Iconic movie quotes lead me down a rabbit hole of gender inequality

After a very busy summer dealing with children who are thankfully almost back in school – seriously, when you work from home and these sticky, dirty, needy ruffians are either at home with you or you are ferrying them back and forth to camps, it’s not conducive to anything but the minimum work effort. BBS engagement suffers as a result. I do love them, but all hail school starting.

Anyway, I watched this tonight: http://www.afi.com/100years/quotes.aspx. It is a 2005 American Film Institute (AFI) compilation of iconic movie quotes over the past 100 years. Before I begin, I’d like to contextualize my comments with the following caveats:

  1. Yes, this video aired in 2005, so it doesn’t take into account the last 12 years. Unless we are all crazy optimists that ignore thousands of years of gender inequality, I think we can agree that the missing 12 years of film doesn’t mean all has been solved in the interim. Indeed, we do see a revolution of TV shows and films that increasingly develop female narratives beyond the Bechdel test (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test), but it’s 12 years people. Let’s not get caught in the weeds here.

  2. My analysis was not scientific. Feel free to watch the 10 or so minute video of the iconic quotes and arrive at your own numbers.I’m happy to admit a +/- of 5 or so on either end.

  3. I categorized the video as follows:
    a. women
    b. men
    c. subset of a: women whose quote was primarily in reaction to a man/romantic storyline/etc.
    d. subset of b: men whose quote was primarily in reaction to love. I want to quality here because I was being generous. For example, I categorized Bogart’s quote, “Here’s looking at you, kid” as being part of romantic love. When asked, Mr. Jilly said, “Well, partly.” I’m trying to be as expansive as I can for the men because there is no Bechdel test for men.

  4. If my math is off by a little here or there, let’s not castigate the whole point. I’m not presenting this as carved in stone.

To my analysis:

Of the films represented in the 10 or so minute video of iconic movie moments in the past 100 years:

  1. 77 of 123 were men
  2. 26 of the 123 were women
  3. Of the 77 from men, 8 were about love (as described above, I defined “love” liberally)
  4. Of the 26 from women, 16 were about getting/keeping/loving a man. (Down to 10 from women not about love.)
  5. Of the 26 from women not about love, 3 were from “Wizard of Oz.”
  6. That leaves us with 7 iconic quotes not from the “Wizard of Oz”, not dealing with love, etc. from women out of 123.

If we can agree that the dominant media paradigm for the past 100 years is film/radio/television, what does this tell us?

Of those most iconic moments that US Americans as a culture recognize as important, the narrative is overwhelmingly male. We can all point to Sigourney Weaver or Charlize Theron or Linda Hamilton or thankfully now Elizabeth Moss, but those are what we can remember because they are the minority.

This post isn’t about the specifics. It’s about the totality of what it means to have your cultural touchstones be male. We can pretend it’s not important that it was Leo hanging off the boat shouting “I’m king of the world” instead of Kate. We can pretend that we don’t still have Tina Fey defending that women are funny.

These movies, this entertainment, are fundamental to how our culture reflects itself. And after my completely amateur exploration of one video tells me: We’ve not come that far, baby.


To some extent I think it tells us that viewers are comfortable watching film and television that depicts life more or less as it is. That is, most of us as viewers generally prefer not to have our views challenged.

Of course i don’t mean that it would be not be good for women to be better represented in the media.

Also it might simply tell us that the compiler of the list is extremely biased. Perhaps his (or her?) idea of what is iconic is not in tune with the rest of the world.

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But that isn’t how life is at all, women have always been living their lives in just as ordinary or extraordinary ways as men.

What it tells us is that stories about men doing things and in which women play a love interest are still being made and funded primarily by the same small group of mostly men.

I noticed it the last time I watched a movie. Of the 5 or so previews 3 or 4 were stories about men, with a cast of male leads and one or two supporting women.

It’s odd and a little offensive for me to see female led movies about women referred to as abberant or “challenging”. Perhaps that isn’t what you meant.


This popped up in my news feed just today and it was so relevant I decided to post it:

"Of the scripts and dialogues reviewed, men had over 37,000 dialogues; women had just over 15,000. Women portrayed just over 2,000 characters; men portrayed almost 4900.

Of the nearly 1000 scripts studied had:

7x more male writers than female writers
Almost 12 x more male directors than writers
A little over 3 x more male producers than female producers

While casting directors were the only exception to this trend (there were 2 x as many female casting directors as male), the casting directors’ genders seemingly had no impact on characters’ genders.

Overall, female characters regardless of race, tended to be about 5 years younger than their male counterparts.

Writers’ Room Makes Impact:

The biggest difference came from the writers’ room. If female writers were in the writers’ room, female character representation on screen was on average 50 percent higher."


I think I expressed my self carelessly.

Of course women live lives with the full range of interest as men, but the reality is that society still views women who are visible and vocal as at best exceptions and more often as threats.

Life for most women in the world is still different than it is for men, less good by most measures, but it is the world that most people are familiar with and that familarity is a powerful force that maintains the status quo.

My use of the word challenging was meant to be in this context. I don’t see where aberrant comes in at all.

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Fair enough!

I used the word aberrant because it describes divergence from what is considered “normal”, or the status quo as you put it.

I prefer not to use the word normal for just that reason. Status quo is just what is, normal is what should be (at least that is what many seem to think).

Anyway, this topic seems to be in the air at the moment: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-4751812/Actresses-half-dialogue-actors.html.

Totally agree with you there, I picked that word when trying to clarify what I thought you were saying initially.
Yes! It’s encouraging.

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