In this article published on the Women’s Media Center’s website on November 13, 2008, writer Melissa Silverstein discusses the resistance of the film industry to woman-created or women-geared films, on the assumption that they are unprofitable, too “niche”. It’s struck me as frustrating and bizarre for a long time that women are considered a “minority” or a “niche market” in cultural/social, political and economic contexts. It seems like loaded rhetoric which allows for woman-centric social and political issues and woman-aimed cultural output to continue to be pushed to a back burner or relegated to its own special category, implying that these issues and cultural products are not of importance to the culture at large, but “only” to women. Unless, as with slavery-era African Americans, you’re counting women as only 3/5ths as “human” as men, women are certainly not a minority. The only place we are the minority is in the seats of power, political and also social. This year marked a record number of women in Congress, bringing the grand total to just 74 out of 435, and only twelve of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. The normative domain of our public discourse and our cultural output is still white-male centered. There are, for all intents and purposes, no such thing as “men’s issues” because men’s issues are just…issues. Similarly, movies dominated by female characters or dealing with women’s thoughts or ideas must be designated “women’s movies,” “chick flicks” (the same is true for movies dealing with movies whose main characters are not caucasian–these become “black movies”, “Indian movies”, etc.). As Silverstein points out, despite the proven success of such women-acted and women-aimed movies as, to name two of the years top ten grossing films so far, Mamma Mia! and Sex and The City, studios are extremely wary of and resistant to backing these movies which depend on high female turnout to be profitable.
But women are proving that that they can turn out, and not just to watch Carrie Bradshaw and her cohorts cavort. In the 2008 election, women represented 54% of all voters, and the fact that they broke for Obama by a rather substantial margin was in no small part responsible for his big win. Increasingly, women are proving that in many domains of public life, they wield more determinative power than they are being given credit for. Now, it’s time for the powers that be to begin to acknowledge that and reflect it by catering more to women, whether in the halls of Congress or in the movie studios of Hollywood. It will certainly help that more and more of the powers that be are themselves women, but just as not only black politicians or studio executives should be expected to take up the issues and tastes of black audiences, women politicians and executives cannot and should not be the only ones championing women’s interests. Women represent half of the inhabitants of the world and until there is a public acknowledgment that our tastes, our political and social rights and interests, our treatment, are not “niche” concerns, but fundamental issues which define our society and affect all of us, men and women, in direct and indirect ways, patriarchal structures will continue to define the public discourse and values in ways that inaccurately and unjustly reflect the totality of the population. Sure, there are perhaps more important pressing issues in the struggle for women’s social enfranchisement than whether the sequel to Sex and the City gets made (indeed, I won’t even try to get into issues of whether the movies that are being made which cater to women are really forwarding feminist ideals–that’s a topic for another posting. I simply argue that it would be nice to see some more female faces, more female-driven/female-centric entertainment), but it is a symptom of a larger disease, a very tangible and widely relatable example of the broader constellation of issues I’m talking about.