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The Backlash Continues: Women Onscreen Falls to a Five Year Low

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by Melissa Silverstein
May 14, 2013 11:36 AM
4 Comments
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Make no mistake about it, no matter what you read or what people try and make you believe, things are not all roses and candy for women onscreen or behind the scenes in hollywood.  In a brand new five-year study from Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, Elizabeth Scofield, & Dr. Katherine Pieper at the USC Annenberg Center, they found that "females are grossly underrepresented on screen in 2012 films. Out of 4,475 speaking characters onscreen, only 28.4% are female."  And it also should be no surprise that when a female is present, she is usually younger than the male character.  Overall, for every single female character we see onscreen we see 2.5 male characters.

The study goes on to say that women make up only 16.7% of the 1,228 directors, writers, and producers across the 100 top-grossing films of 2012. Women accounted for 4.1% of directors, 12.2% of writers, and 20% of producers.  (Keep in mind that these numbers differ from the statistics from the Center for Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State as they calculate the top 250 grossing films and add more behind the scenes positions in their data.)

The grim news is that for every woman working behind the scenes in 2012, five dudes were employed.  

And the worst news is that these numbers are not improving, in fact they are getting worse.  2012 was the lowest year for women in front of the camera, and there was very little change at all in the numbers over the study.  They started out pathetic and stayed there.

And to piss me off even further, as if I needed any push over the edge, girls and young women onscreen are becoming more and more hypersexualized with a HUGE jump in 2012.  Females from 13-20 are more likely to be hypersexualized ie (exposing at least some skin in the breast, midriff, or high upper thigh area) than older women in all demographic groups.  Teenage girls wearing sexy clothes increased 22% between 2009 and 2012.  So if you were thinking that girls and young women looked barely dresses in the movies you were right. It's not just in your mind.  It's right there on the screen.

However, there is some good news in the study.  When there are more women behind the scenes, there are more women onscreen and they are less objectified.  So women hire women.  (Not to diminish this very positive statistic, but we need to keep in mind that in Hollywood, women are given opportunities to write and direct certain kinds of films and those have a tendency to skew towards women.)   But the numbers are clear, when there is a woman director, 40% of the films have women onscreen compared with 30% when there is no female director.  And when there is a female writer, women characters appear onscreen 37% of the time compared with 29% of films without a female writer.

Here's the takeaway.  Things are not moving in the right direction for women onscreen.  The numbers are stuck at around 30%, yet remember, we buy 50% of the tickets.  The numbers continue to show that Hollywood doesn't care enough about women.  They believe that sexualizing girls and women sells tickets. And they are right.  Because the hypersexualization is going up.  It is up to us to take control of this situation. it's up to us to make sure we buy tickets for films where there are women onscreen in strong roles not just for the purpose of looking like eye candy.  Empower yourself.  Know what you are going to see.  But also kKnow if you see a film written and directed by a woman that the film will probably have a female character and there is a better chance that she will be less sexualized. 

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4 Comments

  • Sally | May 24, 2013 5:06 PMReply

    I recently had a producer read over a script, to which he optioned a few days later. The kick was: "Please don't be offended but it's written like a man..." Okay, it is a World War 2 war romanace that has both tear jerking and bloody battles - it was compared in coverage as "Saving Mrs. Ryan, " but I took no offense. Reality is, more women need to balance out the industry and until then, it is ran by men. It won't hurt my feelings if this script becomes a reality and I'm the first woman to write a gritty war movie.

  • Carol | May 14, 2013 8:14 PMReply

    This is very disappointing but not at all surprising. When I speak with younger women and those of my age group about this issue, I am told by the women that they like to look at the men. I also receive comments that they like to go to movies to be entertained and NOT to use their mind.
    We were headed in the right direction with thought-provoking AND creative movies in the 90s. It seems that much changed with the new millennium. If I have to endure another movie with a gross, fat dude with body and mind dysfunction again.... Time to scream! The only power I have is not give those films my money. I have a friend who is an excellent screenwriter, but other women are not helping talented unknowns to break in.

  • Dude | May 14, 2013 3:59 PMReply

    Well, this will NOT change and here is why. I like everyone else participates in social media and it is VERY common to see a female page that is sexually provocative. Why does that matter? It's the world we live in and it's what men are now accustomed to seeing and the younger generation will have more exposure to it. In closing, movies have lost the art of the actor a long time ago heck the craft of the story as well. Nevertheless, thank you for the article :)

  • Missy | May 14, 2013 2:55 PMReply

    Not happy, but not surprised. :/

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