NYCC 2015: A (Wo)man’s World: Closing the Gender Gap in Pop Culture

Robert Tiemstra ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
There’s something somewhat unsettling about a panel on the poor treatment of women and gender taking place only a few feet away from a vendor flogging elegantly rendered versions of Princess Leia & Samus Aran as pinup models. And while both items are pleasing on a primal sort of level, you can’t shake the fact that one of them just doesn’t belong, and you better say it’s the latter or you will be banished to the 1960s to enjoy sipping aged whiskey with Don Draper’s middle management executives for the rest of your life. In all seriousness, the panel entitled “A (Wo)Man’s World” was not focused on tearing down every man in the room and accusing comic artists of promoting unhealthy body types and irresponsible amounts of overt sexualization, but rather accusing media as a whole of under representing women and inequitable treatment of gender.
If statistics are to be believed, the people who genuinely believe women are not underrepresented in film, television, video games, comics and mainstream novels are all a.) male, b.) fleeing this article right now to post an angry rant on 4Chan, or c.) in some position of power in Hollywood. The host of this panel was a representative of I am Elemental, a toy store that promotes positive body images (i.e. healthy bust measurements) in female action figures through their own line of elemental superheroines, who are designed to appeal to both girls and boys. The quote that they lead with is “If you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story”. Among topics raised were the incredible disparity in representation in film and television not only in speaking roles, but in crowd scenes as well (an estimated 17% of your average movie background crowd will be female).
The unfairness of the male minds manipulating market movements misogynistically has been noted by editorials, commentators, bloggers, and speakers the world over, and everyone in the room had examples breaking down the issue. Since it is comic con, the incredible delay in a female superhero film was noted, as well as the perceived “risk” in creating superhero films aimed at women, because of how high a percentage of them flop. No mention is ever made that with fewer examples, the percentage of flops is going to be higher regardless of the greater amount of male-lead superhero flops yearly, which account for only a small percentage of male lead blockbusters annually. It’s a battle of poorly interpreted numbers holding down another bunch of numbers that haven’t been properly explored – and when you put it like that it sounds duller than Max Irons doing a Keanu Reeves impression.
All this said, it was not a panel geared entirely toward women, as paradoxical as that seems. One of the main features was a movement entitled “He For She”, which has been gathering signatures and donations from men who support gender equality in pop culture and in general. Speaker Julie Kerwin made a point of saying “If we only get women on board with Gender equality, it isn’t enough.” And they were very up front about how there are some really difficult conversations ahead of us, from telling old fashioned parents that “boys” and “girls” toy aisles are a completely arbitrary distinction, and telling the 43.7% of powerful industry individuals who believe that lack of female representation is caused by “Positive Male Market forces” that women are the emerging market in pop culture and their numbers are incorrect. So grab a cup of coffee and sit down with that friend of yours who doesn’t like to use the word “feminist” because he feels it’s a bit too “aggressive” – you have a lot to talk about.
It is translating these ideological statements into financial incentives that this argument gets tricky, and this is where the panel stepped into some very tricky subjects. We need people pushing the envelope who ignore all the numbers, Julie says, then we can establish what success means for this particular demographic. This is a nice thought, but in the mind of this writer, it is more a challenge to establish where the evidence already lies in pop culture – look at all the internet commentary on Mad Max: Fury Road, and Pacific Rim to name two examples – and convince the men in power that there is a gold mine of representation underneath the surface of their shallow comfort zone. The more we see characters like Furiosa, Mako Mori, and adaptations of classic Superheroes as well (Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman seem to have potential), the more this theory will snowball into dramatic industry change, as long as there are people on all sides of the camera (finance, production, acting, and audience) pushing for it. Consider that a prediction.

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