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Sexism Watch: Popular Media is Dominated By Men

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by Melissa Silverstein
November 14, 2012 2:00 PM
4 Comments
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see it be it

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) 
gender appearance 2

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.

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More: Geena Davis, Statistics, Sexism

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4 Comments

  • Michael Medeiros | December 6, 2012 3:17 PMReply

    There are exceptions and somehow people need to find out about them. In Tiger Lily Road (coming in 2013) four of the six leads are women. Find us on Facebook. If equal representation in the media is important, this movie is for you and it needs your support or it will not get anywhere.

  • Priscilla | November 17, 2012 8:25 PMReply

    I am already aware of how sexist the media is, but at least now the proof is in the numbers. And I love how they mentioned that females are usually in relationships or parents. That bothers me because as a woman, I know how this affects females. We get this subliminal message saying that we'll only be happy once we find love. And then a lot of females start to care about their appearance and worry they won't find "the one." I really wish we had more female characters that are single and proud of it. It would also be nice to see female characters stand out on their own. While we have made progress with films like Brave and now Scarlet Johannson's Black Widow will be having her own movie, character's like these are quite rare. In other words, we have a long way to go still in the 21st century. It upsets me, but it also motivates me to really make it into the film industry and give little girls role models they deserve. Bless Geena Davis for this. :)

  • Michael Medeiros | December 6, 2012 3:19 PM

    Priscilla, the upcoming film, Tiger Lily Road has what you are asking for. And we could use your support. Find us on facebook.

  • nerdboy20950 | November 20, 2012 2:57 PM

    Regarding Black Widow: I thought that this character was the worst, most offencive of all the ones shown! Why is it that she runs around wiht her shirt unzipped down to her navel when all the male members of SHEILD are fully clothed? For you to use this as an example of a good role is somewhat troubleing.

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