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Where Are the Women?

From FiveThirtyEight:

Movies take place in a weird alternate universe where men outnumber women by more than 2-to-1, and where it's strikingly rare for women to have a real conversation about something other than a man. This imbalance extends to how certain jobs are portrayed in movies, even as bit parts, and reinforces old gender stereotypes.

I recently started diving into the OpusData database, which tracks film releases, box office performance and -- most interestingly -- screen credits. For instance, you can look up every role since 19951 that was credited as "bartender." There have been 145 such roles with gender data, and about 85 percent of the time the performer playing that bartender was a man.

I pulled that data for a couple dozen careers, some considered prestigious, others specifically gendered.

The vast majority of these are supporting roles -- the scientist in the background as the protagonist discovers the deadly disease has mutated, the emergency room nurse holding the respirator as our hero is wheeled into surgery on a gurney, and so on. But they represent Hollywood's background, the fabric you may take for granted but that can strongly influence perceptions about gender. If every engineer on screen is a dude, that sends a message about who can be an an engineer.

Even in fields with a large gender gap in real life, what we see on-screen is even worse. Yeah, medicine and law skew male, but not as much as in the movies. In 2005, 30 percent of lawyers were women, but in this data set, only 11 percent of lawyers or attorneys were played by women. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 32 percent of doctors were women in September 2014, but on screen, only 10 percent were women.

This isn't really new. It's a message that Geena Davis has been putting out there for a while now. Here is an interview with her in a recent issue of the Guardian (emphasis mine):

[The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media] commissioned the largest piece of research ever on gender depictions in media. Spanning a 20-year period, it proved what Davis had feared: in family rated films and children's television, for every one female speaking character there are three males, while female characters make up just 17% of crowd scenes.

"What are we saying to kids when the female characters are hyper-sexualised, narrowly stereotyped or not even there? The message clearly is girls are not as important as boys, women are not as important as men and they take this all in completely unconsciously.

"Popular media is constantly hammering home the message that women and girls are second-class citizens. All the efforts that we put in to try and erase it, all the important things that we must do to empower women and girls, are being undermined by this unconscious message that women and girls aren't as valuable as men."

17%??!! I think we can all agree that women make up more than 17% of the population, so why aren't movies accurately portraying that? We're talking background crowd scenes here. Not major roles. You just need to be a warm body that can move and yet, even in this women are underrepresented.

By min | March 25, 2015, 10:22 AM | Liberal Outrage


"What are we saying to kids when the female characters are hyper-sexualised, narrowly stereotyped or not even there? The message clearly is girls are not as important as boys, women are not as important as men and they take this all in completely unconsciously.

The above statement can be applied to comic books, especially now that the fans have taken over the show. Whenever I occasionally take a peek at the new comics being made the female characters are usually overly sexualised. It's pretty much bad-girl art. I wonder how fnord feels about it women in comics? The only characters that I feel have potential are Ms Marvel, She-Hulk and Wonder Woman that's only three characters compared to the hundreds of male super-heroes with their own title. Still, the three characters I've mentioned have all been exploited at some point.

I would have hoped you knew my thoughts on that by now. ;-) Here's something i link-blogged a while back that i definitely endorse. Although i do think since i wrote that post title Marvel has actually gotten a little better. They did try to put out a line of female led books recently: Elektra, Black Widow, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel. All have non-"traditional" art that is not the usual exploitative stuff. And it did seem to work. Notably, after that, they announced a Spider-Woman book that had art by the very exploitative Greg Land (and that Milo Manara alternate cover) and fans were suddenly reacting with outrage, which i see as a sign that Marvel had reset expectations among what i'll broadly call feminist fans that they weren't as bad as all that anymore. A few years earlier and the Milo Manara cover probably wouldn't have caused people to bat an eye.

No, I know your thoughts about it. I totally didn't word my question correctly. Sorry for the misunderstanding (I tend to write very quickly without going over what I've written -- one day I'll stop that. I really wanted to know whether comics have gotten any better when it comes to women in comics. I only read back-issues and my knowledge of comic books is basic so I wasn't sure if I was making a gross generalisation or I was indeed correct that there aren't many positive female characters. You've answered the question in terms of Marvel trying to address the situation but I guess there hasn't been enough of an effort made.

I have written comics (on a purely amateur level) and sometimes I find myself coming up with characters who fall into the 'bad-girl' type and have to stop myself for falling into that trap. In an industry dominated by men and men who are fans first pros second I think we'll find that this problem will only get worse or not change at the very least.