Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's a Man's World: Analysis

For the data, go here. The major bits:

Women are in about 65% of the scenes.
Men are in about 95% of the scenes.

65% of the scenes had more than one man.
15% of the scenes had more than one woman.

There are about 3 men for every woman and what's really interesting is that that stays constant for the number of male to female Heroes, despite there only being two regular female Heroes (Niki and Claire) compared to the eleven regular male Heroes (Peter, Hiro, Nathan, Matt, Micah, D.L., Isaac, Sylar, Mohinder*, Mr. Bennet*, the Haitian). So a lot of the female Heroes are not recurring and consequently are treated more like non-Heroes - their story is important only so far as it relates to our main cast, rather than in relation to the fundamental themes and overall plot. This is part of the same pattern that gives us only 2 male non-Heroes for every female non-Hero. It's not just that there are fewer women than men, it's that a greater percentage of women are more likely to be in non-recurring and/or minor roles. (edit: this also explains why Hayden is the one actor to appear in every episode so far. It would be interesting to see if that actually translates into more screen time and more lines....)

Keep in mind that these four episodes include the ones where Claire finds her birth mother and Niki is away from Micah and DL and talking to a female shrink. The two episodes in which these things happen are some of the few episodes where our two main female Heroes do a decent amount of talking to other women. And the average is still 65% versus 95%, 65% versus 15%.

I find the 2-3:1 ratio is interesting because I remember reading** that the 2 man to 1 woman ratio is where people begin perceiving that something is not only equal in terms of gender, but often they see it as biased in favor of women. Conscious or not, I find it interesting that gender ratios in Heroes tends to hover somewhere just above that 2/3 majority version of equality. And I find this interesting not because I think every show should have a gender ratio of 1 to 1, but because I get such fierce reactions when I complain that Heroes does a pretty poor job with women. I wonder if a lot of the difference in perception can be traced back to this. I'm no longer used to the two thirds version of equality, but a lot of people still are. Are they simply more flexible in terms of what they think gender equality means, or do they perceive that 2-3:1 ratio as being closer to 1:1?

What's interesting about all this is how deliberate and yet probably not completely conscious it is. You can see it not just in the math, but in the patterns of X's and O's from scene to scene. It's not just that there are so many more XX, XXO, and XXXO than OO and OOX, but that it will go back and forth. An XO will be followed by and XXO or an XXXO or even and XXX, but it will rarely be followed by another XO. It's not just that Niki and Claire have yet to talk (does Niki ever talk to a female Hero?) it's also that their scenes are rarely shown back to back. Or if they are, it's scenes in which Claire is talking to her father and the Haitian, rather than her friend or mother, or where Niki is talking to Micah and DL, not her female shrink.

The overall numbers are something that can be traced back to the initial decisions about the make-up of the main cast, for which it's easy to come up with excuses (although they are still often flimsy). But the pattern of X's and O's is rooted in decisions about pacing, which suggests that the ratio of men to women is very much about finding a gender balance that will please the audience, not just about focusing on the most interesting stories.

Since it's quite common to show two similar stories back to back for dramatic effect (Claire and Hiro come face to face with the parents in the same episodes) it's really interesting that we never even see the scenes that are 1:1 male:female back to back. You'd think that would be a nice dramatic effect, to show something like the interaction between first the Parkmans and then the Bennet parents in a way that highlights the similarities and differences.*** It's like the fact that the audience can't possibly be expected to care about more than one female character at a time trumps all else. And thus why all this bugs me so much: Heroes kicks ass, except when it doesn't because the writers/producers/directors make bad decisions that not only offend my feminist sensibilities, but result in bad storytelling as well. And then Heroes really sucks.

*For explanation as to why I count Bennet and Mohinder as Heroes, go to the first post on the topic. The Haitian counts a a regular because the question is not how much the actor gets paid, but if the character is recurring - and recurring as a Hero, like Micah and D.L. who are Heroes for the bulk of the season, but unlike Eden whom we lose not long after we learn of her Hero status.

**But (sigh) not where. Does anyone else remember this?

***Or maybe we do and I'm just forgetting because it doesn't happen the episodes I've measured?

No comments: