But women just don’t buy that stuff!

It’s an argument everyone’s heard a million times before. Yes, female characters are rare creatures in movies (especially genre movies like fantasy, sci-fi and superhero movies), in video games and in non-“chick lit” novels. Yes, these forms of entertainment are male-heavy. But that’s not because of industry sexism. Of course not. It’s pure sense. Studios and publishers must cater to their audiences, and as the majority of these audiences are men, of course men are more represented.

This idea of men as the majority is incredibly pervasive, despite the fact that it’s completely baseless. In fact, in some cases, the reality is the precise opposite.

It’s well-known that the majority of readers are women. And they’re not just reading romance. Some extensive googling brought up no hard figures, but some estimates can be extrapolated from this 2010 survey. If we assume an equal number of male and female readers in the population, we can estimate that women make up 38% of sci fi readers, 45% of literary fiction readers and 35% of graphic novel readers, as well as 59% of readers of thrillers, mysteries and crime books. However, as there are more female readers of fiction than male readers, these estimates are likely too low. If someone can find me clearer or more up to date figures, please share them with me: I’ve seen people referring to the idea that 50% of sci-fi/fantasy readers are women, but my googling brought up no actual survey to support it.

Meanwhile, according to a survey by the MPAA, 52% of movie goers in 2013 were female, and they bought 50% of the tickets. Before the phrase “chick flick” shows up, these women were seeing all kinds of movies, not just the ones specifically marketed to them. For example, according to The Atlantic, 40% of the audience for The Avengers were women.

Gaming is known to be the most male-dominated form of entertainment, yet 48% of gamers in 2013 were women, according to the ESA, and despite stereotypical assumptions, women over 18 are a much larger proportion of gamers than boys under 18 (36% vs 17%). And before people mention “casual gaming” and “Candy Crush,” 38% of Xbox players are women, 50% of Nintendo players are women, and women are 46% of the most frequent game purchasers. Strangely, the gaming areas where women are least represented are all-male violent games and misogynistic games, like Call of Duty (women are 20% of players) and Grand Theft Auto (15% of players).

And as for comics, a survey in 2014 suggests that 46.67% of comic readers are women. Not a majority, but hardly a chunk you want to ignore.

To be honest, we shouldn’t even need statistics to tell us that this is true. I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl or woman who wasn’t interested in going to the movies, watching television, reading novels or playing video games. Most of the women I’ve met are interested in many if not all of those things. Yet we’re constantly told that women just don’t like that stuff — don’t like adventure stories, don’t like superheroes, don’t like thrillers, don’t like video games — because it sounds like a nice, safe, non-sexist reason for the dearth of female representation. We ignore common sense in favor of a comforting lie.

But it’s even nonsense from a business perspective. Let’s assume, for a moment, that the naysayers are right. Let’s assume that women are a minority in seeing these movies, in reading these novels, in playing video games, whatever. This “fact” still wouldn’t excuse studios failing to create female characters or cater to this audience, because reaching previously untapped audiences is what good business growth is all about. We can’t assume that women don’t like good stories, or that they’re somehow impossible to reach as a demographic. Companies should be attempting to increase the percentage of female consumers, because women are 50% of the population, and so represent a huge opportunity for growth. And if competitors aren’t catering to this audience, it’s the perfect market to expand into.

Yet they don’t. And it’s not because of the statistics, because those show large female audiences, and it’s not because of economics, because common sense shows female consumers as a great target for expansion. It’s because they simply don’t want to. They don’t think to. And when they do, it’s on purely “girly” titles, “chick flicks” and pink versions of games and often poor quality, superficial offerings, as though women are an entirely separate species, too difficult to understand.

Of course, some studios say that they’d like to make stories with female protagonists, but they can’t, because women will read stories and play games with male protagonists, but that men won’t read stories or play games with female protagonists. And there may be some truth to that, although it’s a perspective that won’t change unless studios put out high quality movies and games featuring female protagonists to show they’re not just silly things for women. But there isn’t as much truth in this as some people seem to believe. Catching Fire was one of the highest grossing movies of 2013, and 41% of its audience was male. Frozen‘s audience was 43% male, and Gravity‘s audience was 54% male. Perhaps the male/female percentage was skewed more female than if the movies had had male leads, but that doesn’t mean the movies lost money as a result. These movies all made massive amounts of money, and we can assume that any minor slump in male viewers was compensated for with female viewers glad to finally see quality genre movies with female protagonists.

Women are consumers, and they’re there, money in hand, ready to spend on games and movies and books where they’re actually represented. Heck, a large chunk of them are already spending that money and catapulting series to success. Imagine what would happen if studios actually embraced the statistics and common economic sense and started catering to them as well.


06 comments on “But women just don’t buy that stuff!

  • phil , Direct link to comment

    So what you are saying is this,

    Males and females enjoy media on roughly a 50/50 basis even though this bias towards males exists in these industries sales are still as strong with women as they are with males.

    From a business perspective I wouldn’t see any reason for these studios/companies to change policies business is booming across both genders. Why change what is clearly appealing to everyone? The business people (both male and female) would think.

    Just to be clear I happen to agree with you that representation needs to happen across genders, races, orientations ect. Everyone should feel included and represented by the media we consume but I do have some other points that need to be clarified.

    Discrimination in general happens when someone is denied something, assaulted, treated negatively, and/or has assumptions made about them based on race, gender or orientation.

    If a business creates something with a focus at a male audience (regardless of who actually buys it) because that model has always been profitable, that is not inherently sexist. No one has said you cannot play the game, these games do have female characters however minor the roles may be, everyone in these games (male and female) usually fit into generalizations based on gender. (Let’s face it if king bowser stole my fiance I would just go home cry and eat Häagen daaz, there is no way I’m as manly as mario). These companies don’t do this because it’s offensive or to offend they do it to make money. It may be biased but it’s not sexist and it’s not biased towards males it’s biased towards money.

    They could change and be more inclusive sure and as you say it may increase profits but if you are already profiting from every dynamic then really where is the incentive? Does the risk really justify the potential for what could be a minor increase in sales? Remember you already said their is a large audience among females anyway.

    The other point I would like you to consider comes from the point of view of the creators of this content. It’s a male dominated industry so we can assume that the content creator is male. He is putting his fantasies into some sort of reality and likely will involve a lead character he can identify with the best. Right off the bat we know he couldn’t possibly relate to being female as he is male, he has never been female, expecting such a creative leap is honestly asking a lot.
    So the creator starts to expand on his fantasy world so he creates people who play into what he wants from 3rd characters. He creates his fantasy of women let’s say, they may seem shallow and flushed out to you, they may seem trite and offensive but you are coming at this from a female perspective you have a greater understand of what it means to be a female and so anything from the perspective of one lacking in this experience will certainly seem two dimensional.

    Considering that do you really think men creating their fantasy world is sexist? It’s their understanding of what would be an awesome world/interesting story to them. Do you honestly believe this creator could do you justice in trying to portray your gender accurately? Or does that have the potential to be way more offensive? Just food for thought. .

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Haha, I love your Haagen daaz comment! I’m sure I’d be the same. “I have to go to Mordor to destroy the one ring? Can’t we just… wait and see what happens?”

      I disagree that the “everyone will see movies about men” model isn’t based in sexism, though. It is based on (and helps to promote) the idea that men are the default, while women are niche. Anybody could care about a male hero and his struggles, but only women could possibly care about a woman’s struggles. I understand that they do this on a pure numbers, “this will make us more money” basis, but that doesn’t mean the origins of that thought aren’t themselves sexist.

      I don’t think it’s a lot to ask men to think of how a woman might think/feel/act in a certain situation. I think it was George RR Martin who answered a question of how he writes compelling female characters with the statement that “women are people.” If writers can imagine what it feels like to be a superhero and need to save the world, or to face down a dragon, or to find out that your whole world is a lie, or any of the other hundreds of plots that no real people actually experience, then they can make the leap of what it feels like to be female. Writers are meant to be creative and have imaginations, and the idea that crossing the gender divide is a step too far just shows how deep this sexism runs. And if they don’t know something, they can and should do research and ask other people, just as writers should research and consult people when presenting different cultures, or people from different backgrounds, or basing a story in a city they’ve never lived in, or anything that isn’t 100% the writer’s own experience.

      And although a lot of entertainment falls 50/50, not all of them do, and a 50/50 split doesn’t mean there isn’t room for growth. There are still many women who are not being reached by the current offerings, and surely expanding to that audience should be a priority of a company with an eye towards growth.

      • phil , Direct link to comment

        To be fair there are plenty of men who are not represented also although I agree that it seems to be less so than women.

        George r r Martin has an excellent point in that men and women should be seen simply
        As people, this avoids tropes on either side tangling up how well received a character is or how well fleshed out they are. The fact that people separate the two at all is proof that this world is still filled with sexism and that is true of both genders. I have read many blogs such as this one and the thing that bugs me is the meaning of the word feminism. I take a feminist to be someone who believes someone should be treated equally regardless of gender but the majority of material I read focus purely on how things are unfair for women. I agree with you that women have a harder time battling with stereotypes and bias than men do (in some ways at least, if I have to hear one more time that I as a man only have sex on the brain I will scream!) But I believe making this separation clearer by focusing on the female side of it rather than looking as how stereotypes and social injustices permeate everywhere and effect everyone that all it helps to do is widen this gap that people so unfortunately believe exists.

        I think that when determining if something is sexist things like intent have to be taken into account. For example the heads of the media business you accuse of sexism could very well be women, they could approach this issue from a purely business stand point and make an assessment of breaking into the “women” market ( believing there is a male and female market in my mind is a mistake to begin with as we are all equal but that’s just me) has only a 30% chance of profit and as such isn’t worth the venture. Would you still classify this as sexist? I must admit I am sickeningly optimistic in my world view so I’m sorry for that it’s hard for me to believe the majority of people mean to be Discriminating and that makes exchanges like this one difficult since I’m so idealistic.

        I think the perception of movie goers is that they generally go to see movies on dates or as a family unit. The focus of this media towards males could very well be that “the man is the head of the household so he is the one we need to win over” and you would be right in saying that is sexist but look at the material that is pumped out in an attempt to attract these men.

        skimpy dressed women because men only think about sex.

        Explosions because things going boom is fun!

        Paper thin plots because really, thinking is hard.

        impossible action because men will believe anything if it’s cool looking enough.

        Boobs because boobs make men drool.

        honestly I don’t know who should be more offended… The women whose bodies are exploited to make money or the men who are exploited into giving away their money just to satisfy their baser lust full urges.

        Twilight did the opposite to tween girls and it was disgusting then to.

        *sigh* I can’t wait until we as a species just enjoy each other as individuals so we can stop looking at things in such a divided way. Thanks for the reply by the way!

        • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

          You’re right that the media can be pretty insulting to both genders — like the “stupid, hopeless husband” trope from advertizing needs to die a horrid death. But I think the reason most feminist blogs and articles focus mostly or solely on the female side of things is because of historical oppression, which still has rippled effects today. The way that the media attempts to appeal to men can be very insulting (just like the HEY IT’S PINK AND SPARKLY approach to appealing to women can be irritating at best), but male audiences are still being targeted or treated as the default. Being marketed to in a misguided way is a step up, in my opinion, from being ignored entirely — and addressing the second problem for women may actually help with the first problem for men, since recognizing the importance of female audiences will mean much less use of hot female actresses as props to appeal to this imagined male audience.

          • phil , Direct link to comment

            I completely see your point about past oppression, not just societal but also legal. It has not been until relatively recently that women have had the same rights as men (in the west I’m talking from an america pov right now) but laws have been changed and hopefully society as a whole can follow in the view that women deserve the same rights as men.

            I also believe that men deserve the same rights as women, regardless of how much I disagree with the possible outcomes of that. I will give you some some examples of what I mean and I realize I’m going off the original topic but I love having the the chance to discuss my thoughts with someone I consider friendly and intelligent.

            I believe in a woman’s right to choose as far as the abortion debate goes, it’s her body and I don’t expect man to have any say in that choice, but a women also has the right to give her child up for adoption. If the mother so chooses she can decide not to be financially free of any obligation for the child, a man simply does not have the right to walk away financially though many do try. In this case a woman not only has control of her own financial future but also that of the man involved.

            Another legal bias against men is the idea of alimony and the thinking that a man should support a woman financially even after divorce. I am sure some women have been forced to pay alimony but the number of men is by far and away greater just because he is the male and that’s his responsibility.

            I feel legal bias against men and by in large societal bias against all genders won’t be fixed until those who fight for equal rights take up the mantle for all involved and not simply “their gender”.

          • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

            You have a point, but the issues you mention are things that are solved by furthering women’s rights. For example, the point of alimony is because many women give up their careers in order to take care of children and so lose a lot of earning potential after a divorce — the reason men pay more alimony than women is because it’s much rarer for the same thing to happen to the husband in a relationship. So if we further women’s rights by helping them to work AND have children, by ensuring equal pay and making sure companies can’t discriminate against them (which is technically illegal now but not always followed), men get a better deal too. The legal bias against men is a result of the historical bias against women and is wrapped up in tackling that.

            The point about paying child support is an interesting one, and you’ve definitely got me thinking. But again, in these situations, men are often the ones with the power. They’re the ones with the higher paying jobs, while the mother’s struggle to both care for the child and work, or pay for daycare, or a myriad of other things. Making the lives of single mothers easier would make them need child support less, which would in turn help these men. But I also don’t think this is a completely fair comparison. An abortion is a choice not to be *pregnant*, not a choice not to be responsible as a parent — that comes in deciding whether to give the child for adoption. Men also have the unilateral choice to not be emotionally involved in a child, or not to be an active parent, when they choose to be in the sort of position where they’d be asked to pay child support. Without taking on the job of parenting, they should still be responsible for making sure their child doesn’t go hungry, which is what child support is all about.

What do you think?

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