In the 120 films and 5,799 speaking roles surveyed, 31% of speaking roles belong to women, and a mere 23% of protagonists are women. Only 10% of films in the sample have an equal number of girls and boys in the cast. Women onscreen are almost all sexualized. The women that do appear are rarely in positions of leadership—for instance, of the thousands of characters studied, there were only 11 female CEOs, and two of those 11 were Marvel character Pepper Potts (who was gifted her fictional corporation by her boyfriend). There are almost no fields were men and women have parity in representation. This is the first global study of its kind, and Smith’s research shows that it isn’t just a problem of US media. All around the world, girls and women are being mis- and underrepresented in media. However, it’s also a uniquely American responsibility, since so much media (up to 80% of films worldwide) is created in the U.S.
Chances are the people you hang out with talk in a certain way that is specific to that group of people. And if that group of people happens to be girls there’s a chance that you communicate using traits known by some as ‘girl talk’. And chances are if you speak ‘girl talk’ there is a lot of criticism out there about your communication style—criticism from the media, from teachers, from parents, from cranky old men, from your male-identifying peers, and even from other girls. Just yesterday I was walking down the street at night and witnessed two teenage boys approach two teenage girls and start mocking their voices. Out of nowhere. For no reason other than that they were talking.
Here’s the thing about girl voice and its ‘annoyingness’: it’s not real. Your voice is fine. The way you communicate is great. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that you need to change something about your voice in order to make them happy. You have cooler things to do and to talk about—like the things you’re already talking about.
We talk about women’s bodies being objectified in a world that systematically changes them into sex objects that have to ‘look’ or ‘be’ a certain way in order to be successful, liked, and valued. Demeaning women to a certain ‘sound’ or ‘style’ and then deciding whether or not that person is worth listening to based on that sound or style is the exact same problem: seeing women as a single trait and then fixating on that trait. The idea that certain ways that girls communicate are obnoxious and need to be fixed is problematic, because it is an idea that values girls only for how they communicate rather than what they say.
this “boys laptop” has 50 functions and this “girls laptop” has 25 and we’re laughing a little bit but mostly we are sad
In the most comprehensive study of children’s literature during a period of 100 years, researchers recently found that:
- 57% of children’s books published each year have male protagonists, versus 31% female.
- In popular children’s books featuring animated animals, 100% of them have male characters, but only 33% have female characters.
- The average number of books featuring male characters in the title of the book is 36.5% versus 17.5% for female characters.
It’s not just the quantity, but the quality as well. Female characters, as in movies, are often marginalized, stereotyped, or one-dimensional. For example, in Peter Pan, Wendy is a stick-in-the-mud mother figure, and Tiger Lily is a jealous exotic. The animated books featuring animals are particularly subtle. Think about Winnie the Pooh—Kanga is the only female character, and she’s definitely not one of the gang.
The researchers concluded, “The gender inequalities we found may be particularly powerful because they are reinforced by patterns of male-dominated characters in many other aspects of children’s media, including cartoons, G-rated films, video games, and even coloring books.”
But, it goes beyond gender and is true of racial and ethnic diversity as well. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education has conducted a survey of all kids and young adult books published each year since 1985. Of an estimated 5,000 children’s and YA books released in 2012, only 3.3% featured African-Americans; 2.1% featured Asian-Americans or Pacific Islanders; 1.5% featured Latinos; and only 0.6% featured Native Americans.
Directing, in particularly, is associated with men; the image we have of a male director with a megaphone, jodhpurs and a monocle. A director deals with three things that are generally thought to be the province of men: enormous amounts of money; advanced technology; and leading large groups of people (often male). It is not dissimilar to leading an army into battle, and we still think of our military leaders as male. But there is another way to look at it: directors are also storytellers and nurturers, qualities sometimes thought of as being in the province of women. The truth is that the skills required to be a great director are not the province of either men or women; they do not divide across gender lines. A director needs to be a leader and a nurturer, both decisive and communicative. These are qualities that can come in both male and female packages.
I can’t figure out which part of this story is the most unforgivably retro. Is it the part where the Internet is flooded by a tsunami of bickering over which political party has the “prettier” members of Congress and/or prettier voters? Followed by smug accusations of sour grapes, actual sour grapes, and finally resentful grumbling by lots of women in comfort clogs, maybe even including me. (It’s none of your business but I require them for the back support. Take it easy, I have a doctor’s note.)
Or is it the part that suggests that a key factor in the electability and, dare I say, presence of a female politician on a national stage can be dependent on something as random as the placement of her eyebrows? Are there really subtle ways in which people would consider a woman suitable for office that are rooted in their visceral reaction to the width and prominence of her cheekbones? Well, probably.
All I know is that once I finished reading the study I’m pretty sure 1970s Burt Reynolds reached across the passenger seat of his Trans Am to give me a wink and a boob honk.
Thankfully, the “sex typical” phenomenon applies only to female members of Congress. When it comes to male members of Congress, the results of the study are somewhat less conclusive. So guys, feel free to go to work on behalf of your constituents without wondering for a second whether psych undergrads around the country are hotly debating whether or not you got hit at birth with an ugly stick. Don’t you worry your pretty little man-heads about it.