As I was reading Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, I started thinking about female representation in fantasy genres and how this relates to today’s pop culture.
Series like Game of Thrones are praised because they have a wide variety of female characters from many different perspectives. Other series (like LOTR) have very few female characters. In the last Hobbit movie, Tauriel the elf was added to try and add more female representation.
Many series have an underwhelming amount of female characters. On one hand, this makes sense for certain stories–to use a non-fantasy example, the film Shawshank Redemption definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but since it’s set in a male prison, this makes perfect sense. And it’s a great film.
What bothers me about fantasy and sci-fi series and the lack of female characters is that it DOESN’T make sense. Are these people living in a world where all the women are somehow missing? For example, take Star Wars. You’ve got the token female character, Princess Leia. But when listing out how many female characters appear versus male characters, it’s overwhelmingly disproportionate.
Image source: thatgirlmag.com
Which brings me to my main pet peeve. So many creators have tried to “remedy” the lack of female representation by adding ONE female character to a group. Lack of females in the Hobbit? Let’s add one elf. Not a lot of female superheroes shown in Marvel? Let’s add one to the Avengers.
These women are often the stock “strong female characters.” They’re warriors, so they’ve got to be awesome, right?
Yeah, awesome. But it would also be cool to actually have a VARIETY of female characters. According to the 2014 Hollywood Diversity report, while women make up over 50% of the US population and minorities make up 36%, only 26% of films had a female lead, and only 11% of films studied had a minority lead. Other quick facts: only 4% of films were directed by women, 7.6% of films were written by minorities, and most broadcast shows have writing staffs with less than 40% women.
AND according to a study by the New York Times, even when women get to be the lead actress in a film, they get an average of 57 minutes on screen…compared to lead actors, who get an average of 85.
So is modern fantasy perpetuating this problem, or eliminating it? The choice to add Tauriel to the Hobbit was certainly controversial, since writers were making changes to the original story. But new shows, novels, and games with stories written in modern times can plausibly create more realistic universes. Series with complex, three-dimensional female characters like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Cinder, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Graceling, most things by Robin McKinley, and more create some opportunities for realistic female characters to flourish.
Gif source: cedricdigory.tumblr.com
However, the release schedule of Marvel movies is one indicator that this lack of equal representation is still an ongoing problem in the genre. As a huge fan of the fantasy and sci fi genre and a fan of comic books in general, I’ve always been a little sad at the way female characters were portrayed (or not portrayed) overall here. And the fact is, of the 15 Marvel movies that have been announced or released since 2008, 11 featured white men as the leads. The 4 others feature ensembles with only 1 female character in the group. It’s just starting to feel pretty redundant.
PS-Here’s a Marvel backpack I have. Black Widow isn’t even on it.