But we know you don’t exist, we have demographics to prove it

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.

Comments

  1. gategrrl says

    I remember hearing that Hamme is out at SciFi now, at least according to my husband, who works on movies that get bought by their Movie Division.

    I’ve also heard that SciFi is buying (or has bought) syndication packages which include “girly” shows like …um, not-Medium, but the other medium show that features Jennifer Love Hewitt, or whatever her name is? And ST Next Gen and a few other shows.

  2. SunlessNick says

    Ghost Whisperer. Of which I’ve seen three episodes, one with tons of syruppy and sickening schmatlz, one with really well done and heart-rending schmaltz, and one with scary forces from beyond.

    Women only like movies featuring romance and someone dying of cancer

    I knew there was a reason you lot all watched Battlestar Galactica. :rolleyes

    Really, the only think I can think to do here is turn the question round: why wouldn’t women be interested in watching science fiction or action genres? Why wouldn’t women crave the excitement of brave deeds or new worlds?

    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.

    This is interesting, and is also brought up at Girl Wonder in the context of comics. I wonder if it’s because both the SF genre and comic medium are often looked down on as nerdy or geeky – and most importantly, less manly – and some/many/most male fans fear that women liking them would confirm it.

  3. says

    “I was seven when I became a fan”

    I was born a fan.

    I suppose one could argue that my dad got me into it, but only in the sense that my dad saw it first (about the time I was born) and came home raving about it to the whole family. In which case, one must also argue that not only did my dad get my little brother into it as well, but that I got my little brother into it too.

    Also it was very much my idea as much as my little brother’s to go see the midnight showing of Matrix Reloaded and LOTR.

    ““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!””

    God. My brother and I were counting the freaking years to Episode 1 because I could only barely remember being excited about seeing The Return of the Jedi in the theatre, and neither of us could remember what it was like to watch a Star Wars movie and not have all the lines memorized already.

    (sorry, I’ll lay off the fannish squeeing)

    Last thought though, I finally got around to seeing The Brave One and can I say that the ending very much royally pissed me off?

  4. Nialla says

    Your story about the fanboys not believing you liked Star Wars just because you liked it and not because a man dragged you into reminds me of a story from a con ages ago.

    This was back in the days before DVDs (ancient times, I know) and the con was showing the laserdisc version of Aliens that included scenes cut from the theatrical release. It was a midnight showing, and a friend and I were the only females in the room.

    Many of the guys looked at us strangely, as if wondering if we’d wandered into the wrong room (or wandered from the males in our lives), but when the movie started and we were reciting memorized lines along with the rest of them, they finally realized we were something truly scary to fanboys — fangirls.

  5. Robin says

    Sing it, sisters! [/non-existent ability to say stuff like that]

    I can’t remember not being a sci-fi fan. I grew up watching Star Trek (TOS, TNG, and DS9), Star Wars, Last Starfighter, Tron, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, seaQuest… Well, you get the picture. I read sci-fi and fantasy and horror. I had Barbie dolls, but they went camping in the woods behind our house with G.I. Joe (the little 6-inch ones) and Optimus Prime in a (pilfered from my older brother) Tonka jeep.

    Do the execs at SciFi have any idea of their audience demographics? Have they actually looked at the people who attend the conventions? Because I went to a Stargate convention a few years ago, and roughly 60-70% of the attendees were women. Some even brought their children! The more general con I’ve been to the last two years is probably closer to 50/50, but still…

    And aside from the complex storytelling, the whiz-bang effects (!), and the fantastic what-if factor, sci-fi television and movies have something even non-fangirls can appreciate. Hot guys. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be watching the SciFi Channel shows anyway, but the added incentive of Shanks, Browder, Flanigan, Momoa, Bamber, Pennikett, Juliani, Trucco, and their cohorts doesn’t hurt. And don’t even get me started on the men of the BBC sci-fi shows. Yum.

    ::ahem:: Sorry. It’s late, and I seem to have gotten a bit shallow.

    I guess if we’re going to convince the world that it’s okay for girls to like the “boy stuff”, we’re just going to have to keep telling them. Often. And loudly. :)

  6. MaggieCat says

    Really, the only think I can think to do here is turn the question round: why wouldn’t women be interested in watching science fiction or action genres? Why wouldn’t women crave the excitement of brave deeds or new worlds?

    The only thing I can think of is that it’s unholy amalgamation of the “Girls aren’t good at science” meme (because clearly, a thorough understanding of temporal mechanics is required to understand Doctor Who (although admittedly I do really enjoy that they got the redshift/blueshift right), just as a grasp of quantum mechanics is required for Star Trek) and that very old belief that while the men go exploring the women sit home and wait. They even reinforced that by perpetuating the belief that women on sailing ships were bad luck (funny how the ships themselves were always referred to as “she”) and somehow the fact that women weren’t involved with “discovering” new continents (although some of the original residents were female, they were ignored with everyone else) means that they had no interest in doing so, and so have no interest in new planets either, until they need someone to hang the curtains after all that messy colonization is over with.

    Bitter? Me? No, not at all. Can’t think where you’d get that idea.

    I don’t remember not being a SF fan either. Yes, I was introduced to a lot of it by my dad, mainly because I was 6 and adults who weren’t related to me were recommending kiddie stuff, and it would be another 5 years before my parents relaxed their ‘nothing too violent’ rule and my mother could start passing on her love of action movies and Stephen King. So I got ST:TNG and Ray Bradbury. The very first book I remember reading out of the adult section of the library was The Illustrated Man (the first borrowed was Dandelion Wine but I haven’t been able to get more than 10 pages in to this day, it’s boring– oh wait, it’s not SF it’s the kind of rose tinged reminiscences that I’m apparently supposed to like).

    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.

    I’ve so far managed to avoid this, or not notice when it happened. I do remember getting on more than one occasion absolute giddiness upon the revelation that I have been known to get into hour long arguments about the continuity problems created by the Klingons’ makeover between TOS and TNG and the eventual mess created by Enterprise on that topic. (Note: I did not watch that one, other than a few episodes, because it sucked.) My personal WTF was the first time I met a couple of girls who’d truly bought into the “Girls don’t like SF” bull and said that I only knew these things because I was trying to get a guy’s attention. Along with football and the Die Hard/Lethal Weapon series, I suppose. What kind of sane person would invest the sheer amount of time required to understand well enough to discuss and argue about all of those things without genuinely liking them? I’m offended by the implication of that.

  7. SunlessNick says

    and that very old belief that while the men go exploring the women sit home and wait.

    and somehow the fact that women weren’t involved with “discovering” new continents … means that they had no interest in doing so

    Nice piece of doublethink there: we must exclude women from this endeavour, because they have no interest in it, in order to prove that they have no interest in it, so as to justify our excluding them from it.

    If feminists do that think that men suck, it’s not as if men don’t provide any evidence.

  8. says

    “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!”

    Too funny — I remember that too. ;)

  9. Genevieve says

    I can’t remember not being a sci-fi fan. I grew up watching Star Trek (TOS, TNG, and DS9), Star Wars, Last Starfighter, Tron, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, seaQuest… Well, you get the picture. I read sci-fi and fantasy and horror. I had Barbie dolls, but they went camping in the woods behind our house with G.I. Joe (the little 6-inch ones) and Optimus Prime in a (pilfered from my older brother) Tonka jeep.

    Hell, my sister and I acted out Animorphs stories with our Barbies (yeah, we were 90s kids), except the Barbies weren’t the kids saving Earth…they were the invading Yeerks.

    I got into Star Wars when Episode 1 came out–I was eleven and I think I had avoided it prior to that simply because some of the neighborhood boys like it. But when I read about Episode 1 I thought it looked really awesome…and then of course I had to see the originals. Therefore it’s really annoying when people assume I either don’t like Star Wars because I’m a girl, or only like it because my boyfriend or ex-boyfriend does, when the only thing influencing me in a Star Wars-ly direction was a magazine article. Odder still, there’ve been times when I’ve criticized the prequel movies with respect to how much of a letdown they were from the originals, and my opinions have been given almost no weight.

  10. says

    On the bright side, I’m looking for this next crop of Christmas season movies to put a huge dent in this double meme (girls/women don’t like scifi/fantasy, girls/women don’t go see movies).

    It won’t dispel it completely, because people are stupid and change takes time.

    But the idea that teen girls (at least) don’t go to see movies – fantasy/scifi movies at that – is going to be a lot harder to say with a straight face when teen girls (and not a few adult women) flock to the theaters to see not just Harry Potter but Twilight a week later as well.

    Harry Potter by itself they can pretend it is just a fluke and that the little boys they’ve always loved to put on the cover of newspapers are still the main audience. (Very much not true, the main audience is now very much teen girls and young adult women, especially for the movies.) But they are going to have a harder time maintaining both of those falsehoods when the numbers for Twilight come out. Especially because, while there will be some noise about it before it comes out, I think a lot of people are going to be shocked by how well it will do. (So long as I haven’t jinxed it by saying that so often!)

    However, do expect people to be stupid and pretend it’s partly about them being based on books, and well, girls read more, and lots of people ignoring that the gender reading/moviegoing gap is largely due to what kinds of characters star in each.

  11. gategrrl says

    I *think* (but don’t take my word on it) it’s a series of Vampire novels filled with angsty teen angst (as only teens can do it) rather in the vein of the old Anne Rice vampire novels.

    I only heard about it recently – as in, the past two weeks, when NPR did a story on it.

  12. says

    The thing is, just having women show up doesn’t convince Hollywood of anything. Example: Titanic is the biggest grossing movie of all time. Women and girls TOTALLY drove its success, and Hollywood acknowledges that.

    But in the vein of 11 year olds, they figured out a way to say “…but, but, but that doesn’t count!” They said we only saw the movie because we had the hots for Leo or because it was a tragic romance. (Which are, actually, the two reasons I didn’t see it and probably never will.)

    I talked to so many women who saw it for the special effects, and recommended it for that reason. While I guess Leo has a lot of fans, I’ve never met anyone who’d see something he’s in just to see him. And while a lot of my friends who enjoyed Titanic like romances more than I do, only one person ever extolled the romance in that movie to me.

    (I actually do enjoy romances when they’re interesting. The only reason I generally avoid them is story tellers tend to assume all they have to do is the same thing every other romance has done, only with the latest crop of gorgeous actors, and I’ll love it. Nope – ya gotta sell it to me, same as any other story.)

  13. MaggieCat says

    But the idea that teen girls (at least) don’t go to see movies – fantasy/scifi movies at that – is going to be a lot harder to say with a straight face when teen girls (and not a few adult women) flock to the theaters to see not just Harry Potter but Twilight a week later as well.

    I think this is one of the places where lumping sci-fi and fantasy gives a false impression, since I haven’t seen a lot of people claiming that women don’t like anything in the fantasy genre– magic spells and unicorns and fairies are usually considered well within the “feminine” interests, and if Twilight does well it’ll probably be lumped in with the general vampire market, which in my experience with non-genre fans is often held apart from other supernatural based material. (I have no idea why, it’s just what I’ve seen. Maybe they’re all weird.) I have yet to see a really sciencey sci-fi movie that was marketed to women at all, but there have been quite a few quasi-magical ones targeting women over the years. Maybe it’s because they assume we’ll identify with witches, I don’t know.

    And now that I think about it, while I haven’t personally gotten any “you shouldn’t like that”ish reactions from men who think I shouldn’t be a fan, I have seen men who didn’t know I was a sci-fi or fantasy fan get defensive when questioned about by an outside non-geek party, and they were almost all on the fantasy side of the spectrum, not the science based one. I wonder if the slightly more tolerant view of women in that fan base (again, just in my experience) plays into what SunlessNick said above about fearing that women liking something might “prove” it’s not “masculine” enough and makes them look “girly” by association.

    (My, there were a lot of sarcastic quotes in that last sentence.)

  14. SunlessNick says

    I talked to so many women who saw it for the special effects, and recommended it for that reason. - BetaCandy

    Everyone I know who saw it did so because of the story of the Titanic – which includes, it could logically be assumed, a desire for cool disaster special effects. The only characters any of them, male or female, cared about seeing were the real ones – again, the story of Titanic.

    Conversely, the only two people I can think of who got lost in the romance (in one case, to the point of subconsciously forgetting the disaster was imminent) were a/ male, and b/ action and sf fans.

    I *think* (but don’t take my word on it) it’s a series of Vampire novels filled with angsty teen angst (as only teens can do it) rather in the vein of the old Anne Rice vampire novels. - Gategrrl

    Thanks. It doesn’t sound desperately appealing to me though, unless they add something else besides teen angst).

  15. says

    Beta Candy

    I had a long response that I lost, but that’s ok, cuz I was mostly rambling. Mostly I just wanted to say that I’m not expecting miracles and mostly I’m expecting the media to play up the connection between Harry Potter and Twilight due to

    1) timing (they come out within a week of each other, which was totally on purpose on the part of the people making Twilight)
    2) most of the cast is fairly unknown, but one cast member that almost isn’t had a big part in the last HP movie
    3) the shared audience that the two will have
    4) the fact that they are both based on popular YA novels

    And while studios still see fantasy/scifi (or any movies, for that matter) for teen girls as a risky proposition, they see HP as a golden goose. One that is about to stop laying eggs for WB fairly soon. So the studios may not be looking for sci/fantasy movies for teen girls, but they will be looking for the next HP. And it’s remotely possible that some of them will realize that HP’s core movie audience is now female, and thus they may want to make their attempts at “the next HP” a bit more female friendly.

    Possibly. And I’m not counting on their execution.

    And if I really though they had any brains at all, I’d be expecting some movies/TV series based on Scott Westerfeld’s YA novels coming out soon as well. Obviously there aren’t any.

    “It doesn’t sound desperately appealing to me though”

    Not that I don’t care for your opinion on stuff, but you do realize why that comment would rub me the wrong way, yes?

    We are talking about how nobody thinks women are a worthy audience to market to (in general, and in terms of fantasy/scifi). I bring up a very, very popular series among teen girls, and your response is that it’s not your cup of tea.

    Duh. Who said that it was supposed to be?

    My brother does this all the time and it drives me nuts. I’m going on about something I think is cool and how much I enjoyed it. Or even a case like this, where I’m mostly talking about something that’s insanely popular among the kids I see every day. (‘Cuz for the record? Twilight was awesome, teen angst and all, but the rest of the series isn’t my cup of tea, either.) Never ever with me saying anything remotely like “and you’d love it too!” And he always responds with “meh.” Or worse. Such as “It doesn’t sound desperately appealing to me”

    Unless that comment is followed by “but I can see why teen girls would like it,” it’s just a teensy bit arrogant.

    The proper response is. “Glad you/they liked it.” (Especially when it comes to guys like my brother that are constantly telling me if I’d like something or not whenever they talk about something he likes. ‘Cuz, he’s got me all figured out. Not.)

    I may be being too sensitive, considering I did a bit of threadjacking as well, but….then again, maybe not.

    “unless they add something else besides teen angst).”

    eh. the teen angst will be condensed for the movie, there are several cool fight scenes, and the vampires aren’t killed by sunlight, nor do they have to sleep during the day, they just look very not human in direct sunlight. So a little yes, mostly no.

  16. Scarlett says

    I stumbled into scifi when I was in my late teens ‘cos I had a big crush on Colin Hanks and doggedly followed Roswell through countless timeslot changes. And it wasn’t even GOOD scifi!

    The funny thing is, it really was my ex that got me onto scifi in a hardcore way, because he was so passionate about Stargate and I decided to see what it was about. He was extremely put out when I because a bigger fan of it then him, then completely eclipsed him in BsG fandom from day one. What, because fandom is a competition? (I was allowed to be a huge fan of this awful Aussie soap, though, ‘cos that was a girl’s show – I have a habit of sticking doggedly with a show long after it’s stopped being good so long as there are hot guys in it, but that’s anotehr story).

    One thing we DID agree on was that women tend to get the better deal as far as eye candy goes in scifi.It never made much sense to me – if only guys watch scifi, why is there so much male pretty in them?

  17. Patrick says

    One thing we DID agree on was that women tend to get the better deal as far as eye candy goes in scifi.It never made much sense to me – if only guys watch scifi, why is there so much male pretty in them?

    Probably because the overwhelmingly male casts mean that any given show is likely to have several hot guys to the one hot woman (who is, of course, also the only woman).

  18. Scarlett says

    Hmmm – maybe Roswell was incredibly progessive then. It had a core cast of nine, five males, four females.Pity they spent three years trying to make Liz sympathetic. To this day, I’ve been known to start watching something then switch off once I realise Shiri Appleby is in it, I hated Liz THAT much :(

  19. Nialla says

    This post came to mind this morning as I watched the continuing media coverage of the opening day of “Sex and the City.”

    They were making a big deal about it being a movie for women to go to as a group event, and if they did drag a guy along, he should get a voucher to go see “Dark Knight” or “Hellboy 2.” Um, I’m female, and I’d rather those instead of SatC, even though I’m not a huge fan of Batman.

    It reinforced the idea that women don’t go to see movies on their own except in very special cases, and one newsguy really got on my nerve when he made the comment that times like these are what a multiplex are made for — “Honey, go watch Sex in the City, I’m going to watch Indiana Jones or Iron Man again.”

    I’ve seen SatC, both back when I had HBO and later in syndication, but it just wasn’t all that interesting to me. Too much focus on fashion and drinking, neither of which interest me. I’m not knocking anyone, male or female, that likes the show and has been waiting for the movie, but I hate being lumped into the “You’re female, so this is a movie you want to see” attitude when I have no interest in it.

  20. sbg says

    They were making a big deal about it being a movie for women to go to as a group event, and if they did drag a guy along, he should get a voucher to go see “Dark Knight” or “Hellboy 2.” Um, I’m female, and I’d rather those instead of SatC, even though I’m not a huge fan of Batman.

    I’m dying to see The Dark Knight, and wouldn’t go to SatC if you paid me to. It rubs me the wrong way how everyone’s calling it the movie every woman is waiting on the edge of her seat to see. Uhm, I must not be a woman by that logic.

    The only other movie that intrigues me at the moment is The Strangers, which I expect will be crappy but the trailers alone freak me the hell out. Is that a “guy movie” too?

  21. SunlessNick says

    “It doesn’t sound desperately appealing to me though”

    Not that I don’t care for your opinion on stuff, but you do realize why that comment would rub me the wrong way, yes?

    We are talking about how nobody thinks women are a worthy audience to market to (in general, and in terms of fantasy/scifi). I bring up a very, very popular series among teen girls, and your response is that it’s not your cup of tea.

    Duh. Who said that it was supposed to be?

    No one. I’d asked what it was based on the possibility that I might like it, and concluded based on the description that I wouldn’t (and didn’t want to not answer Gategrrl after she’d told me).

    I didn’t think about how else it might sound; sorry for that.

    The proper response is. “Glad you/they liked it.”

    I am. And I sure don’t think my not liking the sound of it makes it unworthy of existing.

    Sorry again.

    “Honey, go watch Sex in the City, I’m going to watch Indiana Jones or Iron Man again.”- Nialla

    Every woman I know is enormously more interested in seeing Indiana Jones, Batman, and Hellboy than Sex in the City.

  22. Nialla says

    It’s really been bugging me with how the media (especially the male newscasters) are being so condescending talking about how this is a movie for women only.

    Apparently any non-“chick flick” is automatically a guy movie. Any woman viewing it is only there because their husband, boyfriend, other male in their life, dragged them to see it. Personally, I’d rather go see Robert Downey, Jr. Iron Man again.

  23. says

    Well, I for one never plan on seeing anything that’s got George Lucas’ name attached to it ever because I hate George Lucas so much. But yeah, SatC bored me totally and completely. I didn’t hate it (though at the time I wasn’t applying any feminist critique, and as always must disclaim that if I see Chris Noth while I’m channel surfing, I will find myself unable to press the channel button again for at least a few minutes, but I can’t be trusted to take in the story or anything non-visual), but nothing about it made me want to watch it. Even though I really like SJP.

  24. SunlessNick says

    Unless that comment is followed by “but I can see why teen girls would like it,” it’s just a teensy bit arrogant. - Mickle

    I do have to disagree that this would have been a more appropriate reply. Given that one of the points of the post was that women and girls are treated as monolithic blocs, it’s not the place for me to venture any opinion on whether or why teen girls (in general) would like something.

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