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Sorry, Ladies: Study on Women in Film and Television Confirms The Worst

Sorry, Ladies: Study on Women in Film and Television Confirms The Worst

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film has released its report on 2014, titled "It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World," and the news isn’t good.

The study examines on-screen representations of female characters in the top 100 grossing films every year. In addition to revealing some pretty dismal numbers when it comes to women in film and television, such as chronic underrepresentation, the prevalence of gender stereotypes and behind-the-scenes opportunities, the study also reported on the lack of ethnic diversity among the same media.

Dr. Martha Lauzen, Executive Director for the Center of the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, wrote the report. 

"The chronic under-representation of girls and women reveals a kind of arrested development in the mainstream film industry," Lauzen said in a statement. "Women are not a niche audience and they are no more ‘risky’ as filmmakers than men.  It is unfortunate that these beliefs continue to limit the industry’s relevance in today’s marketplace."

Here are the findings revealed in today’s release:

Findings in Demographics/Characteristics

-Only 12% of all clearly identifiable protagonists were female in 2014. This represents a decrease of 3 percentage points from 2013 and a decrease of 4 percentage points from 2002. In 2014, 75% of protagonists were male, and 13% were male/female ensembles. For the purposes of this study, protagonists are the characters from whose perspective the story is told.

-Females comprised 29% of major characters. This represents no change from 2013, but is an increase of two percentage points from 2002. For the purposes of this study, major characters tend to appear in more than one scene and are instrumental to the action of the story.

-Females accounted for 30% of all speaking characters (includes major and minor characters) in 2014, even with the figure from 2013, but up 2 percentage points from 2002.

-Female characters remain younger than their male counterparts. The majority of female characters were in their 20s (23%) and 30s (30%). The majority of male characters were in their 30s (27%) and 40s (28%).

-Males 40 and over accounted for 53% of all male characters. Females 40 and over comprised 30% of all female characters.

-Whereas the percentage of female characters declined dramatically from their 30s to their 40s (30% to 17%), the percentage of male characters increased slightly, from 27% in their 30s to 28% in their 40s.

-The percentage of male characters in their 50s (18%) is twice that of female characters in their 50s (9%).

-74% of all female characters were White, 11% were Black, 4% were Latina, 4% were Asian, 3% were other worldly, and 4% were other. Moviegoers were almost as likely to see an other-worldly female as they were to see a Latina or Asian female character.

-11% of all female characters were Black in 2014, down 3 percentage points from 2013 and down 4 percentage points from 2002.

-4% of all female characters were Latina in 2014, down 1 percentage point from 2013, and even with the figure from 2002.  

-4% of all female characters were Asian in 2014, up 1 percentage point from 2013 and 2002.

-Male characters were more likely than female characters to have an unknown marital status. 59% of male characters but 46% of female characters had an unknown marital status.  

-A higher proportion of male than female characters had an identifiable occupational status. 85% of male characters but only 75% of female characters had an identifiable job/occupation. A substantially larger portion of male than female characters were seen in their work setting actually working.

-Male characters were more likely than females to be identified only by a work-related role, such as doctor or business executive (61% of males vs. 34% of females).  In contrast, female characters were more likely than males to be identified only by a personal life-related role such as wife or mother (58% of females vs. 31% of males).  Male and female characters were equally likely to be identified in dual work-related and personal life-related roles (8% of females and males).

Findings in Goals and Leadership

-Overall, 85% of speaking characters had an identifiable goal. Female characters were more likely than males to have pro-social goals. 89% of female characters but 77% of males had pro-social goals such as supporting or helping other characters. Male characters were more likely than females to have anti-social goals such as criminal behavior or engaging in physical altercations. 23% of male characters but only 11% of females had anti-social goals.

-Overall, 13% of characters were leaders. For the purposes of this study, leaders were those individuals occupying a formal leadership position in an organization, government or group and whose instructions and/or behaviors were followed by two or more other characters. Of those characters, a larger proportion of male characters (16%) than female characters (5%) were portrayed as leaders.

-Broken down by type of leader, males comprised 96% of criminal leaders, 89% of business leaders, 89% of military and government agency leaders, 82% of political leaders, and 81% of scientific/intellectual leaders.

Findings/Behind-the-Scenes Employment and On-Screen Representation

-In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 37% of all speaking characters.  In films with exclusively male directors and writers, females accounted for 28% of all speaking characters.

-In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 33% of major characters. In films with exclusively male directors and writers, females accounted for 28% of major characters.

-In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 39% of protagonists, males 35% of protagonists, and male/female ensembles 26% of protagonists. In films with exclusively male directors and writers, females accounted for 4% of protagonists, males 87% of protagonists, and male/female ensembles 9% of protagonists.

READ MORE: 7 Producing Tips From Academy Award-winning Producer Cathy Schulman

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The sample size is small and narrow.


What about female dominance in TV? And how the creative executives are predominantly female. Could this explain why most TV today appeals to a female audience and less so male?


Let’s not jump to conclusions until we see all of the stats, for instance, if one out of five people behind the scenes are women, what was the ratio of women who applied for those jobs? If one out of five applicants were women than I would say that there is no sexism going on, as compared to a ratio that was five to five, in which there would definitely be sexism.


The problem lies in the status quo of behind-the-scenes employment. Hollywood is a boys club. That is a fact. The remedy will occur when more female voices are heard from the creative origin. I am all for this. Personally, I am a female working in film, and it is far from unusual to be on sets where it’s me and the make up artist, possibly a female actress.


VETLE, how can you say that you favor equality between all (you can saw both, I don’t believe there’s anymore gender than male and female. Sexual identity is another thing) genders… and then in the end write: "but I find it important not to force equality where it is not natural/needed." Not natural?? Did nature create the human being and said "you, you with the penis. You’re in charge!" Please. And the needed part is just the root of the problem. Why is it not needed? Do you feel that film is a male only industry? We can’t we, women, try to enter a industry that is being controlled almost exclusively by man? Isn’t it in our rights?

Cherryl Walker

The truth is that women are tougher fighters then men will ever be, ever. That scares the daylights out of the men, who cringe at the thought of a woman out-shooting them. Just put in a school-teacher-looking woman (40s or 50s), even one who is "granny aged" (60s to 80s). She will win the war.


Wait a minute… I am an actor, so I have quite first hand experience. Acting courses include a vast majority of women, whereas the actual projects (movie, theatre, advertisement, can’t speak for musical though) use a significant majority of men. So it is not only that women are in fact MORE interested in filmmaking or acting in general than men, they get LESS chances on top of that. Because I am for equality, I have to make this quite clear, the "its the women’s fault"-pattern does not work here at all.

I think the movie industry largely works in clear schemata and old fashioned stereotypes. There are exceptions of course as always, but this might be a reason why women are underrepresented.


vetle is right. the interest must meet the demand but women have a tendency to not speak out thier desires. they need to change that. get in conversations with these directors and others in the film industry. play with different concepts. im not saying you have to do anything outside of your comfort zone. write a script or just play around with ideas an possible suggestions for revised versions of different movies. best example of this is the new ghost busters movie. most men and women dont care that the cast is all women. they care about the vibe of the humor presented. tough shoes to fill when the original had 4 comedy legends. very tough shoes to fill for sure. to do it strictly to push boundaries is the wrong reason. you have to do these things because you have extreme passion for the subject. dont lose sight of that when your out looking for ways to broaden opportunities for women. men should do the same. as more women get flexible in roles then men as actors should naturally be fine wiht doing different variations of roles as well.


Here is a list of films where the main character is a woman : h t t p s : / /


Vetle you make no sense.

"if the problem lays in women not actually being able to get jobs in films" – duh because there aren’t many roles available or written for women or may not be roles that tell the stories that they want to share. Not to mention directors, producers of these top grossing films are men also ( not saying that these men are to blame or are culprits)

"or women dont have any interest in working in films" 92% of actors are out of work every year, if you are an actor, especially a female, where there are less opportunities anyways, how could you not have an interest in films.

You only have to google to find that these top grossing films, majority are directed and written by men. It’s a men dominated industry however this does mean that we should blame men for this, no no no, this is the way that it has become, but it’s up to men and women to change this.

And David Ferry, this article is not a whine but merely opening up a truthful dialogue. If anyone is to look at an article like this and thinks this is bollocks, you really should question if you are a feminist and if you really do agree that men and women should be treated as equals.

I would be interested to know what you are doing about it David.


There’s more to this story than just the storyline in front of the camera that the audience sees… how about looking at both above and below the line numbers? Last I’d seen the numbers for below the line, it’s even worse, and it’s not for lack of trying… Look at the film/video prod school grad rates. Oh and btw, isn’t it interesting whenever women or gender issues come out, so do the trolls? When we talk about it, we are at least doing something other than nothing.


It is disappointing but not surprising at all. Its good to see someone looking at the numbers though, it makes things clearer – I’d hope these stats would be an improvement over the last 30 years. The traditional role of women in child rearing/home-making is still a big part of our society and affects our attitudes, its only been a few generations since women entered roles outside the homes in a sustained way (starting around WWII I guess) and society is still changing, it doesn’t happen quickly. We still have deep expectations for each sex – an emphasis on women’s youth/body for child bearing, an emphasis on men’s jobs as a provider. I see these expectations in both men and women, we both absorb them and expect them – not just men. Women get badly judged for their looks, but guys also get judged. There are definitely fewer portrayals of women in positions of power, as senior mentors, so few older women portrayed. I am sure this will change over coming generations as women occupy such roles in increasing numbers – I wish it would happen faster! I have had some great colleagues and mentors who were women and look forward to seeing this expressed on the screen sometime before my retirement!

Kurt Gonzalez

Just another unenlightened chronic-complainer that uses facts like a bludgeon without fully or even partially understanding their meaning.


Women write about women, and men write about men.Learn how the world works before posting misleading sob-fests.


Folks should take a look at Michelle Goldberg’s 2002 Salon article, "Where are all the female directors?" which does a good job of examining the forces that have kept women out of the director’s chair.
Goldberg notes that it’s a combination of gender socialization (which I would imagine is less pronounced than it was a decade ago), the old-boys-club network, the burden of the second shift, and structural/institutional sexism.

It’s my understanding that film schools graduate about the same number of men and women who plan on being directors, which suggests that the actual disparity–90% men vs. about 10% women in Hollywood–is not based on preference nor talent alone–institutional factors are at work here.


As a female film student, I can tell you that college programs are dominated by males. The students are primarily pushy Spielberg-wannabes who are encouraged to dominate class discussions by the male teachers who never made it in Hollywood. If I want to get an A on a project, I just add more sex and cars. Getting ahead in class means not sharing my voice. I hope that changes when I’m in the industry, but for now I just do what I have to do to pass class.


You forgot to mention what the stats are when there is exclusively female writer and director… There’s definitely a lot of work to be done to make things front and back of camera more equitable. But manipulating stats doesn’t help the cause. Of course films where it’s all male directors/ writers are gonna skew male. That’s just human nature. So please show us what the nature of women is when they are in both positions as well.

The problem isn’t what men write and direct. Which you are implying. The problem is – we need more women getting the shot to write and direct so things will balance.

mandy williams

Vetle that is the silliest thing ever! "you should first find out if the problem lays in women actually not being able to get jobs in films, or if the women just don’t have any interest in working with films" of course women have the interest!!!!!!!!! This is why you hear the women who are in it like Viola, Angela Katherine Biggelow ect…all say the playing field is not level! What?? Equality is needed!! You must be white and male! or just not from earth! Little girls grow up to be women who want to become actors, directors and everything else..get a clue Vetle!


Interestingly enough female directors did find it in themselves to also portray male characters almost to an equal number as women, so Vetle’s argument here seems to be a bit void. Furthermore I highly doubt that there is some inherent quality in 50% of the population that makes them less interested in being involved in the film industry. Well, apart from knowing that just being a representative of their particular 50% means they will be sure to face prejudices and discrimination in their chosen professional sphere. And of course if it actually was true that it is so hard to relate to a character of the opposite gender we have an equality problem in our hands anyways, since selection of films female viewers can in any way relate to 29% of the whole film industry.


VETLE: It’s not "natural" that the film industry is so unequal, and it absolutely is needed. The film industry is one of the most powerful communication tools in the world it needs to offer equal and positive representations for all. If 50% of your population is female but they only account for 12% of your female protagonists in film, something is wrong with your industry.


I completely agree with the idea of not succumbing to "forced" equality or simply obtaining a opportunity to appease the masses. I still believe in hard, diligent work, combined with natural talent and a passion for the craft (and some luck) will be enough to have your name known and work sought after. If anything, this should be used as a rally call for us aspiring female filmmakers.

David Wisehart

Most people trying to break into Hollywood as screenwriters are men. Among the applicants for the 2013 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, only 28.9% were women. That’s not men stopping women. It’s women stopping themselves. Clearly, women can write every bit as well as men. They dominate book publishing, both as writers and editors. The romance novel industry is enormous, and profitable, and it’s almost all women. But when women choose to become writers, they are mostly not choosing to write screenplays. If women want more of their own stories to be told on the big screen, then they should get in the game and write those scripts.


Not "natural or needed" Vetle? Is that a sincere opinion? Because to me it seems as oblivious as your entire paragraph. Women have an incredible interest in movie and moviegoing, and comprise of nearly half if not more of all moviegoers going to see any action flick you might deem as a predominantly male demographic. It is not. Nor is you stating women finding it difficult to get jobs in the film industry. Because that certainly is fair to say, and more than fair to say a completely underlying factor in whether a female’s voice is ‘natural or needed’. They are both natural and needed sir, in the world of cinema. In fact their stagnant lack of voice affects not only these facts and statistics, but the entire world. A male-dominated cinematic experience falsifies reality into being something so dramatically different than what we go through day to day that it borders on comical and yes, – extremely depressing.

I cannot describe my distate enough for comments such as these and the ones below it Please reconsider your facts, sirs.


hey anybody else see that study where they gave on emonkey a cucumber adn the other a grape, and the cucumber monkey got pissed off… That’s like this. Anybody ever notice ther are more male screenwriters than female screenwriters… write what you know!


It’s called ‘show BUSINESS,’ and if the female audience actually cared they can vote with their dollars and the business would change overnight. I assume the unstated (flunk) parameters of the ‘study’ did not include reality television where the majority of characters and protagonists are female (excepting cooking shows.) I believe very strongly in the female talent in the business and with the current ability to produce product cheaply I see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to create whatever they like. Whether an audience shows up for it is a different story.


I’m not really sure what people concider to be the problem here. The film industy concists of mostly men, and it’s easier to relate to the same gender as you, so it’s just natural that you make the characters males. You could argue that it’s a problem that the fact that the film industry is havge most men, but to do so you should first find out if the problem lays in women actually not being able to get jobs in films, or if the women just don’t have any interest in working with films. I definitivly want equality between all genders, and that everyone have the same chances, but I find it important not to force equality where it is not natural/needed.


yes polled in american as if the world rotates around you

David Ferry

let’s all whine and complain about it all day like the rest of the world instead of DOING SOMETHING about it…


Besides the protagonists’genders – it would be useful to look at the frequency with which female characters are used as magical, selfless helpers to the (almost wholly) white male protagonists, and how this almost never happens in reverse.

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