Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Oscar For The Best Supporting Role Goes To...

The little woman! Applause, please.

A long time ago I read about movies and television sitcoms containing about twice as many men as women. The reality, if you remember, contains slightly more women than men in this country, and lots of those women are -- gasp! -- over fifty years old. But in movies and sitcoms we only need one woman over fifty, at most, to play the mother of the hero.

We might need some younger mothers, naturally, and we certainly need some younger women to play the good-and-sexy (in a subdued way) girlfriend/wife and the bad-and-sexy (in a flamboyant way) seductress. That is about the sum of female roles, because "female" means that these roles are viewed as supporting the story of the male hero, and there are not that many ways to do that within the framework of "female". Mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, evil seductress, whore. That's about it.

I mentioned that I read the story a long time ago, and things have changed a little since then. Not much, but a little. Now we have what is called "chick movies", but nobody, as far as I know, calls the other types of movies, the most common ones, "stud movies".

The concept of a "supporting role" strikes me as very apt for much of the cultural discussion of women, even today. Think about it. If women don't play those supporting roles the system will collapse. But if they do continue playing them, few people will applaud what they are doing, because the limelight goes to the main characters in the story: the presidents, the generals, the hero killing the dragon which guards the princess, the hero who then gets the princess and half the realm.

A "supporting role" explains why there is so much concern in the media over women's supposed bad behaviors (latchkey children! promiscuity!), but very little concern over men's supposed bad behaviors (absent fathers not paying child support, prisons filled with men), and why there is always some hesitancy about praising a woman who has decided to go for one of the star roles. Because if she does that, who is going to pick up afterwards?

This is an angry post, caused by that SCOTUS decision and the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States has exactly one woman. But perhaps I should end up with some good news: Live television for children has almost as many female characters as male characters these days. Cartoons, on the other hand, have twice as many male characters as female characters. See how I can't stay on that positive ending?