reason why women would like it is if the definition of SF is “expanded” to include magic and romance. (Nothing against magic and romance, mind you — it’s just not typical of SF.)
And on top of all this load of crap, women who like SF sometimes get the impression that men don’t really want them to like it. After all, if men really wanted women to hang out and talk to them about SF, those men wouldn’t write exclusively about male characters and make jokes about how the fun thing to do at SF cons is hire hookers (haw haw haw).
Please go check out the whole article. It’s a great read.