Of Wokeness And Gender Balance
Or what we can learn from screentime and speaking time about the balance between men and women in the first season of the Wheel of Time.
This article contains spoilers for the first season of the Wheel of Time TV Show.
Back in early February, Twitter user @MatsPips shared an interesting analysis of IMDb reviews for the Wheel of Time TV show. After going through the 886 1-star reviews that had a text attached, Pips found out that 29% of them were mentioning racial diversity, feminism, or LGBTQ+ representation in a negative way. Unrealistic diversity, lack of men, and woke feminism were among those critics.
As you know, I have spent quite some time in the past few months doing some stats about character screentime in the Wheel of Time TV show. What you may not know is that I’ve also been looking into speaking time, slowly compiling how often characters are talking, for how long, about what, and to who. While I still have plenty to discover in the data I’ve collected, I have been very interested in one specific topic that I’d like to bring out today, and that is gender balance.
I am far from the first person to be interested in this. A few years ago was published a statistical analysis of the Wheel of Time books [note: the article shared contains severe spoilers for the whole series, do not read it if you haven’t finished A Memory of Light], which included a gender distribution of point of views and word counts. Overall, it showed a certain balance between men and women in most of the books, The Eye of the World being a big exception among them all.
So, how does The Wheel of Time on Prime hold up to this in terms of screentime and speaking time? Was there indeed a clear imbalance between men and women in the TV show?
The first season of WoT contained 55 named characters, which includes 24 women and 31 men. Not all of those characters had an opportunity to talk, leaving us with 51 named and speaking characters (23 women and 28 men).
The slight gender imbalance towards men stays when considering “in-scene” screentime, which is the screentime where a character is physically present and conscious. However, the difference is reduced by a few percent. As a result, named women had on average 2m48s more screentime than named men (25m41s compared to 22m53s). Part of it (but not all of it) is due to Mat’s absence after Ep6: 30m more screentime for Mat this season would have increased the average screentime for named men to 23m51s.
Of course, not every character had that much screentime. In fact, a majority of our named characters had less than 10m of in-scene screentime: only 13 men and 11 women had more than that. Overall, the larger the screentime, the less a difference between men and women can be observed. Four characters had more than 2h of screentime: Rand, Moiraine, Egwene, and Lan.
Considering speaking time turned out to be much more complex to me than looking at screentime. It is easy to know at which second a character enters or leaves a scene, and a second often weighs little compared to the length of the scene itself. But characters rarely speak more than a few seconds without a break, and the accumulation of a second of imprecision per intervention can quickly get overwhelming over the length of a discussion. Since I was watching the episodes on Prime Video, I also could not get a precision better than a second, and thus a single word answer could be worth as much in time as the four words question that preceded it.
As a result, I had to go through the episodes a few times, to ensure my note-taking would be consistent all along. For example, one or two seconds of silence used to be counted as speaking time if it was in between two sentences of a single character, and then I decided not to count those silence, to more accurately note when characters were indeed speaking. In the end, I decided to also look at the total number of words spoken by each character. By combining the two, I could then get the average number of words spoken per second, per character, and per episode, which helped me find a few mistakes or correct some differences between episodes.
Overall, most characters spoke between 2.25 and 3.25 words per second, with an average of 2.80 words per second for all of our characters. For comparison, the average rate for English speakers in the US is about 150 words per minute (2.50 words per second). Note that this is a rate when considering a talk or a conversation as a whole, which probably means that silences are not removed. While the speaking time I computed may be slightly underestimated, the difference is probably smaller than 10% on average.
We do have a few outliers among our characters, but most of them are characters that only spoke a few seconds or less than a few dozens of words. When only considering characters who spoke more than a minute, the distribution of the average number of words spoken per second is much tighter.
Back to our gender distribution, we can then find that women had in fact more speaking time and spoken words than men, a reversal from the gender distribution of the number of named and speaking characters. Women spoke 1 415 more words than men, for about 5m18s more. This gives an average of 2m38s of speaking time and 433 words per man, compared to 3m26s of speaking time and 588 words per woman.
Side note: N/A corresponds to all the unnamed speaking characters (men and women) and to Machin Shin. There is no gender in Machin Shin.
However, the imbalance is entirely due to Moiraine. She was the mentor of the group, and the main character through which the viewer and the folks from the Two Rivers discovered the world. By herself, she got 27m48s of speaking time (17.9% of the total speaking time) and 4 963 words (19.0% of the total word count). Funnily, her largest speaking time and word count was for Ep2, then she got tired of carrying the show so she passed out for a quarter of Ep2 and all of Ep3. I respect that.
Almost half of our named and speaking characters had less than a minute of speaking time. Among the 10 characters than had more than 5min of speaking time, half were men and half were women. Only three characters had more than 10m of speaking time: Moiraine, Rand, and Egwene.
Similarly, almost half of our named and speaking characters had less than 200 words spoken. Only two characters had more than 2 000 words: Moiraine and Rand. Seven characters had more than 1 000 words, but they are not our usual main seven characters: Perrin was short of reaching the thousand, stopping at 963 words, while Siuan slightly passed that threshold with 1 002 words.
We can also look at the gender distribution per episode. Ep1 was the only episode almost fully balanced in terms of screentime, while Ep6 was the only episode where women had more screentime than men. And yes, women had a lot more screentime than men in this episode, but the first season would have probably felt a lot less balanced in terms of screentime without Ep6.