Nothing we didn’t already know intuitively, but a new study from the University of Southern California runs the numbers on gender inequality in film. The study reaches an obvious conclusion: with men holding so much control of writing, directing and producing, it’s no wonder actresses are so often relegated to less important roles.
This study examined the gender of all speaking characters and behind-¬≠‚Äêthe-¬≠‚Äêscenes employees on the 100 top-¬≠‚Äêgrossing fictional films in 2008. A total of 4,370 speaking characters were evaluated and 1,227 above-¬≠‚Äêthe-¬≠‚Äêline personnel. In addition to prevalence, we assessed the hypersexualization of on screen characters across the 100 movies.
32.8 percent of speaking characters were female. Put differently, a ratio of roughly 2 males to every one female was observed across the 100 top-¬≠‚Äêgrossing films. Though still grossly imbalanced given that females represent over half of the U.S. population, this is the highest percentage of females in film we have witnessed across multiple studies.
The presence of women working behind-¬≠‚Äêthe-¬≠‚Äêcamera is still abysmal. Only, 8% of directors, 13.6% of writers, and 19.1% of producers are female. This calculates to a ratio of 4.90 males to every one female. Films with female directors, writers, and producers were associated with a higher number of girls and women on screen than were films with only males in these gate-¬≠‚Äêkeeping positions. To illustrate, the percentage of female characters jumps 14.3% when one or more female screenwriters were involved in penning the script.
Another clear result of male-driven films? The majority actresses who do land roles in the year’s biggest films can expect to find themselves “hypersexualized.” Talk about your studio “tent pole” mentality.
Females continue to be hypersexualized in film, particularly 13-¬≠ to 20-¬≠year old girls. A substantially higher percentage of young females, in comparison to young males, are shown wearing sexually revealing attire (39.8% vs. 6.7%), partially naked (30.1% vs. 10.3%), with a small waist (35.1% vs. 13.6%), and physically attractive (29.2% vs. 11.1%).
…teenaged females were more likely than teenaged males to be in sexy attire, partially clad, possess a small waist, and be referenced as physically attractive.9 No differences emerged by gender in chest size or unrealistic body ideal, however. These findings are troubling given that repeated exposure to thin and sexy ideals may contribute to negative effects in some viewers and reinforce patterns of lookism in the entertainment industry.
The study’s conclusion?
Our findings reveal that motion picture content is sending two consistent and troubling messages to viewers. The first is that females are of lesser value than are males. This is evidenced by their on screen presence and the lack of employment opportunities behind-¬≠the‚Äêcamera. The second is that females are more likely than males to be valued for their appearance. Roughly a fifth to a quarter of all female speaking characters are depicted in a hypersexualized light. These numbers jump substantially higher when only teenaged females are considered. This result is particularly troubling, given the frequency with which young males and females go to the multiplex.
But gender equality is bound to be making progress over the way things used to be right? Not so much:
It must be noted that these findings are very similar to trends we have observed across 100 top-¬≠‚Äêgrossing films in 2007 as well as across 150 Academy Award Best Picture nominated films between 1977 and 2006.
The obvious solution to these problems onscreen is to get more women in positions of creative control behind the camera. Good luck with that. It’s taken over 100 years to get this far.