The Inevitable Results of the “Male Gaze”

Hi Happiness Fans,

In a departure from the usual blog posts on Success, Happiness and the Advancement of Women (which I guess this is about…), I have to take a moment to point out just one more instance of the systemic bias against women that occurs naturally and implicitly in the entertainment industry, this time coming from male film critics.

Below is a snapshot of the Top Critics section of Rotten Tomatoes for the film, Sisters. Notice anything?

Sisters reviews

Of the 29 Top Critics who had reviewed the movie as of the writing of this article, ten gave the movie a negative review and 19 gave the movie a positive review.

That seems normal for an “afraid to grow up, buddy comedy,” no?
Now, let’s break it down by gender:

6 of the 19 positive reviews were by male critics,
13 of the 19 positive reviews were by female critics, and
(wait for it…)


Why does this matter? Because movie reviews matter in this industry. They matter to the box office results, they matter to the ancillary revenue streams, they matter to television networks deciding how often to run the a film and how much to pay for it, and they matter to the choices made in executive suites along Barham, Lankershim, Pico, Overland and Melrose. They will swear that all that matters is the money, but when looking for an excuse to dismiss a project or a talent, buyers are perfectly happy to bring up the last time someone was panned by the critics.

And the men who wrote those negative reviews, the ones in the Top Critics section of the most popular movie review website, have been doing this a long, long time. Every one of them is among the most respected, most read writers in the field, and I am certain that not one of them thinks that his opinion of the movie has anything to do with his gender, but IT DOES!

They watch movies with a male perspective. It is not neutral simply because it has been given the majority voice for most of the existence of commerce and entertainment. They have not been expected for their whole careers (and, in fact, their whole lives) to see stories told by and about women as significant, or interesting, or worthy of their time.

Five of those same critics reviewed the movie, Neighbors, a comedy about a young man-child afraid of growing up going to war with a middle-aged man-child afraid he’s gotten old.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of how they viewed these two very similar films (the fresh tomatoes being their reviews for Neighbors and the rotten splats being their reviews for Sisters):

sisters v neighbors

Can you see the difference in tone, between the gentle, loving, understanding way in which they embrace the male story and their condescending dismissiveness towards the female version of the same? Again, these men would never think themselves bias, but that is the insidious nature of implicit bias – it creeps into statistics when no one is looking and on a grand scale, becomes irrefutable.

Ten out of ten negative reviews for Sisters were written by men.
Five of those same reviewers also reviewed Neighbors.
Five out of five of them gave that movie positive reviews.

I’m not saying that only women should review women’s stories. To the contrary, I’m saying that men in the entertainment industry need to get out of their comfort zones and learn to see women’s stories as equally valuable, equally worth telling.

The landscape for women in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera, is disastrous. Both the ACLU and the EEOC have opened investigations into the system-wide gender discrimination and the Department of Labor is on the verge of getting involved. It is ugly here for women who want to tell stories by women, about women and for other women. Why? Because the men who decide not only what gets made, but the size of the production and marketing budgets continue to refuse to see themselves as biased, just like critics who see male stories as worth telling and female stories as less worthy of their consideration.

Two common excuses the men in charge use are: 1) that women-lead movies don’t make as much money; and 2) they have to consider international markets – namely China — and women’s movies don’t play overseas.

Let’s dismiss the latter first. China’s highest-grossing film of all time, Monster Hunt, has a strong female lead, with actress Bai Baihe getting top billing, and the story containing some very fun gender twists. But let’s talk about China as a market for a moment. Two-thirds of the world’s female billionaires live in China. Thirty-eight percent of executive and upper management jobs are held by women (here in the good old US of A, that number is a scant 22%). There are more salary-earning, adult women in China than there are people in the United States.

I could go on and on with the statistics of the growing wealth and spending power of women, highlighted by the fact that Porsche offers pink cars over there (a color not available in any other country), but that would get repetitive. The bottom line is that the decision-makers in Hollywood are not bothering to get any real evidence beyond what they tell each other in restaurants and on golf courses, and are going to bias themselves right out of jobs when women globally start flexing our economic muscle and Hollywood is left in the dust. We are starting to see it already, and it will only get worse without a serious attitude adjustment.

The other reason they claim that female films don’t get made is that they don’t make as much money. This is such a spurious statistic that it would be laughable if it weren’t wielded so harmfully. I wish everyone tracking rates of employment in Hollywood would please – PLEASE – stop using the information about how many of the 100 top-grossing films are directed by women. Yes, it is only 7%, but behind closed doors, that fact is turned against us, as if the movies earn less because they are made by women. If you want to honestly examine inequality in hiring and opportunity, start tracking employment of female writers and directors by budget.

How much a film grosses is in direct relation to how much is spent making and marketing it. Pitch Perfect 2, directed by Elizabeth Banks, is not in the 100 top-grossing films of all time, but it earned $287 million worldwide ON A $29 MILLION BUDGET, with a significantly smaller marketing campaign than most of it’s competitors.

In fact, here are the box office results the weekend that movie opened:boxoffice pitch perfect

Three of the top five films that weekend had female leads, two of the top five had female directors, but LOOK AT THE BUDGETS! Why is is that the highest budgets go to movies made by and about men? That is the main reason male-driven movies are so much more financially successful. Give women the money and opportunities to tell stories, on par with men, and everyone will reap far greater financial rewards for it. This is only hard to figure out for the men in charge who are dead-set against figuring it out because they want to simply keep hiring people who look like them to make movies about them that they’ll enjoy without having to leave the cocoon of their own viewpoints. For the survival of the industry, this has to change.

And when the movies by and about women do come out, in equal numbers and with equal budgets, hopefully the men who review them will have evolved enough to see a woman-child doing crass, gross-out comedy with her female co-star and find it funny.

If not, then it’s not the women who should be out of jobs.


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One thought on “The Inevitable Results of the “Male Gaze”

  • B James

    Should not the question be why no female critic gave a negative review of the movie? If you accept your hypothesis that there is a male bias given the only negative reviews came from men, that would imply if not for the bias, the movie would of had 29 of 29 positive reviews, scoring 100% on RT. Maybe my male bias is showing, but I doubt this movie would fit in such elite company. Maybe there was a female bias at work?