A perfect metaphor for the problems our media faces is that: what sections in toy stores are like. We have large swaths of the toy store that are coded as acceptable for boys; the LEGOs, the basketballs, the trains. Here’s where you find the chemistry sets and anything relevant to professions and careers. Yet there’s the narrow section that is relegated to girls. It is awash in pink, and the large majority of it relates to domesticity right out of the 1950s. But here’s the thing. It is socially acceptable, indeed often encouraged, for the girls to go into the “boys section.” Because, good luck finding a telescope in that sea of fuchsia. Or God forbid that she wants to play with a LEGO set that’s not a café. Yet most people, even in California, in spite of their liberal pretensions, react with such strident opposition when a boy decides that he wants a pink baking set.
And that’s exactly the expectations we have for consumption of media. Women are expected to watch movies and play games almost entirely feature strong characterization in the male leads, and almost no female representation at all. Conversely, the people in control of the largest media companies think it would be too much to ask for a 20 year old male to consume a property that features a female protagonist. (And hey, lets not even talk about people of color here…) Even a progressive company like Marvel has thus far completely failed on this point. Metroid and Alien notwithstanding, films and games that feature strong female lead are often consigned to the “arthouse,” with only niche advertising and distribution.
If women want to participate in mass media, they have to learn to live in the “boys section.” It really sucks.