ONTD Political

Sexism Watch: The Media Is Dominated By Men

5:08 pm - 11/15/2012

As consumers of media we know that things are biased. That's why it is so important that we have data to backup what we are seeing and feeling. And it's great that we have people like Geena Davis who are willing to stand up and say, yes, things are biased and they must change.

The Institute that bears her name released its latest study on the status of women and girls in the media at the third Annual Symposium on Gender Media.

The study was conducted by Stacy L. Smith, PhD with Marc Choueiti, Ashley Prescott & Katherine Pieper who are all from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC. These fine people analyzed 11,927 speaking characters for gender roles across three media: films rated (G, PG, PG-13); prime-time programs on 10 channels; and 36 children's TV shows.

Here's a shocker. The media is rife with sexism. Overall, there are many more males characters across all media. Here's a quote form the excutive summary that should give us all pause: "Few stories are "gender-balanced" or show females in 45-55% of all speaking roles. Only 11% of family films, 19% of children's shows, and 22% of prime-time programs feature girls and women in roughly half of all speaking parts."

And from the conclusion:

Female characters are still sidelined, stereotyped, and sexualized in popular entertainment content...Females are not only missing from popular media, when they are on screen, they seem to be there for decoration—and not engaging in meaningful or prestigious employment...

Digging down into the data:
  • It is worse in movies than it is on TV. Women characters appear on prime time programs 38.9% of the time and on children's shows 30.8% of the time but only in family films 28.3% of the time.
  • Hardly any media shows a gender balance. Only 11% of family films, 19% of children's shows, and 22% of prime-time programs feature girls and women in roughly half of all speaking parts.
  • Dramas and comedies have huge gender imbalances between female and male characters. Women make up 40.3% of characters in dramas and just 31.5% of characters in comedies and 30.5% of children's shows.
  • Reality shows and news magazines are the most gender balanced genres on TV. Women make up 48.1% of reality TV characters and 46.6% of news magazines characters.
  • The higher the rating the less girls and women appear. In G rated films the percentage of female characters is 31.6% and in PG-13 the percentage goes down to 26.5%.
  • Children's shows that are Y (35.4%) or G (34.9%) rated feature more girls than shows that are Y7 rated (16.2%).
In movies, females are more likely to be parents and in relationships.

Females are way more sexualized in all genres and mediums. (See table below)

Here's a quote: "Females, when they are on screen, are still there to provide eye candy to even the youngest viewers."

While women make up 47% of the labor force in the US, they only occupy 20.3% of total on screen occupations in family films and 34.4% of all jobs in prime-time programs, and 25.3% of those employed in children's shows.

And in the jobs that women occupy very few are high powered positions. 2 women were in the CEO type positions in family films and 7 in prime time. Not one female character was depicted at the top of the financial sector, legal, or journalism across the sample films. In prime time females occupying 42.9% of characters with financial clout yet there was only one top woman in the journalism field.

For the Sciences and Math and Tech- In the movies not one woman was shown with a STEM career and 14 men worked in those fields.
And forget playing a president or high profile political figure:

In politics, not one speaking character plays a powerful American female political figure across 5,839 speaking characters in 129 family films. Men, however, held over 45 different prestigious U.S. political positions (i.e., President, Vice President, Chief of Staff, Advisors, Senators, Representatives, Mayors, Governors) in G, PG, and PG-13 movies. As a point of comparison, over a quarter of the politicians in prime time are female (27.8%).

Every time I read these studies it just reminds me how much work still needs to be done. It is imperative that we keep pushing and pushing and reminding people that this work is vital for both boys and girls and their futures.


thistlerose 16th-Nov-2012 03:23 am (UTC)
This is depressing, but not surprising. My housemates have two boys, ages eight and four, and I see what they watch. All of their favorite shows and movies are dominated by male characters, and they incorporate what they see into their world view. Not the four-year-old so much, but I'll sometimes the eight-year-old deride something intended for girls, or express shock that girls might like something some popular thing that he's into (LEGO and Star Wars, for example). His mom and I try to correct him (don't get me started on his dad) but when he's constantly seeing women and girls marginalized...
(no subject) - Anonymous
slurp 16th-Nov-2012 11:10 am (UTC)
Have you tried The Mindy Project? It could be seen as the "sad single woman" trope but I'm really enjoying it.
thistlerose 16th-Nov-2012 02:01 pm (UTC)
I tried it because I love Mindy Kaling, but I was turned off by the first two episodes. It seemed as if most of the women's interests and actions were supposed to considered frivolous, while the men were considered serious. If it's gotten better I would be happy to give it another shot.
poetic_pixie_13 16th-Nov-2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
Ahhhhhhhhhh, I love The Mindy Project. This week's episode was fantastic.
silver_apples 16th-Nov-2012 04:29 am (UTC)
I read an article when "Brave" was about to hit theaters that talked about why male character dominate children's movies. Girls are more willing to watch movies with male leads than boys are willing to watch movies with female leads, and sons have a greater influence in what movies parents take their kids to than daughters do (possibly because the son refuses to watch the "girly" movie and the daughter is willing to watch the non-girly one). So a lot of this is based on market research. The industry panders to a sexist audience, which reinforces and encourages sexism.

Also, I'm a bad person. I don't care if the woman's numbers stay high in "wearing sexy attire" and "w/some nudity" as long as the men's numbers go up to match. Although not in the children's shows--why are the men's numbers so (relatively) high there?
recorded 16th-Nov-2012 08:16 am (UTC)
There's also been research though that shows that early-on, young boys will enjoy a female protagonist if she's doing adventurous/heroic things. This may fade as they get older. Sketchy remembering from my childhood development course.
thistlerose 16th-Nov-2012 03:11 pm (UTC)
Has anyone actually ever seen this study that says girls will watch films about boys but not vice versa? I spent some time this morning looking for it, and I wasn't able to find anything, so I'm starting to think this conclusion is less scientific and more studios making excuses for their sexism.

I also wonder when this idea became accepted as gospel. Granted, I never really studied the history of film, but from all I've read and heard, the line between films for men/boys and films for women/girls use to be less distinct.
squeeful 16th-Nov-2012 05:12 am (UTC)
Yeeeah, also known as "it took Pixar 18 years and 13 films to have a feature with a female lead." All of the rats in Ratatouille are male. All of the dogs in Up are male. All of the toys in Toy Story are male or ungendered (except Bo Peep and I'm not sure if she even gets a line). Pixar does some great films, but they are overwhelmingly focused on male characters worse than the average.
acmeeoy 16th-Nov-2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
I also mentally call it, "Every Digimon series after the first must have one of the girls have a male partner, if the girl isn't the only one present in the first place."

(Then again, that refers to Japan TV patterns, which might be different in some manner)
miss_sassy 18th-Nov-2012 12:14 am (UTC)
Bo Peep did have lines, but IIRC she was "given away" between the first and second movie. So fuck that, basically.
poetic_pixie_13 16th-Nov-2012 03:42 pm (UTC)

I miss 90s TV. I grew up with Special Tramp Dana Scully and Cybersix and Elisa Maza and Daria and Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl and motherfucking Xena and Disney Renaissance heroines and CJ Cregg and Aunt Viv and Ashley Banks and Roseanne Conner and Joan Clayton and and and.

TV has regressed in a lot of ways, it's really disheartening. My sister and I were lucky to have what we did but my baby brother is ten now and he doesn't see those strong women like we did. My sister, mom, to some extent my dad, and I all try and teach him that girls are just as strong as boys but it's hard to counteract all the bullshit he's being socialized with. =/
kyra_neko_rei 16th-Nov-2012 07:17 pm (UTC)
One thing I will complain about is that the go-to trope seems to have always been multiple guys and one girl, in the main characters---the gargoyles (all male) opposite Elisa; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and Splinter) opposite April; Sheldon and Leonard and Howard and Rajesh opposite Penny . . . and sometimes they add in female characters later to round things out, but it's nearly always later, such that the guys are the more established characters with the more established interactions, and you've got whole seasons without the newer characters.

In Beast Wars, for example, they added the first "female" Maximal 7-10 episodes in, and she noticeably doesn't have the cameraderie that the others have with each other. She's perfectly confident and does some excellent saving of the guys, but she's more solo operator than one of the team.

I really wish for a new show that has girls in equal numbers in the main characters and having real quirks and personality differences that made them something other than "the girl." Something like Gretchen and Spinelli in Recess---that still had three guys and two girls, but Gretchen was the brilliant sciencey person and Spinelli was the muscle---almost like a TMNT version where Donatello and Raphael were female instead of April.

And I'm gonna shut up now.
little_rachael 16th-Nov-2012 11:24 pm (UTC)
Agreed. I've noticed that popular children's shows--Pokemon, Power Rangers, etc.--tend to have a 2-to-1 female ratio, or even 3-to-1 or 5-to-1. I know that some cartoons tried to fix this. The Magic School Bus had four boys and four girls in the class, plus Ms. Frizzle. Full House had a pretty even gender ratio, too. I don't know about more recent cartoons, since I don't watch a lot of TV anymore, but things don't seem to have changed much.

I remember that when Cardcaptor Sakura was brought to the U.S., the title was changed to "Cardcaptors" and the early episodes of Sakura fighting alone were not released until much later, around the second season, I believe. This was done because it was thought that fewer kids would watch a cartoon with a female lead.
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