The 1/4 Rule

I find the 1/4 rule facinating.

According to my social psychology Ph.D. candidate roommate, people believe that women make up 1/2 of any group when only about 1/4 of the group is populated by women. My roomie and I tested this theory on various movies and television shows. The “token” female anchor or female character generally shows up in groups of four on shows that purport to be paying attention to that sort of thing (we found that those shows that *we* considered to hold an equal ratio of male/female actually abided by the 1/4 rule as well). The one show that seemed to us to feel full of women (“Buffy” of course) was actually about 1.6:1 for main characters and actually male-dominated when baddies were included in the mix (not counting season 7, unless all the ubervamps are male). I think the ratio of main characters likely fluctuated between 1:1 and 1.6:1 throughout the run of the show as characters died off, ran away, or were replaced.

Main title characters, through show’s entire run:

Buffy Summers————Rupert Giles

Willow Rosenberg———Xander Harris

Cordelia Chase———–Spike


Dawn Summers————-Daniel ‘Oz’ Osborne

Tara Maclay————–Riley Finn

Joyce Summers

When women make up 1/3 of any given group, men (and women) generally believe that there are “a lot” of women in the room, and believe women outnumber men (as soon as I find this study, or a mention of it, I’ll post it here…). This gels with the African National Congress’s law reserving 1/3 of its parliment seats for women — women campaigned for 1/2 of the seats (women make up over half the population, after all — shouldn’t women have representatives filling just over half the seats?). Eventually, a comprise of 1/3 was reached. Look at any government body in the world, and I think you’ll find that 1/3 of said body being populated by women “seems like a lot.” Because, well, what are we comparing it to? In the US Senate, women hold a miserable 14% of the seats. And let’s not even try and break that down into women of color — it’ll get more depressing.

However, the real reason I was reminded of this factoid was because a Clarion compatriot of mine forwarded me this picture. And I then discovered the list of final nominees for the Campbell award:

2004 Finalists

Max Barry, Jennifer Government

Philip Baruth, The X President

Greg Bear, Darwin’s Children

Greg Brotherton, Star Dragon

Michael Flynn, The Wreck of the River of Stars

Kay Kenyon, The Braided World

James Lovegrove, Untied Kingdom

Jack McDevitt, Omega

Syne Mitchell, The Changeling Plague

Linda Nagata, Memory

Robert Reed, Sister Alice

Justina Robson, Natural History

Sheri S. Tepper, The Companions

Amy Thomson, Storyteller

John Varley, Red Thunder

Going purely by the “gendering” of each name, that looks like about 15 nominees, 6 of them women, which sounds really good (yet… still about 1/3), until you look at 2003 (1/5 of nominees are women), and the actual winners — 1 winner, two runners-up – Justina Robson was the only woman to place. That’s about 1/3

Looks about equal to me…

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