In December 2015, New York Magazine posted the following video on YouTube entitled Women Don’t Talk Much in “Star Wars”
In basic terms, it shows the amount of time that female characters other than Princess Leia speak dialogue in the original trilogy which comes out at a staggering 0.27% of the total running time of all three films.
You could argue that this is an artificially deflated figure as large portions of the films (think the space battles, travels across various planets) don’t have any dialogue at all and it would be nice to see a comparison of the amount of dialogue male characters other than the leads have – I have no doubt it would a figure much, much larger than 0.27% but it would be nice to see the data.
Male secondary characters aside, though, that is a ridiculously small amount of dialogue that women deliver when you remove Princess Leia from consideration.
As I write this in March 2016, I’ve just finished annotating the Eclipso: The Darkness Within mini-series from DC and something similar struck me as I went through it, page by page, panel by panel. I read it when it was originally published in 1992 and even re-read it a few years back but this was the first time that I’ve really examined it.
The short version is Eclipso – a minor villain from the 60’s – becomes a major threat to Earth’s heroes and is able to possess them, literally taking over their minds and bodies. He kidnaps a bunch of them and takes them to his base on the moon but is pursued by other heroes who fall into his trap. Just when everything seems lost, Superman and other heroes arrive to free their friends, defeat Eclipso and save the day.
The series had two bookend issues (#1 and #2) with a bunch of summer annuals between them, the story moving throughout the annuals giving the various heroes the opportunity to fight Eclipso and either succumb or resist. It’s in #2 that the kidnap and trip to the moon take place, followed by the inevitable heroic victory and as I went through that, listing the characters that appear, I began to notice something.
#2 has 53 characters appearing in its 56 pages, of which 34 are male and the remaining 19 are female which works out at 64% and 36% respectively. That’s roughly a 2:1 ratio that honestly didn’t surprise me – it’s my perception that there are more male heroes than female in DC (or perhaps comics in general) but I have to admit I don’t have numbers to back that up.
It’s at this point that I start to think I have too much time on my hands because I went through and counted up the amount of times the various characters had dialogue. Of the 53 characters in the issue, 44 had speaking parts: 31 male, 13 female; or 70% and 30% respectively which isn’t that far from the percentages of characters appearing. To give you an idea of how that corresponds, here’s a couple of pie charts – characters appearing on the left, characters speaking on the right:
Again, there’s not a massive difference there – just a 6% swing either way.
However, the number of times a character spoke doesn’t represent how much that character spoke. There’s only one way to find that out, and that’s to go through everyone of the 56 pages and count the number of words spoken by each character.
And yes, I did that.
Of the 44 characters who had speaking parts, male characters spoke 2,809 words in total, while female characters spoke 197. In percentage terms, that’s 93% and 7% respectively. Compare the pie charts above with this one:
Just seven percent! That is a tiny amount of dialogue from female characters who make up 36% of the cast.
And that’s just issue #2 – I didn’t bother doing any charts for #1 because in that issue, the only named female character is Mona Bennet and she has a mere 4% of the dialogue!
I could have stopped there as the figures showed what I came to suspect as I was annotating the issue – there’s really not a great deal of women talking. I continued, however, and looked at the amount spoken by the individual characters, ranking them high to low.
Eclipso gets 31% of the dialogue – hardly surprising as he’s the main character and his name’s in the title. Vril Dox, the leader of LEGION, comes second with 11% – he’s in charge of organising the assault on the moon so gets a lot of time barking orders. Bruce Gordon gets third place with 10% as he only shows up halfway through the issue. Superman, who accompanies Bruce, comes fourth with 6% and then it drops away for the remaining characters.
The highest placed female character is Phase, a member of LEGION and Dox’s second in command, who ranks fourteenth with 1.46% of the dialogue. The female character with the largest amount of dialogue doesn’t even make the top ten.
To illustrate this, here’s a final chart showing the amount of dialogue per page for the five characters mentioned above – the top four males and Phase:
I hope it’s easy enough to read – Eclipso gets dialogue throughout the issue; Vril Dox has a ton of speaking in the first half of the book but, after Superman and Bruce Gordon turn up, he gives way to them; and Phase . . . she gets a handful of lines in the first half and a quick one line at the end and that’s it.
But why is Phase the female character with the largest amount of dialogue? I think it’s simply because Vril Dox plays such a large part in the first half of the book – if he hadn’t been there, neither would she.
But what about other, more recognisable female characters who appear in the issue? Black Canary, Fire and Ice are there, along with Power Girl, Starfire and even Star Sapphire, and none of them have as much dialogue as Phase. Even Wonder Woman – easily the most recognisable female character from DC – is blown away by Phase. Wonder Woman has only 0.1% of the total spoken dialogue – just three words:
That’s it – those are the only words Wonder Woman speaks in the entire issue.
What do all these numbers and charts prove? If nothing else, they show that in 1992, female characters in a single issue published by DC were poorly represented in terms of dialogue. Have things changed? We can only find that out by applying the same methodology to current comics and comparing them and – honestly – I really, really don’t have the time to do that.
When I was annotating these issues, I didn’t set out to examine any gender disparity in terms of dialogue but, as I read them with a little more attention than normal, I couldn’t help but get a feel for it, and the numbers backed that feeling up.
Is this a big deal? I’m not sure – I found it interesting to perform and was dismayed by the figures, and hope it’s a thing of the past. However, some people don’t enjoy looking at things from the past with today’s viewpoints; just witness a couple of the comments on the Star Wars YouTube video linked above:
If I may be excused using an old meme . . .