Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Report explores gender in movies and TV, and the results aren't good

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media has recently issued a report of the results of studies conducted about gender in media (surprise!), and if you ask me, this needs to be shared and talked about everywhere, by everyone. I suspect there would be all sorts of justifications and rationalizations and "apologies" given for the results, but it still needs to be hashed out.

Rainbow Brite, before and after her recent makeover

The results can be viewed here (PDF). Among them:

Study 1: G-rated movies from 1990-Jan. 2005:
  • Fewer than one out of three (28%) of the speaking characters (both real and animated) are female.
  • More than four out of five (83%) of the films’ narrators are male.
  • 85.5% of the characters in G-rated films are white, 4.8% are black, and 9.7% are from “other” ethnicities.
Study 2: G-, PG-, PG-13, R-Rated Prevalence and Portrayal, 1990-2006
  • 73% of the characters are male. This translates into a ratio of 2.71 males to every 1 female.
  • Females were over five times as likely as males to be shown in sexually revealing
  • clothing, which was defined as attire that enhances, exaggerates, or calls attention to any part of the body from neck to knees.
  • Females were nearly three times as likely as males (10.6% vs. 3.4%) to be shown with a thin figure.
  • Style of presentation affects how females are featured in G-rated films. Animated females are more likely to be shown in a thin and sexy light than are live action females.
Study 3: An In-Depth Look at 13 Female Leads in G-rated Films (see link for this one)

Study 4: TV for Kids 11 and Under: Prevalence, Portrayal, Appearance
  • Sample-wide, the ratio of males to females was 1.67 to 1, including characters presented alone, in groups, or as narrators. Animated programs in particular are more likely to show males.
  • In live-action formats, females occur more frequently in groups than males. However, an almost equal portrayal appears with single-speaking male and female live action characters (ratio = 1.24 males to 1 female).
  • The research suggests that the “healthiest” balance of male and female representation is found in shows rated TVG. Further, TVG shows depict the highest proportion of non white, ethnic minority characters.
  • Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waist line.
  • Females in animated contexts are more likely to be shown in sexually revealing attire than are females in live action contexts (24.5% vs. 17.4%). Females in animated stories are more likely to have small waists (36.9% vs. 6.9%) and have an unrealistic body shape (22.7% vs. 1.2%) than are females in live action stories
  • Additionally, animated action males are more likely than their live action counterparts to have a large chest (15.4% vs. 4.9%), small waist (18.4% vs. 4.3%), and unrealistically muscularized physique (12.5% vs. .5%).
Strawberry Shortcake, before and after her recent makeover.

That's a lot to take in, and most of it is Not Good. I haven't seen anything from the Institute attempting to explain these results, but what immediately comes to my mind is this: Both boys and girls will watch movies and shows that prominently feature boys. But boys are less interested in movies and shows that prominently feature girls, because such movies and shows are labeled as "girly." (Whether that is a real or imagined statement about boys, I don't know.) (Also, I know that is a theory that has been written about before, but for the life of me I cannot find any links to such material. If you can point me to it, please do!) So, for profit's sake, it probably makes more sense for the people producing shows to aim most often for the widest audience which, under this theory, would be boys and girls. The result: a lot more boys in the shows than girls.

Anyone else have a theory about this? Thoughts on why girl characters are so sexualized, even in shows aimed at kids? I don't watch a lot of kids' shows, so I can't speak to which ones are better/worse than others. Any we should all be aware of? What steps can be taken to try to correct some of this?

More reading:
  • SF Appeal: "Geena Davis, Jackie Speier Speak Out On Bias Against Women."
  • Summit Daily News: "Geena Davis: When gender equality is no longer a fairy tale."
  • GDIGM: Other research and resources

4 comments:

Karina said...

THis bothers me a lot! You won't believe how many times I am watching a movie with my beloved and I turn to him and tell him how sexist and unfair female characters are portrayed. I cannot finish a movie like that.

Posting it on my FB.

RosieRed23 said...

Karina, I promise I would believe it. :)

Thanks for sharing the article!

Fee said...

Hmmm, it seems to me that this just reflects real life. Although it is clear that there are actually roughly the same number of women as men in the world, if you look at any live action stuff in RL - the fire brigade, the army, etc,the number of women is small compared to the number of men.

As for sexually revealing clothing...duh! How much sexually revealing clothing *is* there for men? There is no acceptable clothing for men that can be worn in polite company. On the other hand, women can wear almost anything they want from a mini dress to a full men's suit with waistcoat without attracting a lot of comment. Can a man do the same? See, you can spin this both ways, actually, to show that women have freedom to wear what they like, and men do not.

Shannon Drury said...

It makes me vomit in my mouth every time I see a tarted-up version of a doll from my childhood that wasn't exactly gender-neutral in the first place! Strawberry Shortcake of the seventies, please come back! All is forgiven...

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