Anyone who has been to a G, PG, or PG-13 (and of course R rated films but they are not included in this study) knows that when they look up on the screen there are many more male characters than female characters with speaking roles. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has been tracking that representation and found that since 1990 that amount of female characters in these films has gone from 28.7% to 29.3%. That’s not even one percentage point of improvement over almost 20 years.
And the crazy thing is that all the people in the industry (who spoke with the researchers) know that this sexism is rampant and they give reasons why.
Here are the reasons:
1- Positive Male Market Forces: This is by far the biggest reason with almost half the respondents citing this answer. You ask, what does positive male market force mean? To me it means that it is better to be a guy in the movies, That guys are perceived as more positive and powerful and are the desired consumer.
This slays me. It is so counter to all the evidence on consumer purchasing for the rest of the world. I just don’t know how it is possible for one industry to have completely different attitude about female and the male consumers, but it does.
2- Male Dominated Industry: Over a third of the respondents said that the reason we see so few women on screen is that the decisions are all made by men. Duh.
3 and 4 – Male Target Audience and Males Resist Females’ Stories: Twenty percent believe that the problem is that movies are made for guys and almost the same amount believe that a guy won’t go see stories about a girl. (Now remember these are adults saying why they perceive family friendly movies are not gender equal). They still believe this even with the current MPAA statistics that show that men and women each buy fifty percent of the tickets, that men and boys go to the movies more than women and girls.
The women in the survey believed more strongly than the men by a wide margin — 30 percent to 8 percent — that stories about girls repel boys. This means that women are so much more sensitized and aware of how hard it is to put out a movie with a female lead, and men are completely oblivious and live in a bubble and don’t think about gender issues at all.
5 – Negative Female Market Forces: While almost half the people believe that being a guy is better for the market, 15% believe that being a girl is worse. So if you combine the hatred for all things girls and the love for all things guys you get a whopping 65%.
6- Last, but not least – Cultural Influence: This, to me, is a cop out because we know the culture supports and enhances guys over girls.
Some good news.
• Films that employ women have better images of women on screen.
Films with one or more females in the position of director (female director present=35.1% vs. female director absent=28.8%) or writer (female writer present=36.4% vs. female writer absent=26.0%) had significantly more female speaking characters on screen than did those films with only male direction or male writing.
• People want gender equity and believe gender equity is a good thing. Of course people believe gender equity is a good thing, but it takes work to have gender equity and I wish I could believe that people were interested in doing the work.
• 95 percent of those surveyed believe that gender equity is important and one reason cited is because it reflects reality; and also half the people believe that achieving it would not be difficult I’ll believe that when I see it). Yet, half say that everything hinges on whether it fits the story, which again is a total cop out based on all the research cited above.
It is great to have this research — and kudos to Stacy Smith and her team at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications for doing the work — and great that there is someone out there holding people’s feet to the fire. They will be looking at this data again in five years and maybe that will help move the dial a bit. But nothing has changed over the last 20 years so it’s really hard to be an optimist on this. It’s all about money for these people. If they believe they are leaving cash at the door they will change, if they don’t, they won’t.
This is just another great example of why we need to keep focused on feminist issues across the board including in the entertainment business.