Just posted at Quora in response to this question:
Is it true that Hollywood overwhelmingly goes with male protagonists, because male consumers (especially boys) prefer male protagonists, while females could go either way. What’s the deeper story behind this?
I think this is a failure of imagination and courage for media makers and audiences.
Both men and women have strong preferences for male characters. Since our culture typically pictures and as a result writes men as being more dynamic, more active, and more compelling, we can’t altogether blame audiences for their preferences.
Second, we underestimate resistance to women. Check out a documentary like Miss Representation or our own hearts. Re-experience The Vagina Monologues.
Working writers have to train themselves and newbies to ask more powerful questions about gender. Why can’t the protagonist be a woman? Why do a female character’s interests have to be stereotypical? What does it mean to represent a world without women unless it’s a question of historical accuracy?
We need to seriously consider the ethical implications of the shortage of female representation (cf., Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media).
I think we must absolutely reject what I call the reduction principle: trying to cut other women down to size. Examples? Asking Condoleeza Rice about her shoe habit instead of engaging her about why she helped to rewrite geopolitics in the way she did. Vigorously upholding the double standard by calling other women – particularly women whose politics or lifestyles we disagree with – hos, sluts and the like. That includes women like Nene and the Kardashians.