Two Female Leads

Quick, name a few recent popular movies where the two top-billed stars are female.

Here’s a miscellaneous survey I just did, tallied by gender of top billed/second billed star:

  M/M M/F F/M F/F
20 biggest movies of 2007 10 10 0 0
20 biggest movies of 2006 11 7 0 2
20 biggest movies of 2005 11 7 2 0
20 biggest movies of 2004 10 9 1 0
20 biggest movies since 1977 15 5 0 0
IMDb Top 20 of All Time 15 5 0 0

There were about 110 movies with a male lead and 5 with a female lead. Of the second-billed females, nearly all are written as love interests of the first-billed man. There were over sixty movies in the sample with two male stars top-billed. The only movies with two top-billed female roles, on the other hand, were The Devil Wears Prada and Scary Movie 4.

My cousin has been working on tallying (by hand!) all movies with two top-billed female stars. She reports that there are staggeringly few of them, and the roles fall mainly in two genres: mother-daughter bonding movies and horror films.  Hollywood is not creating female heroes.

Suppose we had a generic Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer movie with some evil organization (say, a shadow government headed by Dick Cheney or whatever) bent on destroying something (say, the internet). Who would you rather see battling their way through the system to stop them — another basic Bruce Willis/Denzel Washington/Vin Diesel character? Or River Tam, Sarah Connor, Lola from Run Lola Run, or Beatrix Kiddo? Not only could the film industry suck less in the examples it sets, we could have some awesome movies.

Notes: If anyone wants to expand my list into a more comprehensive and authoritative survey, I’d love to see the results. I did my tally by hand, using The Numbers for the basic lists and stars, plus IMDb and Wikipedia to get a consensus on billing order.

0 thoughts on “Two Female Leads

  1. I ran out of stamina at about comment 200, but you mentioned that you were uncomfortable with heterosexism in XKCD, and unsure how to include queerness without making it the point of the strip.

    You did a strip recently regarding playlist on shuffle while people were having sex. You even had the people in a position not usually seen in cartoon sex (and it was beautifully done, thanks).

    One of the people had your short-hand girl hair, and the other didn’t. They could have both had girl hair, or neither. The joke would have been the same. *shrug* I don’t know if that helps or not, but it’s the way I think about it. Increasing your hair vocabulary slightly might help as well, though I appreciate the minimalism of the platonic stick figure.

    At some point a newspaper comic strip about bears had this discussion. The girl bear (signified by a bow and lipstick) broke the fourth wall to ask why, as a bear, she should have to wear lipstick to identify her gender just because we are accustomed to thinking of male as the default gender. Then there was a panel where she was drawn as a neutral bear and her companion was drawn wearing tighty-whiteys. He said he really didn’t like this as an artistic decision.

    Male is not the default gender. I appreciate that this is a difficulty in comics where you are bound by the cultural short-hand. But you could, for example, introduce a character with spiky peroxide hair (whitespace with funny edges) and leave its gender in question for some time while still letting it interact normally with other characters.

    It’s your comic, and I love it just the way it is. But if you find these ideas useful in some form, I’m glad.


  2. I’m leaving this message just because I feel compelled to.

    Somebody brought up the Lesbian movies, and Randall agreed, but mentioned ‘Bound’. That was definately one of the better ones. Just to add some additional names to the list (some of which I cannot remember if I enjoyed or not) “Fingersmith” (this was good, but different) and “Tipping the Velvet” (again, good but different, but both came from the same Person, so not much of a surprise there.), “Imagine me and you”, “Clara’s summer”.

    Unfortunately many of the movies in the genre seem to be tragedies of some sort, which I don’t really care for. I have avoided watching them. For example “loving annabelle” really needs that “alternate ending” (really post ending) sequence. And I saw “Lost and Delirious”, already knowing what would happen, and yet it still haunts me over a year later. It is very difficult for a movie to get me upset, as I am relatively immune to movies emotional manipulation But that one got me effectively crying.

    Only thing worse was the Big death in The L Word, which I also knew with absolute certainty was happening in that episode (due to spoilers). I am definately scarred from that one.

    Why is tragedy such a common part of Lesbian movies? There are a bunch that I never did watch because they were tragedies. I prefer happy movies, either the Lesbian romance ones or the just generally happy ones like D.E.B.S. Oh, well… FTR my faves are (D.E.B.S., Better than chocolate, But I’m a cheerleader, and Bound)


  3. This is one of the reasons I appreciate XKCD so much–it’s such a relief to be able to enjoy a comic partly about math and science without worrying about when the author is going to fling the inevitable gobs of sexism my way. Everything I would’ve said about this post has been said already since it’s such a huge thread, but I’ll repeat some:

    One reason movies with female leads don’t do as well as movies with male leads is because women have been taught to identify with both male and female characters, while men have been taught to identify only with male characters. It’s because “man” is perceived as “regular ordinary person” (even in the English language, as in “mankind”, “everyman”, “your average Joe”), and “woman” is perceived as a special, distinct category of person. That’s why, for example, when we see a neutrally-drawn stick figure, or a gender-ambiguous cartoon animal, most people immediately identify it as male. I wish more men would get over this and realize female characters are portraying ordinary human beings who they can identify with.

    Also, whoever said men pay for women’s movies all the time doesn’t seem to be living in the same century I am. I’ve never had a man pay for my movie ticket, and I’m just as likely to cover a guy’s dinner as the other way around, and it’s the same for everyone I’m acquainted with.


  4. Sorry for the double post–I forgot to add that the only movie I’ve seen in the past few years that had a male and female lead who were not, at any point, romantically involved–was a porno. Pirates. I just thought that was ironic.


  5. I think a reason men don’t identify with women in movies might be that women are so often portrayed unrealistically. For example, in many action movies, men not only have to get past the sex barrier, but then identify with women who are either completely helpless or impossibly fit inhuman killing machines.


  6. You guys are forgetting the movie Terminater. It was originally about Sarah Connor and her servival. She was the main character. Then Sarah Connor cronicals Which didn’t do so hot after the movies. It is not about what Hollywood is doing about women in movies it is what poeple are willing to pay to see. That is all Hollywood cares about. If three hundred million poeple would pay to see Dick Chainey get his but kicked by, I dunno, Lyndsey Lohan and Brittney Spears, Then that is what they will make the movie about. That is if the screening goes well enough. It is a proccess just like anything else. The word just neeeds to get to them. All I care about is the story and Direction. If they are good it is bound to be a good movie. So what needs to happen is Hollywood get bombarded with this type of request and they will do it.


  7. Well, there were all those Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly shorts in the 1930’s. They were sort of a female Laurel & Hardy. There were no other stars in those shorts at all; just anonymous bit players.


  8. I’d agree it’s largely due to men being unable to identify with female leads. Men are discouraged from identifying with anything feminine. Metrosexuals are joked about, the archetypal ‘father unwilling to accept his son is gay’ is still there, and you never hear anything about female crossdressers.

    As much push as there is for females to get into the boys clubs that have been around for centuries, there’s little or no push for men to go the other way. It’s still considered a bad thing. Men don’t want their ego threatened, women don’t want their own territory trod over.

    I’m making as many generalisations as anybody else on here, but I’ll call this one how I see it. I bought a pink phone off eBay once since it was $40 cheaper than every one of the same model in blue, black or silver. It’s an interesting experiment I’d recommend to other guys. I was in the store getting the sim changed over and even though I was there alone and signed all the forms I was asked 3 times if the phone was for me.

    The common misconception is that feminism is a one way street. Women have been denied this list of rights, lets fix that and it’ll all be equal. It might be a while before we start honestly telling boys they can be anything they want to be.


  9. That’s still a product of homophobia and traditional sexism. In order for a woman to succeed, she has to appear like a man. If a man appears like a woman, he seems weak and/or is derided. You’re right that it’s not a one-way street. Men are traditionally on top and women on the bottom, and there’s some medium in between. It shows up in a lot of little ways – men who take knitting classes, for example, are laughed at. Men found about a century ago that it was largely futile to stop women from treading on their territory, but since few wanted to go the other way, downhill so to speak, the women didn’t have that problem. At the extreme, if women become exactly like men, there’s no problem, because there’s no difference. But there must be a place in between here and there where either gender can choose either path.


  10. And then it won’t matter who tries to destroy the internet and who kicks their ass! 😀


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  12. Well, I haven’t read all the comments so sorry in advance for any repeats. Female lead roles in action movies:

    Firstly there are lots of action movies with female characters; someone mentioned Charlie’s angels, i’d like to add Underworld, Elektra Catwoman and the Resident Evil movies to that list, just off the top of my head. Of course you could say “ahhh, but these movies are purely designed to have the women looking sexy, done up in leather, yet again aimed at a phalocentric male audience”, which I would have to counter with the fact that the lead hero in a holywood action movie always has to be reasonably attractive, just witness the outcry every time a male lead actor is deemed to be unnatractive (Daniel Cray).

    Anyway, the real fact of the matter is, female heroines in action movies tend to be unbelievable. There are certain things a man’s body can take and can do that a modern attractive women’s body couldn’t possibly. This isn’t sexist; this is reality. The way script writers have got round this fact recently is by making the heroine literally inhuman, and thus capable to do such acts (hence kate Beckingsale as a vampire, etc.) Now obviously you could say that a woman who is strong enough to bear the brunt of intense scenes of action, can still be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing to the audience, but I would say this is quite a rare occurence in reality. The only actress i know who has succesfully combined beauty and brawn is Angelina Jolie, and even she faced some harsh comments because of it.

    Wow…my mind’s been polluted with so much useless information over the years…


  13. The facts mentioned in this blogpost are one of the reasons that make me love Battlestar Galactica so much. It seems like the first time that a series actually has an equal share of believable female characters in leading roles that do not exist for the sole reason of providing a love interest / eye candy / girly stereotypes. And apparently the series is vastly popular among men as well, so I can’t see the “men don’t like to see women heroes” hypothesis holding up, it’s rather more likely that Hollywood hasn’t gotten over their stereotypes-that-always-worked-well yet.


  14. I wholeheartedly agree with the original post — we have way too much gender bias in Hollywood movies. I’d consider myself in the “feminist guy” camp too, inasmuch as I think men and women deserve to be treated equally and given equal opportunity. There seem to be several factors involved here, which combine to reinforce the status quo and keep giving us the same tired-old cliche characters and stories about either male aggression (action movies etc) or about strong-male-with-helpless-female-love-interest. It’s pretty annoying, and might be part of the reason I find very few Hollywood movies that interest me these days.

    I also think a similar issue exists with race (it seems that “token” minorities are more common now, but strong leading characters are too often still white).

    But why does it have to be action movies? You know what I want to want to see, is movies with clever female leads who defeat the bad guys not through stupid macho ass-kicking, but by thinking ahead of them or thinking fast on their feet. Erin Brockovich, Double Jeopardy, that sort of thing. I think “The Fugitive” could work very well with a female character.

    Though I do like to watch movies with strong ass-kicking characters–Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Clarice Sterling etc. Clarice Sterling (Jodie foster’s character in Silence of the Lambs) is a particularly good example, because she’s smart and determined but a little bit inexperienced at the start of the movie… she’s vulnerable and real, and she has to deal with rampant sexism among her coworkers, and prove that she can do what was traditionally “a man’s job” as well as any man can.

    I really liked Double Jeopardy too (though not just for Judd; the presence of Tommy Lee Jones really helped that movie, I think). Its a variation of the “tigress protecting cubs” theme—mother who gets clearly wronged, and sets out to get revenge, and gets it by being smarter than her pursuers AND smarter than the evil bad guy ex-husband.

    Regarding female directors: There’s definitely a paucity of well-known female directors. Any moviegoer can recite the names of a dozen or more well-known male directors (some of my favorite directors are: Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, the Coen Brothers, Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood, John Woo, George Lucas, Stephen Spielburg, …)

    Myself, I can only think of two women directors that I know about: The 1995 sci-fi action movie Strange Days was directed by Kathryn Bigelow. I liked that movie a lot, but it was not very mainstream (and more than one friend has pointed out to me that it’s very violent against women, for example, it includes a first-person POV rape/snuff scene). The only other female director I can think of is Sarah Polley (Away From Her, a great film). I hope Sarah Polley directs more movies because I want to see them, I think she has a really deft touch.


  15. The mention of female directors has been brought up several times, and none of them involved Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and Marie Antoinette). I am sad!


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  17. I just saw Notes on a Scandal with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. I wouldn’t call it a “popular” movie but it counts.


  18. This is late to the party, but I’d like to direct you to the nytimes review of the Sex and the City movie.

    ” the male characters in the movie stand idly by, either smiling or stripping, reduced to playing sock puppets in a Punch-free Judy and Judy (times two) show. I’m all for the female gaze, but, gee, it’s also nice to talk — and listen — to men, too.”

    This quote made me want to hurl.


  19. Just had to post this; When selling the movie Bound, the Wachowskis had problems because all the studios wanted to change the character Gina Gershon played to a male.


  20. That would be an interesting film with Garofalo, in a good way.

    Mystery Men doesn’t count…


  21. Amazingly, according to IMDB Sigourney Weaver is listed *second* for Alien. The only ones from the franchise with two leading women are Aliens and Alien Resurrection.


  22. It’s not about female’s in or not in movies that are made. It’s about getting the most people out to see them. The movies The Brave One and The Invasion were both distributed with the female star’s name over the top of the poster. Both of these movies bombed. Were they good? Hey, I enjoyed them. A lot. But no one saw them, so Warner Brothers is not going to release another movie under a lead female’s name.

    If you want to see more women in movies, go buy one hundred tickets to a movie with a female lead. Don’t waste your time writing a blog about it.


  23. @Maia’s comment:

    I’m also late to the party, but I wanted to re-emphasize that the Sex and the City movie was the highest first-weekend grossing romantic comedy of all time, even with the “R” rating, and beat Indy it’s opening weekend. Hopefully, the culture/Hollywood will start taking this blogs suggestion, because SATC proved that women have and spend money, too. (Duh.)

    Oh course, I’d rather see some sci-fi/fantasy women leads rather than cosmo sippin’, but I loved SATC nonetheless.


  24. Does “The Ring” count as a movie with a female hero? Also, the sequel.


  25. whew … just finished reading all of the posts. Most of what I would have responded has already been said, and the rest has been driven from my mind by mindless dribble. So, I am going to spew some random stuff instead of being intelligent.

    I went to see the IJ crystal skull movie, and while waiting for the movie to start, observed a young (11?) boy walking past the movie posters. He walked right past Baby Mama (girls + baby blocks … that’s a no-brainer), past one featuring an idiot with his pants down, glanced at the Narnia poster, past a couple obvious romances, did a double take at Sex and the City (SEX in huge letters + dark colors) but moved on when there wasn’t anything more (she’s not DOING anything, just walking), then past a boring looking action film, stopped to look at Indian Jones for a while, passed up The Happening, and stopped for the last poster, I can’t remember what it was.

    I must say that I would do about the same thing, only I am intrigued by The Happening because of MNS.

    I just watched Bella Marta, and … awesome main characters (not to mention the food). For those who haven’t seen it – Marta is a career chef who lives alone. She runs her own kitchen and is very much the queen. Even defying the lady who owns the restaurant. Her sister is killed in a car crash, leaving her to take care of her niece. Well, she is not motherly, and knows nothing about the ‘right way’ to do things … pretty much defying the stereotype that most female characters are tacked with in films. Funny enough, an american version was made that reverted everything back to The Way Things Are Done.

    I want any movie where the female isn’t a sex figure AND things get blown up. By sex figure, I mean she is wearing as little clothing as possible, while doing little more than run away, or posture, or get eaten or … you know.

    To the people saying – you don’t like the movies out there, make your own, it will fail, thus proving the FACT that f/f movies aren’t desired by the mainstream, blah blah blah – If I had $100,000,000 I would do just that, and it would be an awesome movie. But, I, nor the vast majority of the people on this planet have the kind of money it takes to 1) make a great film with quality actors and some good FX and 2) market the heck out of it.

    I’ve seen some really good filming with low budget, but the acting is always below par, and the writing is usually not great either because of a lack of editors, I think. IE the creator is funding it, and that’s almost never good for a first try. Kind of like letting an author design their own cover. You can spot them a mile away (usually).

    Okay, now for the sexism. To blame the men for everything is to ignore the complexities of culture. Mothers teach their daughters and sons to act the way they do. Women are equal perpetrators in the subtle sexism that still saturates our society. Now, it’s NO WHERE NEAR the way it was 50 years ago. My grandma is 97, and I still remember her expectations as to what I, as a girl, could and could not do. I was not allowed to play with the trucks and tractors, nor was i allowed to fix anything (even though I begged to be able to use the pliers and screwdrivers). And so on. She was equally strict with my brother – no dolls, etc. just to be fair.

    I just started playing D&D and was amused by the costumes of the female characters and monsters. I just shake my head and put it down to boys being boys. I know that if I want something that is intelligent, I have to go somewhere besides the mass-culture, teenage boy driven franchise. In six months, I have yet to play with another girl, so it’s probably justified as far as D&D is concerned, but NOT as far as RPG is concerned – changing a franchise makes people mad, adding to a genre without getting rid of the things that people like gives them a chance to try something new while knowing that they have their familiar home to go back to. On the other hand, if they are comfortable where they are, they will never leave. The same goes for movies and books and computer games and so on.

    I am likewise frustrated by sweeping comments such as females use their emotions, females work well in groups, females like soap operas, males like competition, males are rational, and all the other things people pull out of their arse. I am a girl. I am rational as far as any human is rational. I hate/am apathetic to shows like One Tree Hill, Sex and the City, Alias, Roswell, Lipstick Jungle, the OC, other male/female relationship driven show. My husband on the other hand likes all of those shows, even though he is also rational (except for his taste in shows!). What am I saying here? People are people, we are different. Even if only 10% of the women in the world share my sensibilities (ie, not your average stereotypical girl who likes to talk about makeup (as if there are that many girls who do, it’s mostly an adolescent phase that most girls grow out of … AND, I would from experience put the % at 40/50 rather than 10)), that’s still 10 out of a hundred, or 1000 of them in my small town alone. That’s a force to be reckoned with if anyone catered to them.

    If you are a woman, who do you identify most with in the xkcd strips? the “guy” character or the “gal” character (only when they are shown together). Most readers should identify with the focus of the strip, rather than the one that follows their particular gender. For instance, today’s strip where the gal exclaims “sweet! we made a baby!” while holding said child by the leg. The guy then delivers the joke. We think it is funny, and so funny stick-man goes up in our social factional character ladder. stick-lady is pretty funny too, but does not deliver the joke, and so does not go up as much. Mrs Roberts is her own character, and is awesome. But, she was also for the most part SO cool, that most of us can’t compete with her, and so we Identify with her less, even though we all worship her.

    I subscribe to Archeaology, Science Fiction and Fantasy and a book catalog. I wish I could watch a film about nerdy girls who act like nerdy girls. I can imagine them as a super hero team… maybe their football jock neighbor is always getting in trouble, and they have to save him 😀

    It’s 4am, and so I plead innocence with this post!


  26. after waking up, I decided to use some real math and took the genders of the “starring” actresses and actors from the top 100 films of 2007 to see what we’d get. And by top 100 I mean ‘100 Tears’ through ‘Fred Claus’. Here’s what the numbers say:

    295 total actors
    198 male
    97 female
    that’s 67% male actors

    107 total directors
    6 female directors
    7 double male directors
    101 total male directors

    leading parts:
    m – 20
    f – 8
    m/m – 30
    m/f – 24
    f/m – 13
    f/f – 6

    Lead: 73% male, 27% female
    Second: 59% male, 41% female
    Third: 59% male, 41% female
    Fourth: male 64%, female 36%

    Other Starring Roles: 18 films have more than four stars
    41 male stars
    14 female stars

    Many people expressed the idea that if there were more female directors, there would be more female lead roles.

    lead roles with female directors:

    romance: 4
    drama: 2
    comedy: 2
    horror: 1

    It looks to be about 50/50. I would have to get more data in order to make any conclusions. But, from looking at this, it looks like rather than being skewed the other way, the female directors are more balanced.

    there were 14 f or f/f films in the data set, 12 of them were directed by males, and one film was directed by a male/male team. But, remember to compare this to the 50 m or m/m films which were directed by males.

    genre count for f & f/f films:

    horror: 6
    romance: 3
    comedy: 3
    drama: 2
    thriller: 2
    melodrama: 1


  27. I was thinking about this thread over the weekend (y’know, like we all think about two-month-old Internet conversations), and it occurred to me that although there haven’t historically been many enduring female stars, we may have a few more currently developing. Natalie Portman (and to a lesser extent, her British doppelganger Kiera Knightly) has shown surprising range. Anne Hathaway’s currently showing off her action-comedy chops, though I’d suggest she keep the romantic comedies to a manageable level (a task at which Sandra Bullock has thus far failed.) Abigail Breslin (/Little Miss Sunshine/, /Nim’s Island/) and Annasophia Robb (/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/, /Bridge to Terabithia/) are still basking in the the “adorable kid” glow, but they have potential if they safely naviagate their teens.

    Perhaps we’re missing something. Even though Angelina Jolie and Jodie Foster don’t draw huge crowds all by themselves, they are still A-list stars. Perhaps a strictly economic definition of celebrity causes us to overlook another significant element of fame.

    — A.
    When was the last time a tabloid hypothesized about a male celebrity’s possibly-emminent fatherhood? Patrick Dempsey’s twins?


  28. Well, thats cuz women suck. Hollywood always portrays them as being equal or greater than men in strength… Doesnt happen much in real life.


  29. Of course, there are plenty of guys saying that actresses suck, women aren’t interesting, etc, but that’s all pretty blatant and expected. However, I’d like to note some things that might go overlooked…

    “Perhaps that’s because the whole “buddy” genre is a male thing.”

    I’m tired of this crap, especially when the people involved are trying to say something about sexism. That’s an inherently sexist statement, and it’s wrong. What is Sex and the City but a buddy movie? What’s that Ya Ya Sisterhood thing? Chicago? Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? The Devil Wears Prada? Calendar Girls? Thelma and Louise? Charlie’s Angels (and again)? Just because female buddy movies generally have four to eight buddies instead of two doesn’t mean they’re not buddy movies. Hell, every mother-daughter movie ever made is a buddy movie, the buddies are just related (don’t give me that look. They call them “buddy films” if it’s a father-son or brothers).

    Just because you would rather refer to your movie as ‘a touching story of the bonds of friendship’ doesn’t change that it’s a buddy movie. Get over it.

    “There’s no reason that almost all of the movies made require a dick between the main character’s legs except for institutionalized sexism and anxious masculinity.” – Cadence

    Look, a veiled ad hominems attack against an entire gender! I have a dick between my legs, so I must be anxious about it! Yet again, we see sexism in the words of somebody who’s trying to show us how blind we are to the sexism around us. Yet again, I scream “practice what you preach, goddamnit” at my monitor, causing the cat to run from the room in terror. Yet again, nobody listens to me.

    “But the fact that people will not even acknowledge this one obvious thing is frustrating.” – Cadence

    Do tell.

    “Is the suggestion that it would be nice to have movies with female heroes and more than just one of them so disturbing to the internet in general that it requires he-man macho nerds to quibble with statistics to prove that there’s no possible way that hollywood is sexist at all, grunt scratch sniff?” – Franny

    …Do I even have to say anything? This is like watching people being beaten to death onstage at a peace rally. Am I the only one who sees this?

    “It is utterly unacceptable and rather disheartening to see some of the male posters here straying into “Well… You know, guys, maybe it might just possibly be…” I’m starting to mentally finish that thought with “I’m an absolute cretin with and underlying desire to subordinate all of the women I know and IN THE WORLD.” Because that’s more believable than some of the bullshit that spews forth following the aforementioned opening.”

    “Why must women ascend to such a higher level of discourse in order to provide valid points when they are responding to men who, through their very words, display that they do not necessarily subscribe to any theory of equality?” – same poster, when called on the above

    My response: why must philanthropists ascend to such a higher level of action in order to provide valid points when they are responding to people who, through their very actions, display that they do not necessarily subscribe to any theory of philantropy?
    If you’re going to fight for gender equality, you should exemplify it. Ghandi got this, why don’t you?

    “Or, maybe you’re an asshole.” – Cadance

    I wonder how she’d react if somebody responded to her by saying “maybe you’re a bitch.”

    “I cannot respect any feminist who is not also a masculist, nor can I respect any masculist who is not also a feminist. To loudly proclaim one and not the other is pure hypocrisy.” – Psy

    *hugs poster* Faith in humanity maintained.

    ““Women’s work” is almost universally valued lower than “men’s work,” by definition.” – Cadence again

    It’s disturbing that somebody supposedly fighting for equality would continue to utilize that distinction. Aside from biological tasks (breastfeeding, giving birth, depositing genetic material into a uterus, etc), what is “men’s work” or “women’s work”?

    I hope this post has helped everybody understand that sexism is found in both genders, and in fact, among people who pretend to fight sexism. I’d have more examples, but I only got about halfway down the page.


  30. Quick list of strong female performances billed in the top 2 that have nothing to do with foofooberry juice.

    Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999) – Katie Holmes and Helen Mirren. 2 strong female leads each seeking to better the other.

    Hard Candy (2005) – I’m really surprised that Ellen Page wasn’t billed first since she really is the main character. There’s one where the female is neither the love interest nor the “hero”, but rather a grey area of morality combined with tainted righteous retribution.

    Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) – Both characters are equally strong in their own right. Brad Pitt is the bigger of the 2 stars and thus got the upper billing.

    Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) – Ziyi Zhang and Suzuka Ohgo. Even as a guy who loves action films with guns and car chases, this movie’s characters impressed me. Overcoming hardships is the theme rather than letting a man come to the rescue.

    Juno (2007) – Ellen Page and Michael Cera. From the start, the female lead is stronger than the male and continues throughout the film.

    Catwoman (2004) – Halle Berry plays exactly what you’re looking for…a female hero.

    Superstar (1999) – Molly Shannon plays the female lead who comes from mediocrity to stardom. Hey, comedies can be heroic!

    300 (2006) – You wouldn’t think such a small part of the film in terms of screen time would receive second billing, but Lena Headly’s character has the strength to face the entire senate (all men) for the love of her country and even kills a traitor.

    Alright, that’s enough for right now. I would agree that F/F billing is much more rare than M/M billing, but I think this is a matter of market demand rather than the sexism of Hollywood. I think Hollywood would embrace strong female characters more if the consumers would do the same. As it stands now, that’s simply not the case.


  31. xkcd intends for us to consider a relatively weighted question: assuming there is a male bias in writing leading roles for economically plausible movies, if the bias were artificially centered would the quantity of “awesome” movies increase?

    The answer: We don’t know yet. The results just aren’t in… at least, they haven’t been reported: we need full statistics, reasonable assumptions and appropriate (in this case, random) selection.

    This question touches the issue of sexism, certainly. We have to remember that a sexist person simply devalues another person based on gender. In order words, two persons applying for the same job, with virtually identical qualifications, differ in gender. The decision should be very difficult, but a sexist person would have a preference for one over the other regardless of qualifications.

    Which means sexual differences aren’t the issue when we’re dealing with sexism. It’s actually dangerous to think that way, because it has nothing to do with the question. xkcd makes a rather strong assumption that males and females have identical acting abilities, regardless of sexual characteristics. Essentially, the great deal of “sexist remarks” made in this comment section reject this assumption. That’s fine. You’re thinking like a scientist.

    We could argue back and forth about whether a cultural custom like the man footing the bill (considered a ‘dowry’ in human behaviorist speak) constitutes sexism or if monogamy (not necessarily natural in human behavior depending on the circumstances) is the correct lifestyle. The point isn’t about gender; it’s about fairness.

    xkcd asks us, is this fair? How can we answer the posed question?

    Only after we have an answer can we talk about fixing these problems. As much as you might feel like you’re floating in a sea of culturally underfed chumps, you and I ARE the culture. We have the power to change things (Like you haven’t heard that before!) but first we need to spread the word and have faith that others will do the same.


  32. James, I like where your head’s at. However, I’m skeptical that one blag entry by one webcomic creator is going to convince enough people to change their viewing habits (in theory, if we all go out of our way to buy tickets to movies with F/F leads, they will become instant hits, and the paradigm can be broken). The power to change this trend is in the pockets of movie-goers, but I don’t know how many are willing to pay eight bucks to sit through another Catwoman in the hope that it might, someday equalize the pressure.

    I’m also unsure that, in the larger picture of sexism, this is even worth anybody’s time. Sure, it’d be nice to see movies that broke the “things explode near this guy’s chiseled figure before he and his girlfriend kiss!!!!” mold…God, would that be nice…but it’s not as important as, say, violence against women (if memory serves, is still up and running) or the gap in pay. To focus on this issue when others of a more important nature are left unnoticed would be irresponsible.


  33. “Most XKCDs are from a male perspective (a heteronormative one, at that)”

    I do not agree. I think XKCD is the far most queer comic strip I’ve ever read. I love you for that. The female and the male characters are not at all stereotypical, and if someone thinks it’s mainly from a male perspective, maybe it’s because you joke about stereotypically male things, like technology.

    Someone mentioned to me that you drawing the girls with long hair was heteronormative, but I understand why you do that. Since your style is simple and b/w it’s hard to joke about sexism without pointing out that the character is of a certain sex. And there is a lot of sexism going on, even among nerds.

    Thank you for being funny and smart at the same time!


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  35. I think part of the problem, and I know this will sound sexist, is that men typically do more interesting things. I know that a lot of people will start gnashing their teeth when they read that, but it’s true. I mean women can do interesting things, and should be afforded all the opportunities men have to do interesting things, I just haven’t seen as many women interested in doing interesting things. Remember the words of Simone de Bovier (sp?)
    “There are two types of people in the world, human beings and women, and when women try to act like human being their accused of acting like men.”


  36. Cyrnoc — that is simply male-centric bias. Perhaps in the male world weaving, child-raising, reading, sewing, cooking, or other “female” activities are not perceived as “interesting.” But that’s a male point of view. Women might perceive these activities as otherwise. It’s one of the reasons art history is so full of “men’s art”: men for the most part were allowed to take up painting, drawing, and sculpting, etc. This does not mean women did not do art, it just means that men don’t consider what women have done as “art,” for example: needle work, pottery making, quilt-making, weaving, etc. These artifacts still exists, however our past history as a male-centric culture has not chose to value these pieces on the same level as paintings and sculpture. This is why I love the film “How to Make an American Quilt” so much, because it obviously harkens to that idea (as you can probably gather from the title itself).

    Furthermore, I just want to say as a female student who is just entering film school this fall in order to become a screenwriting, I was amazed by the ratio of men vs women who are entering the program. I believe that most of the male-biased we see in film comes simply from the fact that more men are accepted into film schools than women, and (I don’t have the numbers, but I bet I’m rite) the fact that more men apply to film schools.

    This is not inherently shocking if you look at the type of people apply: (and I mean this in all lovingness) nerds. Typically film students are your techies from high school or some sort of film geek/nerd/whatever, and because of the stereotype around geeks and nerds as being mostly men, it early on alienates women from feeling a part of this “subculture.” Women aren’t suppose to be nerdy. They’re suppose to pretty. And if they are smart and technical, they aren’t to be perceived as sexual. Hence, I believe, men feel more comfortable entering film school and the such because it has that techie/nerd aura around it that women don’t inherently feel as welcoming to them.

    This comes from personal observation and impressions and is in no way scientific nor empirical, for the record.

    Also, I would like to know the count of how many “feminine” (hate using this word, but for simplicity I shall use it — see next parenthetical as for why) men there are in leading roles. Are all of them masculine? I realize that there exists the Bird Cage and The Producers, but both are comedies in which the comedy arises from the main characters being “un-manly” (I refuse to say “feminine” because I don’t believe the squirrelishness and dramatic-tendencies of the characters in each are “woman traits” — but rather traits men perceive of women that are may or may not actually be there and cannot be used to categorize an entire gender’s “gender code”) And how do they do in the box office? How are they received?


  37. *right — apologies, it’s nearly one in the morning and I’m quite tired.


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  39. Juno comes to mind,again it falls into the typical female lead genre, but seriously. Hard Candy comes to mind also.
    Its interesting we see that kind of casting and direction with a female lead. The story lends it self to a female lead for obvious reasons, and i feel that this kind of story is more accessible and far more interesting than your average male lead, like any thing Jerry Bruckheimer cranks out.
    The fact that men do more “interesting things” is certainly the male bias in society, and a fact that seperating the genders for the movie genres is quite difficult.
    I see it all day long watching day time TV, women are the target audience, and the obviously sexist commercials like the ludicrous “paper plate ” commercial get my blood boiling.
    Xkcd, this topic has piqued my interest. 🙂


  40. I actually wish to present this post in two acts: first, I would like to comment on the subject as a martial artist, and then I would like to make my observations as a woman. To be honest, these two parts will hardly be completely separate as much as each has influenced the other, but we’ll just go with it…

    As a deeply dedicated female martial artist, I am very pleased when I have the pleasure of enjoying quality dramatized combat that utilizes well-realized female characters. When I first took up fighting when at the less-than-self-assured age of eight, I really loved it, but that hardly kept me from being very aware that I was the only girl there or worrying about the social repercussions in the unforgiving world of an elementary playground. As that I have grown up, I have found it gratifying that talented female fighters have increasingly become such a point of admiration, but it does comfort me that young girls finding themselves in a similar place have women like Summer Glau as examples. But more specifically as a martial artist, when I go to a movie with fighting in it, the actors in it had better damn well be good, be they male or female, otherwise I don’t want to watch it. One of the best action/martial arts movies I’ve seen is Jet Li’s “Unleashed”. The combat in the movie was brutal, efficient, and almost entirely without frills or acrobatics. I very much approve of this realistic approach to cinematic combat, for both male and female characters, as it makes for more realistic characters. I’ve always found that conscious attempts to make female characters more feminine not only fails to make them more realistic, but instead, does the very opposite. The fact that movie makers are under the delusion that a woman who is a skilled fighter is somehow basically unfeminine just goes to show how poorly understood women are. My learning to break someone’s arm didn’t mean I lost my ability to hold my baby, nor did I stop being able to do pirouettes because I started doing roundhouse kicks; so there was no reason to compensate by trying to be more feminine. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there have been plenty of disappointing and less than convincing performances by women in this genre, I’ve also seen more than my fair share of attempts by their male counterparts that have been no better. So, let us be fair about this when we consider what fails when it comes to movies and not forget to that, while well-conceived parts are available to everyone, awful action movies know no gender. It is at least rather misguided, if not outright foolish for one to think that inequality no longer occurs for women, and for the proof of it you need look no further than this thread. The debate of the adequacy of women to make an engaging lead in action film has continued based, despite the supply of several excellent examples to the contrary, but the droves of awful movies through out the ages hasn’t even crossed people’s minds. Not just in movies, but in politics, business, military, and so-forth, the moment a woman screws something up, there are people asking whether or not women are qualified to be in that position, never mind that men in that same position have made plenty of messes many times before. No one notices when men screw up because its all been done before, and no one notices all the women who’ve done well. In the last week, I’ve had someone say to me, “you shouldn’t have to carry that! It’s heavy; let one of the boys take it.” which would have been at least condescending, if not outright insulting, on its own even if you didn’t consider that I’ve been able to thoroughly best every last one of the boys in question in a fight since we were sixteen. So, lets consider how much more available to men, not only the cinematic, but other professions as well, and what terrible stuff they’ve been able to come up with, before we dismiss the entirety of the female sex as unable to manage the things that many women could perform satisfactorily.

    As a woman, I have not felt myself particularly deprived of movies and TV shows that boast female leads, but rather I have found myself increasingly concerned with the declining of in those leads. The increasing intensity with which sexual objectification and exploitation of women, not just by movies and television, but by magazines and books and so forth, is beginning to bother me deeply, made even worse by the increasingly younger age to which it is being targeted, all while throwing around words like “empowerment” and “freedom” when what is really meant is “lack of self-respect” and “insecurity”. If this is the path that our popular media continues to take, it really won’t be long before that image of women becomes so prevalent for our society that, as scarce as movies with competent, intelligent female leads seem now, that number will only drop. It vaguely terrifies me that my little sister is far more likely to be exposed to female role-models from the media that are more akin to those of Sex in the City than those of Firefly. If the only characters girls today see on TV and film are those that use that rely on their sexuality to get what they want and to measure their self-worth, that is what they will believe is expected of them.

    For my encore, I will be stepping off my soap-box and adding a few scattered comments. While I admit to having skipped about a quarter of this thread down toward the end, I don’t believe anyone has mentioned the movie “V for Vendetta” for which Natalie Portman received top billing, even over actors such as Hugo Weaving and Stephen Fry, and in which she gave an impressive performance as a woman with great inner strength. Also, in reference to some comments made about women having their movie tickets, among other things, paid for them, I would like to point out that through out my dating life, my dates and I would alternate paying, and I am far from alone in this manner of arrangement; and, last time I checked my paycheck is going into my household’s account along with my husband’s. Really guys, if you’re paying for absolutely everything for all you’re dates in this day and age, you’re getting taken for a sap, and that’s your own problem. Don’t assume all women are a constant drain on their significant others’ wallet just because you’re letting it go on.

    Also, Summer Glau inspired me to go back to ballet classes; because of her, I want to go into a career as a ballerina terminator.


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  42. This is totally unrelated to any posts that came immediately before this one, but I just read through these comments and stumbled on one that seriously tries to suggest that the movie ‘Catwomen’ was portraying a great female hero. What the f…!! She gets to save women from bad make-up products, how freaking empowering is that supposed to be?