Back in February, Dr. Martha Lauzen observed in her annual Celluloid Ceiling Report that male characters are nearly twice as likely (61%) to be identified with a profession than their female counterparts (34%), despite real-life women making up 47% of the workforce in 2010.
Now a new study from FiveThirtyEight.com has found that, even when female characters have jobs on screen, gender stereotypes continue to prevail. Women make up 32% of doctors and 33% of lawyers in the real world, but only 10% and 11% of those professions on the big screen. Women also comprise 14% of the engineering workforce, but only 5% of engineer characters are female. Perhaps the least represented group is women soldiers, who make up 16% of the US army (and 14.5% of all active-duty forces), but only see 3% of their counterparts on screen. (The study looked at movies from 1995 until now.)
So while real-life women have made incredible progress in traditionally male fields deemed authoritative, prestigious, and highly skilled, the movies — 89% of which are written by men, let’s remember — continue to trap women under professional glass ceilings.
Let’s give the last word to Sheryl Sandberg, who partly blamed stereotypes about women (that are perpetuated by the film industry) for the lack of feminist progress in the workplace in a recent interview:
“The data on gender equality in every industry is horrible. It’s bad in Hollywood, and it’s bad in my own industry, technology, as well. Women became 50 percent of college graduates in this country in 1981. That’s decades ago — that’s plenty of time for women to get to the top in the same numbers as men. It hasn’t happened. … What’s really holding us back are these stereotypes. We don’t believe women should lead, so when they do, we react negatively.”