How many female film characters does it take to change a light bulb?

Woman looks up on light bulb
Woman looks up on light bulb – by verkeorg on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

No, it’s not a joke. Or at least it might be, in the sense that women don’t get to change light bulbs in films. In fact women don’t really get to do much at all, other than wait tables, cry when their men die and generally look pretty. Most of the time they’re not even in films. There are so few of them it’s as if they’re an endangered species. An endangered species that gets raped, murdered or brutally attacked in exchange for a few lines of script.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take the 10 most popular films on IMDB:-

1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Set in an all-male prison. Case closed.

(Female credited characters 3, male credited characters 51)

2. The Godfather (1972)

There are some women, but it’s about the male-dominated mafia – an institution so patriarchal it makes some of those weird all-male golf clubs look positively balanced in their outlook.

(Female characters 8, male characters 26)

3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)

It’s better than part one but just as male.

(Female 16, male 55)

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Man dressed as bat fights man dressed as clown. It’s as stupid as it is male.

(Female 14, male 83)

5. Pulp Fiction (1994)

There are women in this film and they do talk, but not that much. One (a gangster’s girlfriend) does get to dance and overdose on heroin, so it’s not all bad… sort of.

(Female 16, male 31)

6. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

It’s about a good man, a bad man and an ugly man. At least it tries to cover up the paucity of ladies in it by giving characters names like ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Blondie’.

(Female 1, male 20)

7. Schindler’s List (1993)

Probably the least male of all the films, but then it’s the only one that is about real-world events. No cheap shots to be made here.

(Female 38, male 88)

8. 12 Angry Men (1957)

120% male.

(Female 0, male 12)

9. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

The vast majority of the characters may not be human but they are still male, which is a little weird in itself (do fantasy characters really need definite gender?) There are some really pretty elves, though.

(Female, 7, male 45)

10. Fight Club (1999)

It’s all about men fighting each other in really manly ways. In fact, it’s about one man fighting himself in a really manly way. It couldn’t be more male if he was drinking Stella and scratching his crotch all the time.

(Female, 9, male 44)

While women make up 51 per cent of the population of the UK, they’re just 20 per cent of the population of these films. And a lot of the time in films they’re just ‘woman on plane’, ‘waitress number two’ and ‘light-bulb changer number six’. OK, that last one was made up.

Now take your favourite 10 films and ask yourself how many of the main characters are women. Then ask yourself how many people in your own life are women. Compare.

I’m sort of guessing that unless you’re a monk or a really awkward teenager at an all-boys’ boarding school, the gender balance in your life bears little or no comparison to this. While the stars of our movies live in overwhelmingly male environments, in which women don’t get a look in, in the real world women do things, have opinions, buy drinks, drive cars. Shit, they even change light bulbs. On their own. Without getting shot or their tops falling off.


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3 thoughts on “How many female film characters does it take to change a light bulb?

  1. You know I’ve never really thought about it in those terms, mainly as I don’t watch much TV. The books I read tend to be fairly even in the male/female hero or primary characters as well as all the supporting ones. Hmm gonna have to think about this a bit.

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