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No girls allowed: the dark ages of comedy

The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication in association with The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media…

By Amy Juschka , in Blogs Suffragette City: Gender and Pop Culture , on February 11, 2008

The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication in association with The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media recently released the results of a major study on women in film and, surprise, surprise: men outnumber women by nearly 3 (2.71) to 1 on the big screen.

I’ve taken a recent interest in the lack of strong female characters in so-called loser comedies (think Superbad, Knocked Up) and so, was hardly shocked by the results of this study. It’s as if every decade or so a new boys’ club in comedy is formed with a sign above the door that reads: no girls allowed!

Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill and Rainn Wilson are just a few of the young male actors belonging to this exclusive society and their leader is none other than the director/producer/screenwriter, Judd Apatow (40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad). Apatow is best-known for his lovable losers and lack of female leads. Although Apatow makes comedies, one would be hard pressed to find one of his female characters with a single funny line. The best lines, of course, go to the male characters.

Apatow’s female characters are either oversexed or good girls. They exist solely to corrupt the male lead (Elizabeth Banks‘ character in 40-Year-Old Virgin) or to save him (Katherine Heigl‘s character in Knocked Up). Did I mention that the women in film study also indicates that two types of female characters predominate in film: the hypersexual and the traditional? Well it’s true. It’s doubtful that Apatow’s constant output of loser comedies is skewing the results. Unfortunately, Apatow’s boys’ club is just a new generation. It’s the same old story with new faces…and a new repertoire of misogynist jokes.

Side bar: a friend of mine recently told me an anecdote about her boyfriend, who works in the film industry. After pitching his script, one of the female producers told him in passing that one of the great things about his script was its lack of a strong female lead, since male actors usually refuse to work with strong female characters. I think it’s time for a revolution.