The adverts for new film Horrible Bosses have been doing the
rounds here in the UK. Kevin Spacey and several other male faces
keep turning up, with Jennifer Aniston sometimes shoved in for good
measure. The only thing which surprises me about this is that Jen
has lost the blonde. How daring.
There seems to be a magic formula in adverts for films and
television shows which dictates, visually, that, if you've gotta
gal, she'd better have a couple of guys to guard her.
It's in the artwork for the final Harry Potter film, new comedy
flick Your Highness, X-Men First Class, Thor and the latest Pirates
of the Caribbean instalment. On TV, it's a trick used by New
Tricks, 30 Rock, Britain's Got Talent, 5th Gear… the list goes
The woman will almost certainly be younger than her male friends;
not necessarily young - just younger. She will, in
all probability, be blonde; she may wear scarlet, like Little Red
Riding Hood. Black, brown or grey is the likely colour of the
wolves which flank her.
She will generally be shown to be shorter than her male pals,
regardless of how tall the actors truly are; she is also more
likely to smile. Maybe she feels nervous because, after all, she
will almost certainly be sandwiched between them. If she's lucky,
she may be squashed in with another woman - but there will always
be a taller, older, darker man on either side.
Of course, the promo materials are only part of the story,
reflecting male-dominated content within. It's a problem which
performance artist, gender bender and feminist extraordinaire Diane
Torr gets very angry with: "I was following a programme about
famous dead people called Last Words, and they'd always have men
on. I wrote in and said, 'What is it, do women not die?' But it's
men running the show - do you think they even noticed there wasn't
a proportionate amount of women?"
Well, we notice. Search for #diveristyaudit on twitter and you'll
see a series of tweets from feminists, indignant at the lack of
female representation on our screens.
Last year, research into the 5 terrestrial channels and Sky1
revealed that men now take up 65% of all possible broadcast roles.
As Vanessa Thorpe wrote in the Guardian: "In light entertainment,
comedy and drama [women] make up just four in every 10
participants… Women make up only one-third of participants in
factual programming and even less in news, with only a 31% share of
the limelight. When women do feature in news programmes, 69% of the
time it's to discuss "softer" news topics, such as health, culture
In November last year Alom Shaha asked where all the female
boffins are during the current renaissance of science-based TV. The
BBC's commissioning editor for science and natural history, Kim
Shillinglaw, admitted the problem in a Guardian published response
- illustrated by an image of three male science presenters,
standing (tall) next to a lone woman. Haven't we seen that
It's been argued that Page 3 sends the message that women should
be young, pretty and naked, so what does this particular 3-1 trope
communicate? These ladies are usually clothed and often over 35.
The sandwich girls, as I like to call them, have a slightly
different message for the world - or rather their male surrounders
do. Look, the men boom, we'll let you in to our little club… so
long as there's enough of us to make sure you're always at a
physical disadvantage. In you come, they say, just don't threaten
us. Keep short, keep pretty and, more importantly, keep in the
If they decided to gang up on her, she could never escape, no
matter how strong she may be. She is outnumbered and
Of course, there are thousands of TV shows and films being
publicised every day which do not conform to this formula - just
take a look at the promo shots for Top Gear, Never Mind the
Buzzcocks and The Inbetweeners: not to mention a whole host of
others which only feature men and boys. See, you don't really need
a young blonde to have a successful show!
Comedies are more likely to experiment with positioning in
promotional imagery. Sex and the City was extraordinary when it
arrived for this very reason, and you can see its aesthetic
emulated in publicity for shows like Desperate Housewives and new
film Bridesmaids. Quirky comedy-dramas such as My Name is Earl and
Shameless don't always make women the sandwich filling - but nor do
they ever position their female stars as the slices of bread.
The special 3-1 formula keeps reappearing - in a way which other
possible breakdowns of gender, age and appearance simply don't. I
have never, to my knowledge, seen an advert for a TV show which
features three, dark haired older women surrounding a fair-hared,
younger man. Nor have I seen publicity involving two old black
women crowding a red haired gay and grey man. It's simply not
something which keeps popping up. And never are there transgender
or disabled people; seldom are they from an ethnic minority.
So, whether you find the sandwich sexy or sexist, just know it's
on the menu and, if you can be bothered, write in about it. As
Diane puts it: "Just imagine if there were a million women writing
to that stupid Last Words programme, asking how come you don't
cover women who've died?"
Get angry ladies. Put the sandwich down, and pick up a pen.