We know threes are very important in Western culture, partly because of some two thousand year old bonding session between that old dude with a beard, the hippy dude and some vapour. Apparently three is the dudely number in fiction. I’ve been noticing another number recently, prowling through the hundreds of unread books at my house.
Women are presented as a third of the militia, a third of the past rulers, a third of the paid workforce, a third of a certain wizarding trio. This ratio is common in the books that do not ignore women totally. In advertising it is common for one woman to be presented in a group of three. It is part of women’s role to be unobtrusive and accommodating, so sometimes we do close our eyes in relief when when an author or advertising company pays any attention to us at all. Yet these images and stories condition us to expect an under representation of women so it comes to no great shock when we look at a Senate chamber, boardroom or sportsfield and see a bunch of men.
Now that I think about it, the rule of thirds is a misnomer. It isn’t the rule of thirds but rather the rule of a-significant-number-lower-than-fifty-percent. Two fifths is another common proportion as evidenced by the Animorphs, Torchwood and Power Rangers. Women are given a pink and yellow suit in a gesture of equality but they can’t make up three fifths of a fighting unit.
Yes, a third is better than Lord of the Rings style representation, but it isn’t equality.