Dear men of the Internet: Your low opinions of "Sex and the City" are not needed, wanted, or valuable

A new data study shows TV shows aimed at women have skewed ratings because guys can't help but dump on them

Published May 19, 2016 4:27PM (EDT)

"Sex and the City"
"Sex and the City"

By now, a lot of people have become sensitive to the need for female journalists and critics. The United States may soon elect its first woman president. Equal pay for men and women is gradually becoming a consensus.

But when it comes to the ability to appreciate shows aimed at another gender men are performing awfully poorly. That’s the conclusion of a well-argued data-dive story on TheFiveThirtyEight: Women seem to like shows aimed at men pretty well, but men are dissing shows aimed at women.

The headline – “Men Are Sabotaging The Online Reviews Of TV Shows Aimed At Women” – may be a little much: This isn’t necessarily sabotage, but rather a general stubbornness and inflexibility. But either way, the story doesn’t say good things about men, especially those who rate television shows on IMDb.

Walt Hickey’s analysis compares shows with ratings dominated by men – “Wheeler Dealers,” “Board James,” “SportsCenter” – with those rated primarily by women – “Carmilla,” “When Calls the Heart,” “The Carrie Diaries.” He found that men tend to dominate ratings generally, and that they also downgrade shows with female followings.

In the case of “Sex and the City,” for example, this winner of multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild awards, the divergence between the genders was quite strong: Women gave the show, on average, an 8.1 rating. Men, though, gave it, on average a 5.8 – well below the 7.3 average for shows with 1,000 or more ratings.

The story is dense with numbers, but here’s the conclusion:

When you rely on the wisdom of the crowd on the internet, you risk relying on the opinion of mostly men. Seventy percent of IMDb TV show raters are men, according to my analysis, and that results in shows with predominantly female audiences getting screwed.

The fact that men like sports shows, science fiction, and series based on video games, with women leaning toward programs about relationships and romance – which the data bears out -- is neither shocking nor disturbing. What’s troubling is that men seem to be stomping on programming not aimed at them.

This is the way New York Times critic James Poniewozik broke it down:

Nate Silver’s site has been criticized recently for the low odds it gave Donald Trump early in the race, something it has in common with media outlets of all kinds. But it’s bounced back in a serious way with this piece, which is drawing a lot of attention.

So this piece surely tells us something about gender and culture, at least on the web. (If you are a man, like me, puzzled by the rage aimed at what could be a pretty funny new “Ghostbusters,” for instance, Hickey’s story may help explain part of what’s going on.)

How much does this really matter? Do IMDb ratings really do anything? That’s hard to say; I really don’t know.

What we can conclude is that this is another case – as with Amazon’s ratings of books, which can be very easily jacked by friends or enemies – where the supposed populist metric of crowd-sourcing looks deeply flawed. Rather than look at ratings that apparently demonstrate a bullying kind of chauvinism, I’d so much rather read a smart television critic. Whether it’s a woman like the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum or Salon’s Sonia Saraiya, or a man like New York magazine's Matt Zoller Seitz or Australian critic Clive James, I’ll take an intelligent individual over the wisdom of the crowd any day of the week.

By Scott Timberg

Scott Timberg is a former staff writer for Salon, focusing on culture. A longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, he runs the blog Culture Crash. He's the author of the book, "Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class."

MORE FROM Scott Timberg

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Gender Media Criticism Sex And The City Television