One of the broad generalizations the film industry believes is that most people watch movies and TV purely to escape reality, and more specifically, that men find escape through fantastic plots and wild special effects while women find it through fantastic relationships. I think there is actually some truth to this, but I interpret it a little differently. I think most people do watch movies and TV to escape reality, but that men are more likely to find escape through pure fantasy with little focus on problem solving and women more likely to find it through seeing problems get solved in fiction. Why?
Because it’s actually the same drive: the very same mechanism getting expressed differently for no reason other than that it’s a gender-imbalanced world. You see, reality is a playground in which men (at least white, straight ones) get to create and solve their own problems. They start wars and finish them. They create nations and bicker over how to run them. They make mistakes and then, in many cases, blame other people for them. Such is their privilege as the dominant group.
Meanwhile, women stand on the sidelines, having little to no say in how to fix the problems that affect them, too. Except in fiction, where once in a while, things turn out the way we think they should. Once in a while. Which is probably why popcorn romance is popular with women; if you can just get on board with wanting X and Y to get together, it’s a foregone conclusion you’ll see a problem solved to your satisfaction by the last reel. But even here, the most successful romances are the ones that involve a tough, realistic struggle for the characters to get together. None of that “…and then Jane took off her horrid glasses and it turned out she was a supermodel underneath, and Biff asked her to the prom and they lived happily ever after.” You need wicked step-sisters and abusive mothers in law, you need emotional damage for characters to overcome, you need real barriers to getting this couple together, or else you end up with at least half your potential female viewers complaining that this is a stupid problem (i.e., Stargate SG-1′s attempt to claim military regulations were a real barrier to supposed love between Sam and Jack, when all they had to do was get on separate teams, then boink to their hearts’ content) and therefore the characters must be stupid people.
This is the real reason why the film industry wants to write for men. Not that bullshit rationale that men spend more money (untrue) or that they’re more susceptible to ads (hardly proven). When men sit down to watch TV or a movie, they’re more likely to be frustrated by real life problems they can’t solve, so they’ll accept bullshit problem solving (or no distinguishable plot at all) in their fiction as long as other elements of the show or film give them a rush of enjoyment. When women sit down to watch, we’re more likely to be frustrated by problems we could fix but aren’t allowed to. So when we see that if the good guy had just followed procedure none of the plot would’ve happened, we’re more likely to lose patience: here’s this stupid character who can fix a problem and is allowed to, but instead does something moronic. To male viewers, it’s just a device to further the fun stuff – no big deal. To women, it’s a huge waste of a form of entitlement we’d like to have.
Or, look at it in an opposite example: the romance genre. Men lose patience with romance movies that target women not because men don’t care about romance or sex, but because if they like someone, they are allowed to just ask her out and risk rejection; if we like someone, we must scheme and plot to get him to ask us out. Yeah, I know there are increasing exceptions to this rule, but the majority of men do not like to be asked out and/or assume any woman who asks them out is basically begging for sex, and the women who want to date them know the rules they have to play by. The goal in het romance – to find sex or love – is the same for both genders, but the frustrations we want relief from are completely different because of these goofy social rules.
This post contains several broad generalizations because I’m talking about broad trends. There are plenty of exceptions to these trends – I often find myself willing to overlook bullshit problem solving in my fiction if there are other things I like about the show or film. And I know men who can’t stand it when bad writers create stupid problems because they’re not smart enough to write solutions to really challenging problems. But by and large, I think women are more likely to value the problem-solving aspects of plots and take issue with plot holes and plot devices and inconsistencies, and I think it’s because we’re less likely than men to be able to solve the manufactured stupid problems in our own lives.