Even though women make up over 50% of the population, all studies show they are still massively under-represented in film and television. And I would sometimes find myself questioning the roles assigned to the female characters who do actually make it to screen. In many areas of media, I think we can do better.
At the weekend, my eldest Daisy was at a party in a kid’s art place. She made a rather awesome clay model of a princess in a tower. Asking her about it, she explained that the girls all had to make princesses to be rescued while the boys all had to make knights with swords to rescue the princesses. I was not exactly happy with this narrow gender-based project. Seeing this, Daisy went further and told me that they could choose to do either but all the girls chose princesses and all the boys chose knights.
I am not sure what form this choice was presented in or if indeed it was much of a choice at all. But if it was an open choice, I could well believe that most girls would choose princesses and most boys would choose knights. Because those are the gender roles assigned to them in an overwhelming amount of media and, in particular, marketing.
So you can offer the choice but, in a world that clearly pushes boys and girls into narrow gender roles with girls having fewer role models to choose from, is it really a choice?
As for me, I find myself very consciously making sure I have female characters in my shows. And this was not just a reaction to having two girls of my own. Even well before they were born, I developed Fluffy Gardens to have an equal amount of male and female characters. That was a very active choice because I wanted it to speak to children, not just boys or just girls. Children. With PLANET COSMO, the main character became a girl very early on in development because I wanted to introduce both boys and girls to all the cool stuff in space. Again, an active choice.
But a few years back, I did a little drawing-a-day project with zombies. Somewhat gruesome and not for the kids, it was just for fun. I realised when I approached the end of it that an overwhelming amount of the zombies were male. Why? Well, I wasn’t really thinking about it. They just were. It’s like even being so aware of female under-representation that, when I stopped thinking about it, I would fall back into the whole ‘default human being male’ thing.
So what does this tell me?
It tells me the only way to change this situation, to improve this, is to be active about it. Is to actively make it part of our thinking as we develop shows, games, anything. Should we force female characters in to a show if natural development has led to mostly males? In my opinion, yes. Yes we should. Because that ‘natural’ situation usually comes about because we are just perpetuating old media habits and conditioning and those are really hard to break without actively pushing against them. Getting female characters, varied, interesting and active should be a clear goal when developing media. Because there is a very good chance it won’t happen on its own.
How could it when we ourselves are so influenced by the media around us?
If we do this and do it well (and by the way, I think many of us in preschool are actively tackling this right now), it would take just one generation to make real change. One generation later and maybe the writers won’t have to think about getting strong female characters into their stories. It will just happen as it becomes normal.
And maybe kids making art will make real choices and deliver more than just princesses from the girls and knights from the boys.