I just read an interesting article from the New York Times entitled “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” by novelist Robert Lipsyte.
Strangely enough, the same “mostly true” cliché he cites (that girls will read books about boys but boys won’t read books with female main characters) exists in children’s television as well: girls will watch ‘boy shows’ but boys will not watch ‘girl shows’. But whereas in publishing this theory has led to fewer and fewer ‘boys’ books’, in television the result has been fewer and fewer girl characters.
Why? I think it’s because book publishers are wary about aiming product directly at a gender that doesn’t read so much, so as a result they hedge their bets. They add female characters to the boys books (as the author states) to hopefully entice the legions of girl readers.
In television-land – Hunter S. Thompson’s “long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs” ¹ – there is no such thing as a “reluctant boy tv-watcher”, so the impulse is instead to reduce the number of girls on all sides, because you can conceivably capture both genders as an audience for your show as long as you don’t scare off the boys with too many alpha females onscreen. So, more often than not, when you have an ensemble cast of 5… 3 will be boys. If there are 3 characters, 2 will be boys. Girls are to be kept in the pert and pretty minority.
But I digress. Interesting article, like I said.
¹ Sigh. I never get tired of using that quote! Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (New York: Summit Books, 1988), p. 43.