Smashing Psychological Barriers

An interesting take on reality imitating fiction in an article by The Guardian on the role of women in movies citing work done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media where actress Geena Davis:

[…] sponsored the largest ever study on gender depictions in family-rated films and children’s television (“I take everything too far,” she admits). The research spanned a 20-year period. It found that for every female speaking character there were three males, while female characters made up just 17% of crowd scenes.


even in a fictional setting, created from our collective 21st-century imagination, we seem – subconsciously or otherwise – to believe a 17% female representation is the natural state of affairs.

“That ratio is everywhere,” Davis says. “US congress? 17% women. Fortune 500 boards are 17%. Law partners and tenured professors and military are 17% female. Cardiac surgeons are 17%. That’s the percentage of women in the Animation Guild. Journalists, print journalists, are 19% women. So why, across all these major sectors of society, does this percentage of women in leadership positions stall at about the same range?

“I mean, it’s freaky when you start examining it. For decades it’s been the same ratio – we’ve all grown up on that ratio. Could it be that women’s presence stalls at about the rate of female participation in the fiction that we watch? Could it be you get to that level and you feel done? That that looks normal?

“It’s just a completely unconscious image that we have in our heads that women only need to take up a certain amount of space and then we’ve done right by them.”

What if we changed the fiction? Would that create a new normal? This is Ms. Davis's plan.

In her hugely entertaining biography Bossypants, Tina Fey talks about the early days at Saturday Night Live and how a female colleague was passed over for a role when she first got there. She says:

People often ask me about the difference between male and female comedians. Do men and women find different things funny? I usually attempt an answer that is so diplomatic and boring that the person just will walk away.

Something like “There's a tremendous amount of overlap in what men and women think is funny. And I hate to generalize, but I would say at the far end of the spectrum, men may prefer visceral, absurd elements like sharks and robots, while women are more drawn to character-based jokes and verbal idiosyncrasies…” Have you walked away yet?

Here's the truth. There is an actual difference between male and female comedy writers, and I'm going to reveal it now. The men urinate in cups. And sometimes jars.

Tina Fey uses the same math people use to generalize from a sample of one or a few to good effect in the book.

The trick to smashing psychological barriers is to learn how what we think we know because we see one or a few instances of it narrows our views and reduces our options.


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