Does Hollywood Tell Kids the World is Mostly Male?

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Going to the movies you wouldn’t always know that 50% of the country’s population is female. Even in the 21st century, much of what we see—and what our kids see—is dominated by male characters and voices.

It’s ironic when you think about. Billions of dollars are spent leveraging advanced technology and artistry to create amazingly realistic special effects. Yet we can’t even manage to create a simple, realistic representation of the population.

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Last year I became aware of something called “the Bechdel test” after seeing the movie The Hobbit (part 1). I remarked to my husband afterwards that there was only one semi-important female character, and her role was pretty small. It was almost laughable to me. All these different species depicted—hobbits, orcs, elves, dwarves—and no women! Granted, it’s a fantasy story, but seriously? No women?

The Bechdel test is a set of three criteria for evaluating gender bias in movies and other works of fiction, inspired by a comic strip by Allison Bechdel. To pass the Bechdel test, according to bechdeltest.com, a movie must meet these criteria:

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it

2. Who talk to each other

3. About something besides a man

Needless to say, The Hobbit did not pass. Ever since I’ve learned about this test I’ve become curious about which movies and shows I watch, and that I let my son watch, that pass the test.

Over the past few months, in a rare splurge of entertainment dollars, we’ve taken our 5-year-old to see three recent kids’ movies: Frozen, Walking with Dinosaurs, and The Lego Movie. My son loved all of them. They all had different fun points and strengths, but not all of them passed the test with flying colors, and apparently this shouldn’t be surprising.

According to an article on Role/Reboot, 81% of the speaking roles in G-rated movies are male, and only 17% of extras hired for movies are female. In fact, NPR’s Linda Holmes’ observed that on a given day, 90% the movie showings in a 10-mile radius of her house at various theaters were stories about groups of men where women play a supporting role or fill out an ensemble cast dominated by men.

These things are a reality check for me. While gender equality today is perhaps better than it ever has been before, the biases are still out there. Our kids are still receiving subtle and not-so subtle messages from early cultural experiences. A good friend recently bemoaned that her son didn’t think women could be doctors. My friend has never suggested anything like this to her son, so it’s a message he picked up on his own from cultural cues.

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So think about it next time you take your kids to a movie or turn on the TV. What message is Hollywood sending your kids?

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