In these supposedly progressive times, gender equality is one of those touchy issues relegated to the last paragraph of a trend piece nobody reads. When Katherine Heigl suggested to Vanity Fair that Judd Apatow's movies were sexist, the assertion came across like an after-the-fact shrug of acceptance. Ever the galvanizing provocateur, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis confronts the issue head-on with a thorough analysis of the gender bias in this year's summer blockbusters.

With "Iron Man, Batman, Big Angry Green Man" and other massive expressions of virility invading the box office, female roles appear to be relegated to the back of the multiplex. Dargis touches on the rumors that Warner Bros head Jeff Robinov believes no woman has been able to sell a movie since Julia Roberts (a point that Natalie Portman might contest, but not Paris Hilton) before sizing up numerous upcoming studio releases, with particular attention paid to Anna Faris, "who could be the next Judy Holliday but without the right material will, alas, probably end up the next Brittany Murphy." It's the kind of pronouncement that hits you in gut.

Faris, it's worth noting, landed one of the least sexualized female roles in a potentially mainstream comedy as the goofy stoner in Gregg Araki's Smiley Face. (Sadly, the film barely found a theatrical release before it got dumped on DVD.) While her performance as a rejected Playboy mansion inhabitant in The House Bunny looks like a confirmation of Dargis' dour thesis, at least it allows a woman to step into the limelight of the big screen, just as Baby Mama has done to great success. For now, however, Dargis remains unconvinced. "In 2008, when a white woman and a black man are running for president and attracting unprecedented numbers of voters partly because they are giving a face to the wildly under-represented, you might think that Hollywood would get a clue," she writes, concluding, "Nah."

What do you think? Are female roles marginalized by Hollywood studios?