We know women are underrepresented among the country's richest people. But it turns out that fictional women are paupers compared to their male counterparts as well. How come make-believe ladies aren't raking in bank?
Forbes's Fictional 15, a list of the "wealthiest fictional characters" ranked "based on an analysis of the fictional character's source material, and where possible, valued against known real-world commodity and share price movements," includes just one woman — Jo Bennett of The Office. In a conversation on the subject, Forbes writer Michael Noer points out that this isn't unusual: "There have never been more than two women on the list in a single year." As an explanation for this disparity, Abigail Resman notes that rich women are relatively new in the history of the world, and of fiction: "The concept of a self-made woman of means is brand-new, relative to the history of fiction. If money means power, the only wealthy women permissible in generations — and storybooks — past would have been either the wives, daughters or widows of wealthy men or royals." And of course, it's not such a surprise that real-world economic inequalities also show up in fiction. But Resman hints that there may be more to it than that. She asks, "Is Hollywood really ready for the tale of the beautiful, wealthy woman who sweeps the frail, impoverished young man off his feet and marries him?"
Maybe not. If women who outearn men still send the news media into a tizzy, it'll be a long time before famously risk-averse Hollywood execs start filling their films with deep-pocketed women — odds are, we'll keep seeing penniless ladies with inexplicably huge apartments for a long time to come. Then again, the written word is often trumpeted as an agent of social change — maybe it's time fiction writers took up the gauntlet of writing about women with money. I'd actually like to see chick-lit authors rise to this challenge. This much-maligned genre can actually deal quite effectively with certain social realities — maybe it's time for some of those pink-covered books to star wealthy women who have more dough than their husbands (or their wives, but maybe that's too much to ask) and who deal with the various stereotypes attendant on their status as lady-moguls. Closing the fictional wealth gap might help people become more comfortable with women as breadwinners, bosses, and decision-makers — which would be good for ladies in the real world too.