Apparently boys don’t really like watching films about girls’ stories. But that’s ok, right, ‘cos we just end up with films about men that boys like to watch, and films about women that girls like to watch, and it all ends up nice and balanced and equal, right? (hahaha, laughing so hard…)
So what about films that kids and teens can watch? They’re suitable for the whole family, right?
Well, here’s some answers: The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media recently conducted a large study into gender representation in G or PG films across 11 different countries. Yes, this is not just about animated Hollywood films with all the wise-cracking male animals/cars/planes, and the one female animal/ car/ plane with eyelashes. This included films from the 11 most profitable film territories in 2012… and it includes Australia. The films are not just kid’s films, like ‘Happy Feet 2’, ‘Despicable Me’ and ‘Toy Story 3’, (which were part of the study). It also included films that 5-16 year olds could have seen, such as ’The Dark Knight Rises’, ‘Wog Boy 2’, and ‘The Twilight Saga’.
Unfortunately, the results are not that surprising:
Across all 120 films...
- 31% of speaking roles were female (29.8% in Australian films)
- Female characters were 5 times more likely to receive appearance-based comments than male characters. Also, Australia totally dominates in making sure our lady characters are in sexy clothes or in the nuddy, or at least get their hotness referred to by someone in the film. Only Germany is on par with us in these arenas. To be fair, it seems that we also do this to male characters more than any other country does, though nowhere near at the same rates as we do to women… why, Australia, why?
- About 75% of women on screen were under 40 (compared to about 60% of men under 40).
- About 46% of women on screen appear to have a job (compared to about 69% of men).
- Of all of the professions that were shown on screen, women made up 14% of the politicians, 8.5% of the lawyers, 51% of teachers but only 6% of professors, and 6% of sportspeople. BUT of all the criminals on screen, women made up 11.5%. And a third of those were sex workers! To quote the report: ‘Females were more likely to need an attorney than to be one.’
- In all of the Australian films that they looked at, there were only 6 people onscreen who appeared to be involved in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths professions. All were men. (Not that Australia’s really interested in investing in our scientific fields, anyway…)
- Looking at the people BEHIND the camera, those making the films (writer, director or producer): the ratio is about 3.9 men to every woman. However, in Australia the ratio was 2.5 men to every woman. Wow, that’s almost (not really) equal!
So yes, it's only 120 films across 11 countries in one year - it's not everything. But the study is pretty comprehensive and worth reading, just to see how Australia stacks up against countries like India, France and China, among others. If you haven’t heard of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media before, they’re a wonderful organisations that works across three areas - Research, Education and Advocacy. They’re all about trying to get a gender balance, especially in media and entertainment that targets children aged 11 and under. Yup, it was formed by Geena Davis, the actor, who was pretty disturbed by the lack of women in the media that her daughter was watching. So she commissioned a research project which uncovered lots of stuff, including the fact that group scenes in many films tend to be only about 17% female.
For the most part, the results of this study are completely unnecessary in our films. Putting some women in lab coats or dropping the lines about how hot that chick is are really not difficult to achieve. But the results of those changes could be enormous. Geena Davis gave a speech recently about the effects of gender equality, saying:
“Don’t create a problem that you need to fix later on.”
She was referring to the movies we show our kids that continue to focus on men and boys, thereby teaching ANOTHER generation of kids that women and girls are less important. Women make up 50% of the population - why are we accepting stories that try to erase that? Even if we are not writers, directors, producers or filmmakers, we still get to choose the kinds of media that we consume. From the study itself:
‘Asking filmmakers to create more roles for girls and women is not asking for the impossible. Instead, adding girls and women to stories means conceptualising a fictional world that looks startlingly like the one we already inhabit.’
And in case you’re wondering, yes I do love Geena Davis. ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ is the best.
Please check out the Geena Davis Institute on Media website - seejane.org - and you’ll find the study that this information comes from. It’s called Gender Bias Without Borders: An Investigation of Female Characters in Popular Films Across 11 Countries.
Also, I quoted Geena Davis from a speech she did at Ithaca College, which was written about here - http://ithacavoice.com/2015/04/8-quotes-oscar-winner-geena-davis-speech-ithaca-college/