This post from young master Stross has started some difficult thinking.
He applies a simple set of rules promulgated by Alison Bechdel which can be used as an interesting indicative test of movies and gender sensibilities:
1) Are there more than two women characters?
2) Do the women talk to each other?
3) Do the women talk about anything other than men/babies, etc.
It is suprisingly hard to think of any movies that pass the test. now, some, like Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill or Deathproof that do pass the test contain a great deal of sexism - in the latter, the lingering voyueristic camera shots, etc. and even though there are non-male related Tarrantinean conversations, the bulk of the female discussion is still about men, one way or another.
Charlies' Angels movies, sort of pass, but, again, often the discussion is about Charlie (and his ever presence).
Stross also links to Women in refrigerators which looks at the lazy way comics writers turn female characters into victims of rape, torture and violence as distinct from that meted out to male heroes.
What I want to add into the mix is Vladimir Propp and his Morphology of the Folk Tale - or rather, the extrapolation, similar to M.M. Bakthin's Speech genres - which indicate that genres are derived from distinct social relations and expectations - that is, almost, there is an objective genre which propells the author forwards, and that genre is related to the social conditions of the production of the text (as a lot of correspondents noted, a lot of genre fiction is targetted at males, which is likely to depower the female representation).
this, of course, feeds back, as Joseph Campbell's hero's path is pretty much the template for Hollywood actions stories.
The usefulness of this as a line of thought, that once you're aware of it, it can be countered, and Stross intends to ensure his fiction passes the test from now on.